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Misunderstandings between Japan and China


BEIJING — Confrontation between Japan and China over the perception of their shared history continues to only deepen nearly 70 years after the end of World War II. 

In a recent interview with The Asahi Shimbun, Sun Ge, a leading Chinese scholar of Japanese social thought who has actively promoted exchanges between intellectuals of both countries, shared her views on the wisdom of leaving it up to the states and politicians alone to argue history and the possibility of rapprochement between a victimized nation and the responsible nation.

Excerpts of the interview follow:



Question: Mutual distrust between Japan and China is not likely to go away any time soon. What do you have to say to that?


Sun: Japanese often say, “China is a very vibrant country, but it lacks freedom of speech.” They say China is prospering in economic terms but its citizens remain poorly civilized, their human rights are slighted, and their life is difficult under a dictatorship.


The problem is they have this foregone conclusion before they ever see what China is really like. That is a sort of Cold War thinking.



China certainly has restrictions on freedom, but it has freedom in the sense that you don’t have to respect conformity as you typically do in Japan. Individuals who think for themselves in a realm that is neither pro nor anti-establishment are definitely growing in number. Those people have really diverse voices, perceptions and ideas.



A sense of superiority in terms of social life is engendering a discriminatory attitude. The notion of the Japanese that “food ingredients are dangerous if they are from China” has attained a status of ideology. Japan has its own problems, such as false labeling of production areas, but somehow they don’t apply the same standards of thought.


Q: Are there no problems on the Chinese side?

A: China, which was colonized by great powers of the world, has lived a history with a strong sense of inferiority. That has also fueled a backlash in the form of resentment. The Chinese cannot look at other countries without thinking about the status of their own nation. They are not yet ready to face foreign nations on an equal mindset and out of genuine curiosity. They also have bitter feelings about Japan, which used to sit on the periphery of Greater China but has now become one of the world’s leading nations.
 答:中国这个被世界强权殖民过的国家长期以来有着浓重的自卑感,这也加剧了仇恨的逆潮。中国在面对其他国家时总会反观自己目前所处的地位。中国还没做好 以平等心态和出于真正的好奇心来看待他国的准备。他们还对日本有着苦涩的感觉,日本曾经只是大中华的边陲小国,但现在已经是世界上有领导地位的国家了。


A sense of superiority (on the one side) has never struck an emotional balance with a sense of inferiority (on the other side). In other words, the Japanese and the Chinese have never had matching social mentalities.


Q: The anti-Japanese protests that swept across China two years ago shocked many Japanese. What do you think?

A: Chinese society is not so much discontented with Japan as with its own government, which it sees as “weak-kneed.” While I don’t share that view, there certainly is an atmosphere that facilitates the mentality to believe that it should stand firm against Japan, which refuses to squarely face its past.


During the anti-Japanese protests, however, one message made the rounds among young people: “Diaoyu (the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea) belongs to China, and Sola Aoi (a sexy Japanese actress) belongs to the world.” The Chinese of the manga generation have an affinity toward Japan via mass culture. The same can be said of tourists who have visited Japan.

Antipathy runs deep toward the Japanese administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, but the “anti-Japanese” stance on the level of state politics is detached from the real feelings of life. The understanding of Japan by contemporary Chinese is really complicated, as it rests on both antipathy and affinity that lie on those different levels.


Q: The view of Japan is toughening over the perception of shared history. What is your take on that?

问: 由于对历史的看法不同,中国对日本的看法变得更加强硬, 您怎么看?


A: Japan and China have fairly different time frames for viewing their postwar processes, and their perceptions differ with each other. Many Japanese thought their postwar processes were over when Japan signed a peace treaty with Taiwan in 1952, but for Chinese on the mainland, postwar processes with Japan only began (when diplomatic ties were normalized) in 1972.


The honor of the state took precedence over compensation issues under the Cultural Revolution of the time. But Japan did not apologize enough. When Chinese society started to change in the 1990s, the private sector, which began to stand on its own feet, started making compensation and other claims.
 文化大革命期间中国把国家荣誉看得比战争赔偿问题高。但是日本人并没有足够的道歉。当中国社会在90年代开始变化, 开始独立经营的私营部门才开始提出赔偿和其他要求。


Meanwhile in China, people of certain generations had very vivid experiences and awareness of having been victimized. Many were killed in places other than Nanjing (where mass killings took place in 1937). Aren’t the Japanese, without giving their thoughts to the sentiment of the victims, assuming that the Chinese are controlled by their government?
  同时在中国, 有一代人亲身经历了战争,明白自己是受害者。很多人在南京之外的地方被杀了(南京大屠杀发生在1937)。 在没有对受害人感同身受的情况下,日本人认为现在中国人的反日是受到了中国政府的煽动。


The sensible people in Japan, who admit their country is responsible for the war, have only argued domestically with right-wingers who deny that view, and their solidarity with the victims has been less than adequate.


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