While disasters usually have a tendency to bring out the best in humanity, as soon as I heard about the massive 8.9 magnitude earthquake in Japan earlier today, I cynically predicted it would be the other way around here in China. I went to my Chinese Facebook and some forums and sure enough, I saw comments like this:
– “Japan earthquake, tsunami, oh ha ha ha ha ha. Brings satisfaction to everyone! Retribution, retribution ah!”
– “Japan earthquake, too cool”
– “Why did so few Japanese die?”
– We’re not small like Japan because we’re human beings, not pigs. Let little Japan suffer this little holocaust.
– Japan’s earthquake is worth celebrating. We should gloat. In the face of natural disasters, people are a country. Japanese people do not deserve sympathy. Give up the Diaoyu Islands, change the textbooks, then nothing will be wrong.
I was actually happy to see that comments like these only made up about 20% of the earthquake mentions. In fact some of the first comments I saw posted were preemptively imploring other Chinese to have self-respect and not celebrate the earthquake. After all, no Japanese celebrated the Wenchuan earthquake in 2008. In fact, they sent rescue teams and aid. But even those comments met responses like:
– “They didn’t laugh at the Wenchuan earthquake, but they killed 300,000 people in Nanjing. They were not so friendly and calm to the Chinese then.”
For three years I taught at a university in Nanjing and I must have heard the exact same thing a hundred times. Whenever I made someone justify hating Japan, they would inevitably cite what Japanese soldiers did 74 years ago in Nanjing. Then they would go on to say Japan never apologized and doesn’t teach about its atrocities in textbooks.
I tried showing evidence to the contrary, arguing that 1937-era soldiers don’t represent all Japanese, and even resorted to highlighting China’s own whitewashed history. It was like throwing stones in a pond though. It rarely made a lasting impact. Even when confronted with these things, most would still say, “I don’t know why, but I just have the feeling that I can’t accept Japanese.”
One year I started doing a stereotypes lesson and had students finish the sentence “Japanese people are______.” True to today’s form, about 80% would say neutral or positive things like “serious, hardworking, or efficient.” But there was always that 20% that would write things like “animals, pigs, garbage, brutal, or not human.”
The strange thing was that the 20% were very educated and internationally aware. Some of my smartest students would be the ones going off on the most belligerent and hateful anti-Japanese rants.
Criticizing the US was also common, but in that case, they were almost always able to separate the American government and military from the American people. Why couldn’t they do the same for Japan?
Anti-Japanese nationalism has been a staple of Chinese government legitimacy since the Party was seriously challenged in 1989. Graphic emphasis of Japanese atrocities in school textbooks and an almost universal downplay of anything positive has created a generation that hates Japan even more than the one that actually lived through the war.
When the lion’s share of the exposure you get to a country is seeing pictures of your dismembered countrymen killed at their hands, I suppose the hate isn’t surprising. And when there’s an out-group regarded as sub-human, it’s always tempting to decry them further together with your in-group as a cheap means of achieving unity.
In the last few years the Chinese government has seen this sentiment backfire violently and has backed off in fanning anti-Japanese feelings; but as some reactions today showed…there won’t be a dramatic shift in attitudes anytime soon.
But I have to give a lot of credit to the majority 80% for disproving the stereotype that all Chinese are brainwashed nationalistic drones. In the Chinese blogosphere there were many intelligent and sensitive responses that frankly surprised me. I’ll end with a few of those, and hope that this majority can influence the 20% still clinging to their senseless prejudice. Maybe some good can come out of this tragedy for China and Japan.
– *Sigh* Pray for the Japanese. There are so many narrow-minded nationalists shouting online.
– The Japanese launching a war several generations ago does not mean all Japanese should be dead now. Like China’s invasion during the Sui Dynasty of Korea and the Tang. The Yuan invaded numerous countries, but this doesn’t mean we are damned now.
– Blind hatred is irrational ignorant performance without virtue in the face of disaster. We have to overcome hatred. Under the conditions of the new era, patriotism is to have a sensible spirit.
– Remember when [the Sichuan] primary schools collapsed? Thinking of those children’s pain and fear, I feel sad. Hope that the Japanese victims can be saved as soon as possible.
– China as a great power should have power of mind.