The Great Chinese War Against Japan

Any number of people have written about current anti-Japanese sentiments in China.  It is not my intention to enumerate the phenomena or to recycle the arguments.  For the sake of background, I will just cite one instance:

(The Guardian)  China's angry young focus their hatred on old enemy.  By Justin McCurry and Jonathan Watts.  December 30, 2004.

At 27 years old, Song Yangbiao is already earning a salary that his parents can only have dreamed of. He is better educated, more widely travelled and can expect to live a longer, healthier, wealthier life than any generation in Chinese history. You might think he is also more content. You would be wrong. Mr Song is not happy. He is furious.

So furious that he spends more than five hours every day venting his frustrations on the internet, where he has set up a site for tens of thousands of like-minded young Chinese people to air their grievances. So vitriolic and widespread are their web-based protests that the domestic media have labelled the affluent, academic and internet-savvy generation that they represent as the "angry young".

Like their namesakes in Britain in the 1950s, China's angry young men and women are the products of a fast-changing society in which rising expectations for the future contrast starkly with frustrations about the past and present. In private, their anger is amorphous, multi-faceted and idealistic. But in public, which usually means internet bulletin boards, their scope to let off steam is largely limited to nationalism. The explosive growth of the web in China, where the number of users is growing by more than 25% a year, is often cited by advocates of political reform as a source of hope for greater openness in the world's last big communist state.

But there is increasing evidence that the opposite may be true. Sites advocating democracy, religious freedom or union rights are closed down by the authorities and their operators often arrested. But there are countless sites like Mr Song's devoted to one of the few political passions permitted by the government: hatred for Japan. 

Every day on the "My View of Japan" bulletin board, Mr Song and his contributors post reports of perceived slights by their neighbours, who are referred to at least once as "shitty little Japanese". Many predict that military conflict is inevitable, and some wish it would come sooner rather than later. "I'm 30 and a fire burns in my heart," writes one contributor. "Only war can extinguish these flames."

While hate-mongering is a feature of extremist internet chatrooms around the world, in China such inflammatory comments appear to represent anything but a small minority. In the past two years, small anti-Japanese protests have mushroomed into nationwide campaigns through the internet and mobile phone text messages.

Mr Song believes anger is natural, given what he sees as Japan's failure to properly atone for atrocities carried out by its troops during their occupation of China. "It is not the elderly who hate Japan, but those who were born in the 70s and 80s. We have grown up in a fast-developing country, but even though our country gets stronger and stronger, we have not been able to shed the humiliations of history and the fact that our persecutor has never admitted his crimes," says the bespectacled journalist. "The killers who slaughtered our people have escaped punishment and now live comfortably. Even if the government can accept that, we cannot." 


Chinese nationalist groups say it has become easier to operate since president Hu Jintao and prime minister Wen Jiabao came to power last year. "The new leadership have a stronger feeling of nationalism than their predecessors. So we have more space to carry out our activities," said Tong Zeng, founder of a group campaigning to reclaim a disputed island chain in the East China Sea, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.

In the past, government restrictions on anti-Japanese activity forced Mr Tong and his group to travel to Hong Kong to hire a boat to land on the islands, but now, he said, they can openly hire a boat on the mainland. Protests outside the Japanese embassy in Beijing used to be quickly broken up by police, but this year at least 10 have been permitted. Local media coverage has increased.

This partly reflects an easing of restrictions in many areas of Chinese public life. But many observers believe the Communist party is channelling public frustration into anti-Japanese xenophobia. "The ideological rationale of the Communist party has collapsed. This is one of the most divided and least egalitarian nations on earth," said a Beijing-based diplomat. "So the Communist party's legitimacy is now more dependent on its historical opposition to Japan."

If you believe that the Chinese goverment is 'channelling public frustration into anti-Japanese xenophobia,' then the antidote would be for the public intellectuals to take a unified, principled and rational stand against cynical, irrational nationalistic chauvinism.  Is that happening?  That is my question.

To start off with, let me assert that some public intellectuals, even those with strong democratic credentials, have contributed towards an atmosphere of animosity against the Japanese.  This is my personal impression, and I have not compiled any systematic enumeration of evidence.  From previous posts on this blog, I will cite two examples which I remembered.

Example 1The Chinese Peasant Study written by Chen Guidi and Wu Chuntao was a sensational hit in China for touching on the plight of Chinese peasants under the yoke of corrupt government and party officials at the base level.  The book was quickly removed from circulation, but it has gone on to win the 2004 Lettre Ulysses award for reportage.  I translated the single most sensationalistic section of the book in this post (and I have bolded the section that I wanted to highlight for the present purposes):

On October 5, 1997, a fully armed convoy set off from Lingpi County city in Anhui province to Dakao village in Fungmiaochun. A total of 32 police vehicles, sedans, lorries and fire trucks, carrying more than 200 public security police officers and officials. The convoy roared with screaming sirens through the dirt roads of the countryside, tossing up clouds of dust and scaring the local people. It was an impressive show of force not seen in the county for many years.

After arriving at Fungmiaochun, the armed policemen blocked all the exits from Dakao village. Led by the local party officials, the armed guards rushed towards the western section. The unarmed villagers did not know what to do. Apart from outside visitors, a total of 52 people out of the 100 or so inhabitants were arrested.

The reason for routing these people was that they were "refusing to pay taxes by violent means." Among the arrestees were a 70-something-year-old man, a 3-year-old child arrested with the mother, an old Communist party member with decades of party membership, disabled retired war veterans and a large group of women. In any case, all those who have commented on the tax burden of peasants, or complained to upper echelons, or supported complaints to upper echelons, or questioned or otherwise demanded an audit of the village books, or complained about the village cadres or have crossed them in other ways were arrested.

As the trucks carried the arrestees away, there were loud crying heard everywhere. A few infirmed old people were crying in bed, remembering that it was just like that when the Japanese came into the village during the War. The only difference was that these people did not rape women, burn houses or speak Japanese.

Example 2:  The Chinese dissident Yu Jie is a vice-president of the Chinese Independent PEN and was recently invited to the local police precinct for a 'chat' in an incident reported widely in the western media.  The following paragraphs were translated from his book Rejecting Lies (see previous post):

According to Beijing's Observation Point magazine, many peasants in Duchang county, Jiangxi Province, are living on the brink between life and death. These peasants are even more afraid of government cadres that they were of the Japanese ghouls back then. At the end of each year, the county's Daqiang Town cadres and the village committees comes in a group of more than forty strong to come to Dengsiban to collect fees. This groups comes to the village with a lot of pomp.

The villager Xie has a family of three plus two younger sisters born of a different mother. According to the standards, each person has to pay 160 RMB as "reserve" fees for a total of 800 RMB. Xie is classified as a 'special poor peasant', but the group had no mercy. They took away his 60-kilogram pig and undervalued it at just over 300 RMB. They even took most of the poor-grade grain in storage. It was near the Chinese New Year, and it is still more than six months away from the summer harvest. But the collection group paid no attention, and they searched around for some more before leaving. The only thing that they did not do was to smash the dishes and bowls, or tear apart the house. The Xie family sat in the barren house and they stared at each other and cried their eyes out. A villager said angrily: "This is like the ghouls entering the village in their Three Cleansing campaign. How shall we live?"

These two examples illustrate that the gold standard for barbarity and cruelty is the "Japanese ghouls", with their Three Cleansing warfare strategy (三光作戰) of "Kill All, Burn All, Loot All" (殺光、燒光、搶光).  There are many more vicious episodes from Chinese history that could have been used, such as the First Emperor of Qin and his killing of the scholars, Genghis Khan and the Mongolian hordes and the Manchurians at the Three Slaughters of Jiading and the Ten Days of Yangzhou.  But the 'Japanese ghouls' leads the parade for the most common literary metaphor used by all.

By this time, it would in fact be considered bizarre if the metaphors in the two examples above were about, say, the Mongolians instead.  Objectively, the references to the Japanese ghouls in those examples were analogies and extraneous to the actual events, and did not have to be there.  However, the invocation is an emotion-laden literary device that would gain the immediate understanding, empathy and outrage among the readers.  They know what you mean and they are sickened by it.  So the first uphill battle is to ask writers to rein in their literary arsenal in order not to spread irrational xenophobia, and that is accomplishable inasmuch as the notion of political correctness has put a brake on much inappropriate use of language in the United States, for better or worse.

But things are much worse than that, for this goes beyond an esoteric argument over the use of literary devices.  As illustration, this is another translated excerpt from Yu Jie's book Rejecting Lies.  This is the seventh essay in a series titled "Is America the Devil?".

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi came to Beijing.

Fresh from visiting the Yasukuni Shrine, this 'handsome prime minister' made a show of visiting the Marco Polo Bridge Musuem Of The War Of Resistance Against Japan, and gave an airy speech.  It is incredible to me how some guy who ignored all the pressures inside and outside his country to pay homage to war criminals can possibly be expressing deep remorse about war crimes.

Several days later, Junichiro Koizumi visited Korea.  That visit was not as easy and relaxed as the Chinese trip -- the people of Korea marched on the streets to protest against Koizumi's distortion of the history of the war and the revival of Japanese militarism in recent years.  Korean president Kim Dae-Jung pointed out to Koizumi emphatically that the relationship between Japan and Korea will be premised upon Japan's understanding and reflection about its criminal activities during the war.  The attitude of the Korean leadership is more clear and defined than that of the Chinese leadership, and the people of Korea are clearly more "patriotic" than the Chinese people.

I am curious.  What happened to the Chinese youth who threw bricks at the American embassy after the Americans hit the Chinese embassy in Yugoslavia by error?  What happened to the gloating Chinese netizens who celebrated after the Americans were attacked on 9/11?  This time, how come not many Chinese used actions and words to protest Koizumi's visit to China?

In the many absurd foreign policies of China, the most stupid and disgusting one is where it attacks a faraway enemy and befriends a neighbor by "opposing the United States and befriending Japan."  The reason why China hates the United States is because the United States is a principled and idealistic country which applies pressure on China on human rights issues.  The reason why China is friendly towards Japan is because Japan is an unprincipled, self-interested country, and is the only developed country that continued to do business with China after the June 4 incident.

Going back in history, the reason why the Chinese Communist Party took political power on mainland China was due to the Japanese invasaion of China.  In July 1964, Mao Zedong met with representatives from the Socialist Party of Japan and he said: "I was speaking with some Japanese friends.  They said that they were sorry that the Imperial Army of Japan invaded China.  I said: No!  Without your Imperial Army invading and occuping half of China, the people of China could not have united to fight against you, and then the Chinese Communist Party would not have been able to seize power."

Actually, this nakedly treasonous viewpoint of Mao Zedong had been previously presented at the Lushan Conference.  On that occasion, Mao criticized Marshall Peng Dehui who commanded the troops against the Japanese for revealing the strength of their forces.  At the time when there were three parties in the conflict (the Japanese, the KMT and the Communists), attacking the Japanese was objectively helping the KMT.  Mao's secretary Li Rui recorded Mao's angry words about his little 'scheme': let the Japanese and the KMT kill each other while the Communists sit back and reap the rewards.  For political thugs like Mao Zedong, the interests of the country and its people are immaterial, and he only values his own personal power.

According to the war strategies of Suntzu, the proper diplomatic strategy should be to befriend a faraway country and attack a neighbor.  The international relations of a full century once again proved the correctness of this viewpoint: the United States had never harbored any ambition to conquer China, whereas Japan continues to be China's conniving neighbor.  China's fastest and smoothest eras of economic development were also the periods during which Sino-American relations were closest, such as the 1930's and the 1980's.  After 1949, the opposition between China and the United States is less of a conflict of national interests than an opposition between consciousness, which is the opposition between democracy and totatlitarianism.  The United States has always been "anti-Communist" and not "anti-Chinese."

Yet, after more than half a century, the Chinese Communist Party and its leaders only considered their own narrow self-interests and they did the opposite by adopting a stupid "attack a faraway enemy and befriend a neighbor" approach.  "Close" refers not only to Japan, but they also leaned one-sided towards Soviet Russia.  They have therefore caused tremendous damage to the national interests, the people's interests and to the interests of each and every citizen.  The still active Chinese foreign minister Tang Jiaxuan is a pro-Japan supporter, and he is a lot worse than traitors such as Cao, Zhang and Lu in the days of the May 4th movement.

Koizumi's visit this time is only a small sideshow during the foreign policy of "attacking a faraway enemy and befriending a neighbor."

Yu Jie's arguments in the essay are debatable in spots, but this is not the place to challenge them.  I am more interested in this point: If you think that the Chinese government is fanning anti-Japanese sentiments, then you should note that certain famous public intellectuals are arguing that the Chinese government is not anti-Japanese enough!  Yes, it is a tough world out there because the arrows and barbs come from all sides.  You are damned if you do and damned if you don't.

Yet, I assert (and I am not offering any proof so that you are free to dissent) that the attacks are asymmetrical -- complaints against the anti-Japanese sentiments come mainly from the western media and observers, whereas the commentators inside China are either saying that the Chinese government is not tough enough on Japan or else, more likely, they are silent.

Why is this happening on the Chinese side?  I think it is not hard to understand.  Let us say that there are two projects on your plate: the larger project is to bring democracy to China and the minor project is to lessen irrational anti-Japanese sentiments in China.  I have carefully added the qualifier 'irrational' because you should accept that there are justifiable and legitimate outrage -- it will not do to tell the next person who ploughs into a cache of Japanese chemical weapons to just get over it.  It also points out that you will have a major task in differentiating between the irrational from the rational.

The reality right now is that if you try the second project first, you may find yourself at the center of a furious storm.  To quote Yu Jie, you will be accused of being "a lot worse than traitors such as Cao, Zhang and Lu in the days of the May 4th movement."  Do you want to fight that battle at the cost of losing traction on the larger project?  Hereafter, every time you want to bring your larger project up, someone is going to accuse you of being a traitor and you are going to waste time and energy dealing with an emotionaly charged issue instead.  So maybe you don't want to deal with this.  Or maybe you even want to harness the emotions behind this issue and cynically leverage it on behalf of your larger project.