Fri, Feb 18, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Two tigers prowling in one forest

By Peter Hays Gries

When the Japanese government decided in December to ignore China's protests and allow former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) to visit, China lashed out at its neighbor, even threatening retaliation. This dispute is characteristic of a remarkable flurry of anti-Japanese activity in China since 2003.

That August, construction workers in Qiqihar mistakenly ruptured mustard gas canisters left over from the wartime occupation by Japan, injuring dozens and killing at least one person. The Chinese public reacted with fury to the gory photos of the injured. One million signatures were rapidly gathered on an Internet petition demanding that the Japanese government thoroughly resolve the chemical weapons issue, while Internet chat rooms filled with anti-Japanese invective.

Two weeks later, 400 Japanese businessmen allegedly hired as many as 500 Chinese prostitutes for a weekend sex party at a hotel in Zhuhai. Racy reports in China's press sparked another round of righteous fury, drawing on the trope of China as a raped woman. Occurring on the 72nd anniversary of the 1931 Mukden Incident that led to the Japanese occupation of Manchuria, 90 percent of Chinese respondents to an Internet poll said they believed that the Japanese businessmen had intended to humiliate China.

The following month, at a party thrown by Northwestern University in Xian, three Japanese students and one of their Japanese teachers performed a skit during which they pranced around the stage with red bras over their T-shirts.

In Japan, such skits are apparently regarded as humorous; in China, the skit was seen as lewd and insulting. The Japanese students received death threats. Thousands of Chinese demonstrated on campus and through the city, shouting "Boycott Japanese goods!" and "Japanese dogs, get out!" A Japanese flag was burned outside the foreign students' dorm. Even though the Japanese students apologized, they were expelled.

Then, last August, during the Asian Cup soccer tournament, Chinese fans in Chongqing, Jinan and Beijing hurled insults at the Japanese team -- and bottles at their team bus. During the Cup final between China and Japan in Beijing, which Japan won, Chinese fans reportedly chanted "Kill! Kill! Kill!" and "May a big sword decapitate the Japanese!"

Sino-Japanese amity was hardly enhanced in November when a Chinese nuclear submarine encroached into Japanese waters. Nor did it help when Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) snubbed Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's invitation to visit his country.

Why has this popular nationalism emerged? And why is it directed at Japan? The short answer is that after a quarter-century of economic reform, Chinese are now much freer to express themselves. Under Mao, when the Chinese Communist Party sought accommodation, diplomatic recognition and development aid from Japan, Chinese were not allowed to confront their past victimization at the hands of Western and Japanese imperialism. Today, however, Chinese are facing past atrocities from the "Century of Humiliation" that ended with the Communist takeover in 1948, and a long suppressed anger has resurfaced.

To most Chinese, the Japanese are paradigmatic "devils," not only because of the brutality of Japanese imperialism and the sheer number of Chinese killed by Japanese troops. Anti-Japanese anger has an ethical justification rooted in the perceived injustice of "little brother" Japan's impertinent behavior toward "big brother" China, from China's loss in the Sino-Japanese Jiawu War and the humiliating Treaty of Shimonoseki to the insulting "21 Demands" of 1915 and on to World War II atrocities like the Rape of Nanking.

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