Grassroot Interaction in Sino-Japanese Relationship

This post starts with the comment by Joi Ito:

I'm not trying to trivialize the issues that are being protested by the Chinese, but if they are trying to cause change in Japan, maybe some of them can try to talk to their allies in Japan like me instead of trying to force or scare into submission their enemy. A reasonable bridge building effort between activists and experts on both sides to try to address the issues through tactical maneuvers might be useful.

It is not as if some activities do not exist already for a long time.  So here I will go back and translate from the works of Yu Jie (余杰).  Previously, I had translated excerpts from his Japan travelogue about the worst of Japan in the post An Ambiguous Nation.  There, I noted: "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."  So here, I am going to let Yu Jie tell you about some of those admirable people.

At the end of Chapter 6, Yu Jie met the writer Joe Kanatani (金谷让). (via Peacehall)

Joe Kanatani looks like a cultured intellectual.  He has read many of my essays on the Internet, and he can be said to be thoroughly versed in contemporary literature and academic studies in China.  He is an extraodinary linguist; he studied Russian at university, but he is also versed in Chinese, English and French.  He has translated the works of Chinese authors such Cao Changqing and Zheng Yi, and he is looking forward to translate other excellent Chinese literary works.

On the subject of war memories, Joe Kanatani told me: "The war that our grandfathers and fathers fought did not end for me."  When we talked about the way that the common Japanese citizens look at the war, he said: "The common Japanese citizens did not participate in the war, but they still feel a tinge of regret.  Very few Japanese believe that it is right to send troops to occupy another country without permission."  His own personal view: "The Japanese government should compensate the Chinese victims of the war.  The nation bore a lot of responsibilty.  There are people who argue from a purely legalistic viewpoint that the time limit for legal action has expired.  I happen to think that laws are created by humans and therefore should fit human values.  If necessary, we need to amend the laws."

Joe Kanatani would like to see the end of the "symbolic friendship exchange" between China and Japan and begin the "non-symbolic friendship exchange" instead.  The so-called "symbolic friendship exchange" involves "reputable people" -- that is to say, politicians and business people -- "toasting" each other at banquets.  The "non-symbolic friend exchange" involves the grassroots of both nations meeting each other in everyday settings.

So here are a couple of grassroot encounters by Yu Jie in the same Chapter.

In the morning, we went to visit Matsuoka Tamaki, the author of "The Battle of Nanjing."  Her office is less than five minutes from our hotel.  We walked up the narrow stairs and entered an office that has an area of fewer than 20 square meters.  The office was simply furnished, with books and posters everywhere.  The latest poster was an announcement about the showing of a movie about the Second World War.

Matusoka Tamaki was a secondary school teacher in her 50's.  She is an unpretentious female intellectual who spoke gently, humbly and clearly.  Her son is about my age, and he has gone on to live on his own after graduating from university.  This gave her more time to spend on her research.

Matusoka Tamaki told us that this office is rented by their peace group, and she comes to work here on her days off.  The location is kept secret so that they won't be disturbed by the violent organizations.  In Japan, it is difficult to even work for peace, and the power of the violent organizations surprised me.

"About seventeen years ago, I began to care about the problem of the Nanjing massacre," Matusoka Tamaki showed me her materials as she retold her own personal story.

In 1988, Matusoka Tamaki went to Nanjing and spoke to Nanjing massacre survivor Li Shiaoying.  She was shocked as she listened to Li's teary account, and she sat rigid holding her pen hard in her hand.  Li's closing words included the usual cant: "The militaristic Japanese back then is different from the Japanese people of today, and I hope for friendship between Japan and China" but she also said sternly: "But I still don't feel good inside every time that I encounter any Japanese person today."

That last sentence of Li was like a nail driven into Matusoka Tamaki's heart.  This was how she began to research the Japanese war crimes.  This is a vast, endless task with no rewards but plenty of strands of white hair for her.

This project did not receive the understanding and support of most of her compatriots.  On the contrary, many people publicly opposed and interfered with her project.  As a teacher, Matusoka Tamaki thought that the official educational materials contain major problems and she began to collect her own supplementary reading.  She told us: "At the moment, teachers in secondary schools are subject to a great of pressure about bringing in historical truths outside of the teaching material.  The Education Committee has warned teachers not to talk about external materials, and teachers can be disciplined as a result.  Some students feel that what the teacher said is too barbaric and terrible, and they complain to their parents.  Since the parents don't want the children to learn about these things, they complain to the school.  I see this as a pathetic ostrich-like attitude."

After investing five years of her own spare time to interview more than 200 former soldiers who were involved in the invasion of China, Matusoka Tamaki published "The Battle of Nanjing: In Search of Hidden Memories."  After the book was published, the incensed Japanese nationalists and the violent right-wing forces cruised the streets of Osaka in their propaganda sound trucks, blasting out: "Matusoka Tamaki is a traitor!" and "Cut off the head of Matusoka Tamaki!"  This is how these people exercised their "freedom of speech."

The soft-looking, steel-hearted Matusoka Tamaki was not swayed.  She told us: "When the perpetrators described their crimes in Nanjing, we believe that a narrow ray of light was shone on history and that encourages us to continue our research.  The Chinese victims will regain their self-respect only when the Japanese victimizers apologize from their  hearts and offer tangible compensation.  For security reasons, the old witnesses had to use aliases.  This reminds us firmly that Japan is still unwilling to confront the history of invasion, and things are still unsatisfactory.  But we believe that when the hidden memories are unlocked and the facts of the victimization are revealed, the victims will have their history vaildated and therefore gain comfort."

In the afternoon, Matusoka Tamaki brought Yu Jie and company to visit one of those old soldiers who were at Nanjing:

Before departing, Matusoka Tamaki warned us not to dispaly our status as Chinese reporters and to conceal our cameras when we enter to avoid problems with the neighbors.  She said that when we speak inside later, we must not bring out the camera until she gives the signal.  I find it hard to understand that "freedom of speech" in Japan means that it is so hard to "speak the truth" while those who attack and abuse the truth-speakers are incomparably "free" to do so.

We traveled to the outskirts of Osaka and we proceeded to walk through a traditional residential area with narrow lanes until we arrived at an old house.  There were many small bonsai plants in front of the porch.  Matusoka Tamaki told us that we were visiting an 80-something-year-old soldier.

Matusoka Tamaki knocked on the door, and an old lady opened the door, bowed politely to us and invited us into the small living room.  On the wall was a yellowed certificate issued by the Emperor, plus some awards from the bonsai society.  In the order was a small plaque that said "May The Military Fortune Last Long" signed by a Chinese named Yang who was the president of the Hebei Yingtai Chamber of Commerce.  My cameraman whispered: "When I go back to Hebei next time, I'll try to find out if there is anything in the local archives on this collaborationist named Yang in Yingtai!"

The old man had just finished his afternoon nap, and he was getting out of bed slowly and somewhat groggy.  He had a long and thin body with a thin face and his eyebrows were thick and rising.  From his looks, he must not have been a good person back then.  The old man was on familiar terms with Matusoka Tamaki.  After exchanging some pleasanteries, she took out a stack of photographs and told him: "These are the photos of your unit back then.  See if there are any scenes that you are familiar with."

When the old man saw the photos, he began to talk and he agreed to let us take his photograph.  But since he was afraid of the rightwing violent squads, he asked us not to divulge his real name and to make sure that he cannot be identified from the photographs.

Then this old soldier began to talk.  He joined the army in 1936, and he had been to Tientsin, he had fought in Xuzhou and Nanjing and he was a sentry guard at Guanghua Gate after Nanjing was occupied.  He told us calmly: "When I was on the battlefield, I had no idea when I was going to die.  So I was going to enjoy every day that I live.  Whenever we had the opportunity, we raped Chinese women.  I cannot count how many Chinese women I have raped."  He then recalled how he raped a 13-year-old Chinese girl -- he picked the little girl up like an eagle snatching a small chicken, he raped her and then he killed her.  He seemed like he was talking about someone else, without any sign of shame and remorse, and without any emotional involvement.  This was how he lived for half a century.

The old soldier's wife is a seventy- or eighty-year-old woman, and she just patiently sat on the side, sometimes getting us tea and snacks.  She listened to what her husband said without any shock or discomfort.  She smiled at us kindly, as if she was my grandmother.  She brought out a special cake and insisted that we each take one piece with us as we leave.

An old man who loves bonsai plants is also a murderer with blood on his hand; an old lady who is a welcoming hostess is also a supporter of her husband's crimes.  The culture of this nation is so twisted that it is impossible to comprehend.  The house was small and crowed already, and I could barely breathe and I had to go to the doorway to catch my breath.  Someone with frail nerves as me could never do the work of Matusoka Tamaki.  If I had listened to as many horrible stories, I would be psychologically damaged.

As interesting, constructive and healing the Yu Jie excerpts here may be, there has to be more.  Not more of the same rehash, because there is no hope if everyone keepsl arguing about a piece of history more than half a century ago and its consequences for us today.  Yu Jie went to Japan and spoke to a selected set of people because he wanted to understand the Sino-Japanese relationship and the war was at the heart of it all.  But China and Japan have much more going in their relationship with each other, especially economic interactions.  If the war is an unavoidable part of the relationship, then so too is economics.

I am interested by seemingly trivial efforts such as the one proposed by Leung Po (via InMediaHK) because it can affect many more people outside a small group of intellectuals and activists.

[translation]  Over the past few days, I have been reading news stories and looking at photographs.  There were small Hong Kong schoolchildren covering their eyes because they could not bear to watch the documentary film about the Sino-Japanese war, a Chinese female driver in a Honda being spit at in Shanghai, 100,000 people demonstrating in the streets of Shanghai and citizens voluntarily picking up garbage because they thought that the demonstrators were behaving poorly.

[Editor's note: In case you missed the Shanghai Honda incident, see these screenshots from Japanese television]

At dinner, our family joked about what our home would look like if we removed everything made in Japan (including those made in China with Japanese investment).  Our rice cooker is brand N, our refrigerator is brand S, and the gas stove ... ?  Hey, the rice bowl in your hand was bought for HK$10?  It looks like we won't be able to eat this meal!  Under globalization, we are all cross-lined.  I am in you and you are in me.  How is nationalism giong to cut through this complex situation?  So I ask you to do the following:

(1) Put the items in your home in one place and take a photograph.  This is the original.
(2) White out all those items that were made in Japan in that photo.
(3) Send both photos to me, and we will publish a collage of all the photos in this Sunday's Ming Pao supplement section.
(4) For your efforts, you will receive a gift from a certain HK$10-per-item store.

This may be a superficial exercise, but the much more superficial one is to "Boycott all Japanese goods!"  At the very least, such a project will get people away the binge of smashing 100%-Hong Kong-capital "Japanese" noodle shops, Sony billboards, Honda cars and so on.