Almost all of the news we’ve been reading and watching about the at-times violent demonstrations against the Japanese in China have focused on China’s perspective, according to this article in Slate (and according to my own perceptions as an avid news junkie). “The Japanese see things rather differently,” the writer remarks, “but it’s not like anyone would know.”
We are so used to reading about what angry Chinese are saying about Japan in BBS threads, it’s refreshing to see a similar analysis of what the Japanese are saying.
First of all, the Japanese don’t see China as a victim. China’s nationalism, as belligerent as it may appear, is rooted in a sense of suffering from a “century of humiliation” that goes back to the First Opium War and the British acquisition of Hong Kong in 1842. What some of the more rabid Chinese don’t appreciate, however, is that the rest of the world — especially Japan — does not see China as the underdog.
One Channel 2 discussion thread showed a map of a “unified” China that includes Japan, painted red. “Today’s China is the world’s most aggressive country,” responded one commenter. Another said, “No matter how you look at it, the imperialist nation is China.” Yet another, “ ‘Down with Japan’s imperialism!’—I don’t want to hear that from some guys who have anachronistic territorial expansion ambitions.” In a separate discussion, a commenter wrote, “the next World War will be China vs. the world.” There were also calls for Japan to develop a stronger military of its own and not be so reliant on the U.S.-Japan security alliance. “As America’s power has gotten weaker, Japan must protect its own country.”
Some threads, she writes, question whether these protests are even about Japan, and might instead be an outlet for Chinese people’s frustration with domestic issues, like the great divide between the rich and the poor.
I realize analyzing message board threads isn’t the most sophisticated or accurate way to gauge Japan’s attitudes toward the riots, but it’s good to hear about the Internet buzz in Japan, which has been totally drowned out by the buzz in China.
The article ends by saying the current demonstrations are counter-productive.
The sad thing is, many Chinese truly believe they were wronged by Japan. They cite not only Japan’s World War II-era behavior, but its failure to acknowledge the depth of suffering inflicted on the Chinese. After these protests, this legitimate grievance will be even less likely to be heard by Japan.
I disagree with the way she expresses this, as I believe the issue of Japan acknowledging the wrongs it inflicted on the Chinese during WWII is a dead one. How many more apologies do they want? But it’s counterproductive in many other ways. China has shown a very ugly side the past several days, and I don’t believe these riots and their accompanying violence have done anything to improve China’s image or to change the notion among many that China remains a prickly, hypersensitive, jingoistic child that is in no way ready for prime time.
Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.