Human nature in an endless cycle of wrong

Thursday, August 4, 2005

Human nature in an endless cycle of wrong, self-justification and retribution

Today’s Chinese have been shaped by an anti-Japanese patriotic education, overseen by a government that is aware that its own domestic credentials depend, in part, on a hard line toward Japan. Having a hated neighbor shores up national solidarity and helps distract people from the failings of the Chinese Communist Party. Besides the party’s monopoly on power, few orthodoxies are as untouchable today as hostility toward Japan.

Yu Jie, a Chinese author who spent time in Japan researching a book on the two countries’ relations, Iron and Plough, and went on to write another book about his experiences in Japan, discovered that at his own expense.

The books are nuanced works, built around lengthy conversations with pacifists, right-wing activists, scholars of every stripe and ordinary Japanese. One chapter, “Looking for Japan’s Conscience,” warned against speaking of Japanese in blanket terms.

“In the 60 years since the war, numerous Chinese and Japanese people have worked for the difficult Sino-Japanese friendship, selflessly emitting a dim yet precious light,” he wrote.

The books appeared briefly in stores and then disappeared. In a country where censorship is routine, that is a sure sign, the author said, that officials had put pressure on the publisher or the stores to withdraw them.

Mr. Yu said China’s policy toward Japan was unlikely to become more balanced as long as an authoritarian government remained in place, because Japan offered an unrivaled distraction from China’s own problems.

“We criticize Yasukuni Shrine, but we have Mao Zedong’s shrine in the middle of Beijing, which is our own Yasukuni,” he said. “This is a shame to me, because Mao Zedong killed more Chinese than the Japanese did. Until we are able to recognize our own problems, the Japanese won’t take us seriously.”

–Norimitsu Onishe and Howard W. French, “Ill Will Rising Between China and Japan,” The New York Times 8/3/05.

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