An Ambiguous Nation

In Japan Times, Ralph Jennings has an article (China yanks books about ties with Japan) about independent Chinese writer Yu Jie (余杰).  Two of Yu Jie's books have been disappeared from Beijing bookstores.  What is so damnable in those books?  According to Jennings,

Yu, 32, argues in "Ambiguity's Neighborhood" that Chinese should learn more about modern Japan before saying they "hate" the people -- common parlance for today's younger generation influenced by anti-Japan media reports and school texts that discuss Japan's 1931-1945 conquest of China.

"The two countries are so close, so this hate, this lack of understanding, doesn't help at all," Yu said, citing "arrogance" for the lack of more understanding. "Chinese people should understand the situation before they criticize it."

Chinese do not know, for example, that Tokyo's war-related Yasukuni Shrine has no war criminal memorials, Yu said.  Yu also contends that the Communist Party lost to the invading Imperial Japanese Army in the 1930s and 1940s because they were busy fighting the Kuomintang in a civil war, which ended in 1949.

His books recount moments in diplomatic history and question what the author considers the excesses of Japanese patriotism.

Previously, in the post The Great Chinese War Against Japan, I used Yu Jie as an example of a public intellectual pressuring the Chinese government to become more forceful against the revival of Japanese militarism, as exemplified by their Prime Minister visiting the Yasukuni Shrine.  So are Yu's books about his travels in Japan along this theme?  Or has he had a change of heart as suggested by Ralph Jennings?

The Japanese essays of Yu Jie are not philosophical in nature.  Rather, they are travelogues in which Yu Jie spoke to people from various strata, and made careful observations (including detailed descriptions of food and lodgings).  Yu does not attempt the Ruth Benedict-type discussion of the quintessential Japanese national psyche, for he stuck to the individuals that he met.  From those personal encounters of Yu, I am going to excerpt one that bear directly on why there is still such intense hostility felt by the common people of China.  I remind you that this is one encounter out of many, and Yu met other Japanese who feel quite differently.  Let me repeat again --- there are Japanese people who are completely different and inspires my admiration.

Japan, An Ambiguous Nation (via Peacehall)

[translation] ...  In the afternoon, we visited the founder of the Monument To The Great East Asian Sacred War.  My guide told me beforehand not to argue with the man no matter what absurdity spews out of his mouth to make sure that the interview does not terminate.  This is the first time that the man is interviewed by Chinese media, so it is an extraordinary occasion.

We arrived at a small two-story building in the typical Japanese style.  It looks like a temple and there is a sign "The East Asian School", so that they seemed to have established a school here.  We walked up the narrow stairs to the second floor and we entered a crowded meeting room.  Two elderly persons and a young girl were already there, plus two local reporters.  After we sat down, I noticed that the bookshelves were lined with books and photography albums that glorify the wars.  There is a calligraphy piece from a right-wing scholar hanging on the wall.

The founder is 90 years old now.  He is slim, but very energetic.  His eyes are bright, and he is obviously sharp.  Concerning the reason for erecting the Monument, he said: "In 1945, I was captured by the Soviets and sent to Siberia.  I returned to Japan in 1948, and I found the red flags of communism everywhere.  I thought that Japan must recover its dignity, and I therefore decided to erect this monument."  About the deeds of Japan in northeastern China, he said: "Before Japan entered Manchuria, it was ruled by the warlord Zhang and the situation was quite chaotic.  Anyone walking down the streets may be robbed.  After the establishment of Manchuguo, order was restored and the economy improved.  Japan established many industries, and built the largest electricity plant in Asia.  The new capital of Manchuguo became a prosperous city, and even the investigative team from The League of Nations gave it a good review."  He also said that Japan paid a heavy price to "liberate" China, and his own elder brother died in battle.  Concerning the future of Sino-Japanese relationship, he said: "The problem in Sino-Japanese relationship is due to China continuously promoting anti-Japanese ideas.  China must destroy all its anti-Japanese museums and monuments.  The Nanjing massacre is fictional.  The Marco Polo Bridge incident was initiated by China -- it was planned by the communist Liu Shiaoqi who had the communists shoot at both the Japanese and the Kuomintang soldiers."

When my companion heard this piece of absurdity, he became very angry and asked: "My grandfather and grandmother were killed by the Japanese in their Hebei campaign.  The Japanese military killed millions of Chinese citizens.  Why is this known as 'liberation'?"  But the founder said without expression: "We don't want to get hung up with the past dead."  Actually, the logic is self-contradictory -- he can remember his own elder brother, but he won't let the Chinese people talk about their own murdered family members.

After the interview was over, another companion expressed our position: "No Chinese will agree with your viewpoint.  Although the Chinese people are forgiving, if many Japanese insist on these wrong viewpoints, the two countries will not become more friendly with each other.  There will be more hatred and anger."  As the old man listened to what the interpreter said, he half-closed his eyes and looked upwards, quite stubbornly and obstinately.  The young girl next to him wore clothing with the Great East Asian School insignia and was quite ugly.  She also said coldly: "Japan's economic assistance to China never got publicized.  The Chinese illegal aliens commit crime in Japan, causing the safety situation in Japan to deteriorate.  We girls are afraid to go out on the street."  She has clearly been infected by the racist ideas of the old man.  I think if she were asked to shoot some Chinese, she would not hesitate for one moment.

In his article, Jennings reported that Yu said "Chinese do not know, for example, that Tokyo's war-related Yasukuni Shrine has no war criminal memorials."  What did Yu say about the Yasukuni Shrine?  Here is an excerpt:

I arrived at the Yasukuni Shrine (via Peacehall)

[translation]  There is a war museum that was built with an enormous amount of money.  On the first floor were various kinds of weapons on display, including airplanes, tanks, artillery, mines, guns, swords, military uniforms and so on ...

On the second floor, the first exhibition room had the marshal's golden sword as well as photos of high military officials, including many war criminals.  The other exhibition room contained the belongings of the royal family, such as the Emperor's military uniform, sword and the documents that he approved.  There were about a dozen more exhibition rooms that presented the history of Japan from the Meiji Reform era through the various wars of invasion.  All these events were presented in a positive light.

Concerning the 918 incident, it was explained that Japan was forced to send its soldiers in due to provocation by the Chinese.  There was no massacre in Nanjing; instead, the soldiers were praised for restoring order in the city quickly.  Quite a few of the exhibition rooms showed newsreels of the victories of Japanese soldiers in China; under the sound of loud explosions and powerful voices, many Japanese viewers looked quite satisfied.  The final exhibition room was titled "The Asian nations become independent after the war," meaning that Japan obtained the independence for these nations through its war sacrifice, and thus the Asian nations were grateful to Japan for expelling the western colonialists.  At the exit was a guest book, where there were already several thick volumes filled in.  I read what one 16-year-old student wrote: "I am moved by the bravery of Japanese soldiers."  If most Japanese students receive this kind of historical worldview in their education, then it will be hard to get peace in Asia in the future.  I looked at the two ticket sellers at the entrance: they were courteous towards the visitors, and had no idea about the evil message of this place.

So maybe Yu Jie asked people to learn more about Japan before they can say that they 'hate' Japan.  Fair enough, this is what every intellectual should advocate -- informed opinion always rules over blind hatred.  Yu Jie visited Japan personally and saw for himself, and then he had plenty to criticize about and he also wrote to the people of his country.  You can re-read Ralph Jenning's article to see if it is at all consistent with the excerpted translations here.  If Yu's books got pulled off the bookstore shelves in Beijing, it would not be due to his pro-Japanese sentiments.

(Washington Post)  Japan Honors War Dead and Opens Neighbors' Wounds.  By Anthony Faiola.  April 23, 2005.

Inside the hallowed cedar halls of this city's vast Yasukuni Shrine, 168 Japanese lawmakers and aides gathered on Friday, clapping their hands twice in traditional reverence to the deified souls of Japan's fallen warriors.

Joined by almost 50,000 other citizens who attended the shrine's annual spring celebration this week, many of the nation's top lawmakers bowed and offered Shinto prayers to the divine spirits of the shrine -- including a list of more than 1,000 convicted World War II criminals topped by Japan's wartime prime minister, Gen. Hideki Tojo. 

The observance was central to the roiling dispute over history that has engulfed Japan and its primary wartime victims, China and South Korea.

Visitors to Yasukuni are confronted with the exhibit of a reconstructed Zero fighter, which stands in an honored spot inside the shrine's newly expanded museum. Also on exhibit is the gingerly encased military uniform of Hirohito, the wartime emperor. Miniature flags of the Rising Sun can be purchased at the museum gift shop, along with camouflage T-shirts and scale models of the battleship Yamato, sunk by U.S. forces off Okinawa in 1945.

In a museum film, Pearl Harbor is described as a "battle for Japan's survival," while one exhibit blames the 1937 Nanjing Massacre -- in which Chinese officials say Japanese soldiers slaughtered 300,000 people -- on the Chinese leaders who fled the city while ordering their men to fight to the death. After the fall of Nanjing to the Japanese, the museum notes, "the Chinese citizens were once again able to live their lives in peace." 


Constructed of wooden beams and decorated with embroidered purple tapestries bearing the Japanese imperial sign of the chrysanthemum, the shrine was built in 1869, only years before Meiji-era Japan embarked on military buildup that would lead to its rise as a major power.

The names of nearly 2.5 million of the fallen are inscribed here, all of whom are considered to be divine spirits worshiped under Japan's pantheistic Shinto religion. The controversy over Yasukuni shrine largely erupted after 1978, when the names of convicted World War II criminals were included in its sacred book of names, sanctifying their souls as deities whose spirits are believed to dwell inside the shrine. Although more than 1,000 war criminals were enshrined, attention has centered on the 14 "Class A" war criminals -- mostly top Japanese military leaders, including Tojo, who were convicted by the Allies at the Tokyo trials after the war's end.

Although previous prime ministers have periodically come to the shrine, Koizumi outraged Japan's neighbors in 2001 when he began staging annual visits. Koizumi has said he visits the shrine "to console the spirits of the unwilling war dead and renew a pledge not to wage war again."

But critics describe the shrine and its adjacent museum as being anything but a symbol of peace. Here, World War II is instead called "the Greater East Asian War," while the invasion of China is described as "the China Incident." The adjacent museum, which moved to an expanded new building in 2003, displays the short sword used by Gen. Korechika Anami -- who advocated a continuation of the war after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki -- to commit suicide at dawn on Aug. 15, 1945, the day Japan surrendered.

A film at the museum asks visitors to ponder the following statement: "The soldiers fought for the nation. Can you say they did a bad thing?"

There have been some calls to remove the names of war criminals to another shrine, so that Yasukuni can be more confidently used as a place to honor Japan's fallen heroes of the past. But the shrine's leadership opposes the idea, saying it is religiously impossible in Shinto to "remove" souls already enshrined.

"Those people dedicated their precious lives for the sake of the nation," said Shingo Oyama, a Yasukuni priest and the shrine's spokesman. "They are our ancestors. They are precious people to us."