Rui Chenggang On Japan

CCTV English-language anchorperson Rui Chenggang is presently in the news for his blog posts asking Starbucks to remove its coffee shop from inside the Forbidden Palace in Beijing, China (see Comment 200701#043).  While Rui Chenggang has obvious professional standing, his personal opinions are less well-known.  Who is he?  Is he a xenophobic nationalist?

The following is a translation of a blog post by Rui Chenggang dated September 30, 2006.  For whatever reason, it received a lot less attention then.  There is a reason why this is being translated now and presented here.  On January 19, 2007, after the Starbucks story spread globally, Rui Chenggang wrote in a follow-up blog post

[in translation]

The Starbucks blog post was written early morning before I went to bed.  But this other blog post took me several days to write, after having thought about it for several years.  There are some comparisons and contrasts with what I tried to say in the Starbucks essay.  On the day before yesterday, a friend mentioned that if a Japanese tea house were to set up in the Forbidden Police, it would have been expelled a long time ago.

2007 is the year of Sino-Japanese friendship.  This is dedicated to Sino-Japanese friendship.  For those friends who understand me, please read this essay.  I believe that you will understand this one as well. 

(Rui Chenggang's blog)  An essay about Japan that every Chinese person ought to read.  September 30, 2006.

[in translation]

The title of this essay is obviously way too exaggerated, because this essay is just my personal reflections.  The reason why the title is written this way is that it is an imitation of the publicity slogan for the movie <Judgment in Tokyo.>  The movie poster contained this line: A Movie That Every Chinese Person Should Watch.

I thought that slogan was exaggerated and overstated.  The movie was not bad and it told a piece of history that is barely known.  But the publicity slogan is suspected of using the patriotism of the Chinese people to sell cinema tickets.  Besides that piece of painful history has been etched in the minds, conversations, lives and even consciousness of all Chinese persons, so that there is no urgent need to remind them.  That publicity slogan was more appropriate in the era of "the wind is howling/the horses are baying/Yellow River is roaring/Yellow River is roaring." (Note: These are lyrics from the <Yellow River Cantata> written for the period of the War of Resistance Against Japan).

We will not and we cannot forget the national shame.  We think about it all anytime anywhere in our lives.  Every time that I climb Xiangshan for sport and I see the ruins of the Xiangshan temple that was destroyed and torched by the Anglo-Franco army, I would reflect: this great country had been humiliated once upon a time.

All descendants of the Chinese people should go often to visit the Xiangshan educational base for patriotism.  They should go to experience and reflect.

But the purpose of patriotic education is not to re-open up the ancient wounds over and over again.  It is not to sow and disseminate hatred.

Our goal is -- to remember history and re-invigorate ourselves continuously.

China and Japan

How does our generation of young people look at the nation of Japan and its people?  This question is very difficult to answer.  Our unique process of growing up has given us some relatively complicated attitudes towards Japan.

When we were young, we watched movies such as <Little Soldier Zhang Ga> and <The Tunnel War> and we hummed the theme song from <Iron Arm Tong Mu>.  We imitated Ge You's dad talking like a Japanese ghoul.  Yamaguchi Momoe and Ken Takakura also formed out initial aesthetic standards about women and men.  When the school booked the cinema so that we can watch <The Nanjing Massacre>, I was probably still collecting paper-cuts for <Warriors of Constellation>.  The first time that I heard the words <Yakusuni Shrine>, <Tokyo Love Story> was our companion during the hardest period of our student lives ...

Today, from mobile telephone to automobiles, from materialistic goods to culture, aspects of Japan have permeated through our lives.  Yet when we open our email inbox, we find emails that call for us to boycott Japanese goods.  When I drive my car, I lift up my head and I see that the car in front has these words on its rear: "The big knife is chopping down on the heads of the ghouls."

What are Japanese goods?

Let me make up an exam question:  Which of the following Chinese terms were imported from Japan?

服务、组织、纪律、政治、革命、党、方针、政策、申请、解决、理论、哲学、原则,经济、科学、商业、干部、后勤、健康、社 会主义、资本主义、封建、共和、美学、美术、抽象、逻辑,证券、总理、储蓄、创作、刺激、代表、动力、对照、发明、法人、概念、规则、反对、会谈、机关, 细胞、系统、印象、原则,参观,劳动、目的,卫生,综合,克服,马铃薯

[in translation]  Service, organization, discipline, politics, revolution, party, direction, policy, application, solve, theory, philosophy, principle, economy, science, commerce, cadre, reserve, health, socialism, capitalism, feudal, republic, aesthetics, art, abstract, logic, stock, premier, savings, creative, stimulation, represent, impetus, relative, invention, legal entity, concept, rule, oppose, conference, department, cell, system, impression, labor, purpose, health, combined, overcome, potato.

The answer:  All of the above.  They were all borrowed from the Japanese language.  Actually, there are many more words in Chinese that came from the Japanese language.  There are too many to enumerate.

For example, "经济" meant "living in the world to benefit the people."  This has nothing to do with "economy" in the contemporary Chinese language.  It is the Japanese translation of the English-language term "economics."  "社会" means "assembling to form a community" in ancient Chinese language, but the Japanese used it for the English-language term "society."  "劳动" means "excuse me" in ancient Chinese, but the Japanese used it to translate the English-term "Labor."   "知识" means "people who know each other" in ancient Chinese language, but the Japanese used it to translate the English-language term "labor."  And we just brought all those terms from the Japanese language into the Chinese language.

For all those friends who want to boycott Japanese imports, can you boycott all these Japanese terms?  In contemporary Chinese history, Sun Yat-sen, Lu Xun, Chen Duxiu, Li Dazhao and others all lived and studied in Japan and then they brought the progressive concepts and ideas back to the backwards China of the time.  Can you boycott the thoughts and culture of those people?

As a person in the television business, I want to add also: all the television programs that you see today in China are filmed with Japanese cameras and edited with Japanese equipment.  Can you boycott all that?

People who are familiar with history will tell us: once upon a time, China was the teacher to Japan.  But Japan had gone ahead of us twice before.  During the Sui and Tang dynasties of ancient China, exchanges began between China and Japan.  China had become a civilized society earlier than Japan, which sent emissaries over to China to learn.  (Chinese moviemakers should cover these emissaries in order to explain the origin of Sino-Japanese friendship.)

Yet, in the contemporary era, Japan became powerful rapidly after the Meiji reform.  During the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895, Japan not only defeated China but it also broke off the western control of Japan.  It went far ahead of China.

The rapid ascension of Japan brought hope to the entire eastern world.  It became the model for how an eastern country could break away from western control and rise independently.  At the time, it was hard to travel far and it was very difficult for the Chinese to learn directly from the west.  So learning from Japan was the only choice.  Thus, Li Dazhao, Chen Duxiu, Sun Yat-sen and other Chinese political and intellectual elite went to study in Japan in order to explore how China can re-invigorate itself.  They even used Japan as their base.

Yet, during the Second World War, Japan committed atrocious crimes in China.  This is something that the Chinese people will never forget, and this is something that Japan must forever remember.  We will not permit anyone to distort this piece of history and change the facts.

But we can also see this: after the Second World War, Japan rose again from the ruins.  It went from zero to ten thousand.  In the 1970's/1980's, China was in the spring of welcoming the reforms and Japan once again became our teacher in market economy.  Through the war indemnity payments and direct investments, the Sino-Japanese trade created the prosperity in China today.  At the time, we were still very young but we can roughly remember that the Sino-Japanese relationship was very good.  That can be described as a honeymoon period.  As we moved into the 1990's, the shameful acts of certain Japanese politicians pushed us further away from Japan.

When China and Japan established diplomatic relationship, the Japanese leader made repeated apologies.  Only when leaders like Junichiro Koizumi emerged did there appear dreadful acts that hurt the feelings of the Chinese people.  We cannot let a few ambitious Japanese politicians or a few retrogressive and pitiful Japanese political forces derail the long-term project of Sino-Japanese friendship.  We should not forget how several generations of Chinese and Japanese leaders, beginning with Zhou En-lai and Tanaka Kakuei, had worked so hard to build Sino-Japanese friendship.

That bitter part of Sino-Japanese history is just one shadow cast in the two-thousand-year history of Sino-Japanese relationship.  It is not everything.  The future will be even longer.

We cannot keep repeating that the Chinese language is the ancestor of the Japanese language, wanting the Japanese people to be the descendants of the 3,000 boys and girls that could not find the magical eternal-life potion for the First Emperor of Qin, or forgetting (or even being totally ignorant) of the contributions that Japan has made towards China.  Admitting someone else's good points does not mean that you are deprecating yourself.  On the contrary, it is an expression of self-confidence.

When we left school to work in society, our parents and elders often instruct us: when you look at someone, you should look for his good points.  If you have to look for the good points in a person, you ought to do that even more so for a nation or a people.  You cannot just take a partial view.

Earlier, Nobel Literature Prize winner Oe Kenzaburo was holding a book signing session in Beijing and some Chinese person was protesting with an anti-Japanese banner.  This was an embarrassment for the Chinese people.  This kind of action only destroys the image of the Chinese people themselves.

For our generation, I hope that after we condemn the Junichiro Koizumi's contemptible visit of the Yakusuni Shrine, we can go home and listen to the music of Seiji Ozawa; after we denounced the anti-China speeches of Tokyo mayor Ishihara Shintaro, we can read some Haruki Murakami novels ...

Power and Grandeur

<Fearless> starring Jet Li was a movie that touched me so much that I could not sleep all night.  The most important reason was that the movie answered a question for many Chinese people, especially young Chinese people living under globalization: "How shall we look at the world and ourselves?"

In the backdrop for the movie, the various powerful nations of the world were dividing China among themselves.  The character Huo Yuanjian (played by Jet Li) stepped into the arena and was asked to sign a letter that absolves all others of responsibility in case he should die.  The first thing that he said was: "The death match in an arena is a bad practice among the Chinese people.  But we have another tradition, and that is to meet friends through the martial arts."  Under the humiliating circumstances, he stepped up and immediately reflected on his own inadequacies, and then he faced his powerful opponents properly.  Such composure!  Such confidence!

Huo Yuanjia defeated each opponent not by just by overpowering him with force.  He used his class and style to make the opponent admit defeat from the depth of his heart.  His goal was not to make the opponent lose, but to make the other party "agree."  Agreement does not mean just making someone call you "Elder Brother."  It means that the other party will accord you with respect from the bottom of his heart.  It means that you use your personal charisma to melt away his prejudice and obstinacy.  It means that you use the aura of humanity to illuminate the corners in his heart that sunlight has never shone upon.

The description of the Japanese people are also dichotomous and objective.  The Japanese warrior who dueled with Huo Yuanjia was frank and honorable, and he admired Huo Yuanjia from his heart.  The president of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce who planned the poisoning of Huo Yuanjia was a schemer.  The Japanese warrior condemned the Japanese Chamber of Commerce president for dishonoring Japan on account of his gambling bet, thus bringing shame to the people of Japan.  It should be mentioned that this movie was shown normally in Japan without any Japanese people saying that it misrepresented the image of the Japanese people.

As Huo Yuanjia was dying, his students were irate and wanted to go and take revenge.  But he told his students: "What you need to do now is not to take revenge.  Hatred can only create more hatred.  I don't want to see hatred.  The most important thing is -- strengthen yourselves."

In the final analysis, you have to re-invigorate yourselves.  Making yourself strong is the hardest truth.  These few words distilled the lessons from the history of the Chinese people and the entire human race.

Our great Chinese ancestors had this vision and they hoped the same for we who are following them.  We must let this spirit live on.

Now this is the movie that every Chinese person should watch.

Today, China is flourishing.  It stands among the peoples of the world with great strength.  This is something that everybody in the world knows.  You can travel all over the world, and the foreigners will tell you that we do not need to provide any more evidence.  No one will feel that we are weak because we don't score enough goals, or we don't win enough gold medals, or we don't say enough extremist words.

To be powerful, you need actual strength.  But to be grand, you need a good mind.

The Misunderstanding between China and the World: The Blind Men feeling the Elephant

We should ask ourselves, and also all the friends who are cursing out the Japanese: "Have you been to Japan?  Do you have friends that have been to Japan?"  Most of the answers will be NO.  My impressions of Japan had not been good, but I examined myself.  Apart from that particular piece of history, most of what I knew was hearsay.  I had not been to Japan.  I did not have any Japanese friends.  I have not even interviewed any Japanese political figures or corporate leaders.

Consider an American.  He has never been to China.  He has no Chinese friends.  He has only seen some unfavorable comments about China in the media and he concludes that China is bad.  I definitely cannot accept that.  I would say: "You have no right of speech without investigation.  You know nothing about the Chinese people.  How can you make such a judgment?"

But do we understand the Japanese?

Japan is a country that is closest to us but one about which we least understand.  Most of our young people know much more about the European and American countries than Japan.  Of course, Japan is not an easy country to understand, and there are two sides to the Japanese people.  But from the viewpoint of a third person, Japan is no more difficult to understand than China.  The problem is not that Japan cannot be understood.  Instead, the issue is whether we are willing to try to understand.  (Ruth Benedict's <The Chrysanthemum and The Sword> and Lai Xiao'er's <The Japanese People> are excellent books).

Those foreign friends who have visited China told me almost without exception that China was more splendid and better than they imagined.  A trip to China often corrected their bad or mistaken ideas through reading too many novels.  If you genuinely want to know Japan, a trip to Japan can often change many things.  With this purpose, I went to visit Japan and it changed many of my previous over-simplified and subjective views.

When I spoke to the students of Yale University about China, I often used the analogy of the blind men feeling the elephant to describe the misunderstanding of most Americans about China and its people, and also about the misunderstanding of the United States by the Chinese people.  Often, everybody just touch some body part and then conclude that this is the whole of the elephant.  They are missing the full picture.  This is even true for certain American friends who have lived in China for a long time and certain Chinese friends who have settled down to live in America.  They stay in certain relatively set circles and they have not attempted to understand the country in a multi-dimensional way.  Therefore, they insist on holding certain biased views based upon their personal experiences.

Such is the relationship between China and Japan.  I frequently hear some Chinese people who had lived in Japan denouncing the various bad things about the Japanese people.  After listening to them, I often have some anti-Japanese sentiments too.  But then I think about the fact if these people were living in China, they would also have a long list of complaints against the Chinese people.  I also know many Chinese people who are successful in Japan, including some Chinese people who dominate and bully Japanese people in Japan to the point that I even find it unbearable to watch.

In history, the conflicts and wars between nations originate with mutual distrust.  Due to mutual distrust, wrong judgments are made about each other and this leads to over-sensitive reactions.  Finally the distrust and misjudgment create an atmosphere of mutual hostility, which is intensified until the predictions that underlie the distrust are fulfilled.  The civilized people of today should be able to avoid the tragedy that emanates from distrust and misjudgment.  In order to make possible the peaceful development of China, we need to work hard to eliminate the distrust and prevent the misjudgment from forming.

One into two, three, four ... we look at Japan, America and the world in a multi-dimensional, diversified, rational and self-confident manner.  This is the mind and vision that the 21st century Chinese youth ought to have.


"The sick man of East Asia."  These words caused a great deal of resentment in me.  But apart from us mentioning it, I have never heard any foreigners bring it up, and I have never seen it in the foreign media.

When I am outside of China, I frequently remind myself not to be over-sensitive.  When I travel in a developed country, if the service worker has a bad attitude, the driver is dishonest, a friend says a couple of unintended words and so on, I would think immediately: "prejudice!"  Then I used my superior command of English to curse them out until they have no leg to stand on.  Next I used my knowledge of the western rules to complain to their bosses.  Afterwards, I feel that I have let off some steam on behalf of the Chinese people.  (Relatively speaking, Japan is the nation that I feel the least need to make complaints)

From the security at the Versailles Palace to the health inspection at the Sydney airport, from American traffic police officers to Austrian air stewardesses, I cannot remember how many times that I got angry because I was not receiving the proper treatment that I or any other Chinese person should have gotten.

Some of these complaints were necessary and even totally essential.  But after I calm down, I often find that the local people that I complained about treated anyone (including people from their own country) with the same attitude as opposed to targeting Chinese people.  This is just like the rude people that we often encounter in China.  Rather, it is the Chinese people who have a unique history and therefore tend to create associations in their minds.  If the same thing were to occur in Laos or Namibia, I would not have thought along those lines.

For example, the Japanese are commonly regarded as being superficially polite but very anti-foreign.  The English and American people feel the same way as the Chinese people, but we readily interpret this as anti-Chinese prejudice.

The mindset of an island nation exists elsewhere.  For example, the English people still do not regard themselves as Europeans even now.  The French people sense that and they have strong reactions.

Also, it must be admitted that certain unreasonable things even if they are specifically directed only against the Chinese people are often because some of our compatriots never follow the local customs and create really bad impressions there.  At such times, we need not only to let off some steam on behalf of the Chinese people, but we need to use our self-cultivation to showcase the Chinese people.

Kyoto, National Anthem

The most glorious period in Chinese history is the Tang dynasty.  We are proud of that.  But if you walk down the streets of Xian today, you will not be able to trace Chang'an city (note: the capital of the Tang dynasty) back then.

Do you want to see what Chang'an looked like approximately?  Please proceed to the city of Kyoto in Japan.  Kyoto was constructed according to the structure, architecture and city plan of Chang'an.  Our Chang'an is fuzzy and vague today, but Kyoto is well-preserved in Japan.  We must say that this is our sorrow.

On the day that I left Kyoto, I entered a taxi.  The taxi driver asked me where I was from.  China, I replied.  As soon as I finished saying that, the melody of the National Anthem of the People's Republic of China reached into my ears.  The taxi had the national anthems of several dozen nations on the MP3 player.  The taxi driver plays the national anthem of whichever country the passenger comes from.  While I was delighted, I had this thought: "How very strange?  The background for our national anthem was the period when Japan invaded and occupied China.  What would the taxi driver think if he learned that?  Would he still play the Chinese national anthem for me?  Should he apologize first to the Chinese passengers in the car for his elders who invaded China back then and for those exhibitionistic politicians today first, before he plays the music?"

Forget it.  I'm thinking too much.  This is getting too complicated.  As I watched the simple and sincere smile on the Kyoto taxi driver and enjoyed the ride through the streets of Kyoto while listening to the national anthem, I wanted to enjoy this wonderful moment with self-confidence.

I hope China and Japan will be friends for ages ...