What a Japanese tragedy shows us about Chinese bigotry

Posted: March 11, 2011 in Chinese Culture
Tags: , , , , , ,

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.

  1. zhou xueping says:


    • Inuhanyou says:

      I agree.

    • a chinese says:

      should or shouldn’t
      we are extremely happy to see japanese suffer
      maybe i am evil but how evil am i compared to japanese ?

    • sebhai says:

      I understand your hatred against the japanese but don’t you think hate has been going on for too long?Innocent japanese civilians suffered as much as the chinese during the ww2 and they’re definetely the biggest loser after suffering two atomic bombs not to mention they have been highly emasculated by the americans.If you still persist with keeping your hatred,this is not an appropriate moments for it,don’t forget your country also vulnarable by earthquakes attack.Do you remember the sichuan?
      How would you feel if some people on the outside world celebrating it because of their hatred against the chinese government?

    • JC says:

      You’re comparable to a dog.

  2. Michael says:

    Almost everyone knows Nanjing, but few people knows that from 1937 to 1945 Japanese army killed 30 million people in China and 90% of them are not army men.
    In China, still lived a lot of old people whose family menbers killed by Japanese army. I do believe, those Chinese has a reason to show their feeling.

    • Jack says:

      Then the families of those from the past will forever be in loop isnt it? Forever be in hatred because of their mom, grandmom, great grandma …etc
      I see this as some stupid and childish thoughts, and they should learn to be more responsible towards their own words and actions.

      Anyway, I’m sure most of the people who made comments knows how to use internet well, and like what you said – people in the past/no longer around

    • sebhai says:

      You know just recently I read an article about some imbeciles(americans) posting about earthquakes in japan citing it as some sort of karmic retributions for what happened in pearl harbor(??!!).What’s even more interesting some of posters wrote that japan earns the warth of mothernature because of whale and dolphin hunting.They didn’t even missed to promote THE COVE.I don’t know wether I should feel amused or disturbed by this.

  3. Tony the White Cat says:


    If these «brainwashed nationalistic drones» were only 20%, then there might be hope, but right here, just before my comment there are three out of three, and as you say the source of hatred is a well-planned Government propaganda and censorship that substitutes education and information.

    Anyone who knows just a bit of Chinese history knows the fact that Chinese Communist Government killed more people that the Japanese did, and Chinese people are been massively jailed and killed by their Government as you read this, while Japan lost the war, became a democracy, apologized and it is now an advanced and peaceful country, and a economic, industrial, scientific, technological and cultural power that influences the world. China cannot say the same.

    The Chinese Government strategy is brainwashing the people to conceal its own crimes, and to obtain a source of legitimacy while ignoring Human Rights and blaming foreign powers and citizens for their own wrongdoing (we have an example in Global Times, portraying Nobel Prize Liu Xiaobo as a puppet of foreign interests, using childish arguments that will convince only those previously brainwashed).

    China is not regarded as a sensible player in the international arena, but as a unreliable country that terrorizes its people (especially those in Tibet and Xinjiang), invades its neighbors (USSR, India, Vietnam…), makes unfunded claims over other countries territories (Spratly, Paracels, Senkaku…) and systematically brainwashes its citizens to hide the Government own crimes and to promote visceral hate against other people.

    Of course, brainwashed drones see themselves as the victims of an international plot, but that is the true nature of any nationalistic brainwash.

    • sebhai says:

      Try to convince the chinese to drop their hate against the japanese by citing crimes commited by their government is hardly conducive.It is pretty much similiar to convice the americans to forget about 9/11 by citing numbers of those killed by US invasions in the middle east vastly outnumbered than those who died in the two towers.

    • Tony the White Cat says:

      I am not asking them to «forget». I just point the fact that if Japanese are beasts for what they did more than 70 years ago (actually who committed the crimes are dead now), then Chinese are beasts for what they did last century and what they are doing right now.

    • sebhai says:

      Yes but somehow I couldn’t resist drawing some comparisons between the americans and the chinese,many people have pointed out american government killed more people than those who died in 9/11 attack but for most americans(at least in my experiences)still act as if they’re the only victims here.Ironically the chinese have been predicted to be the next ‘americans’.You know what’s even more interesting?There has been a few articles circulating around the internet about some facebook members celebrating japan earthquakes as karmic retribution to pearl harbor!

  4. Jon says:

    Apparently some people in the States think that this is revenge for Pearl Harbor:


  5. SimonSays says:

    The thing is, the people who ran Imperial Japan were still in power after WWII ended, with America more worried about the Cold War than more extensive trials. They even recruited Japanese scientists who performed human experiments. It is only now with the turn of the milennia that those people are starting to retire or pass away.

    That said, I think the revisionist right-wing minority in Japan portrays an unfair inaccurate view of Japanese in general.

  6. Joyce B says:

    As a Chinese myself, I do agree that those Chinese people who posted those celebrating comments online are scums of the society, but I do not understand why so many people are making such a big deal out of it.

    First of all, only a small portion of Chinese people posted some comments celebrating what happened in Japan, and they are seriously criticized by the majority of Chinese.

    Secondly, there were tons of celebration posts online in Japanese, even Korean, forums during 2008 when an earthquake hit Wenchuan, China and 69 thousand people died, believe it or not, I even googled it myself at the time to see the attitude of Japanese towards the disaster in China, however, I do not want to waste the time and find all of them myself again and traumatize myself. Ask your non-Japanese friends in Japan if you have any.

    Moreover, China prepared a rescue team and aid as well to Japan, but was officially refused by the Japanese government yesterday.

    Furthermore, although what those Chinese peopole posted online was wrong, they still have a reason. It is merely history to you, but not for us. For almost all of us Chinese who still live in this world now, we have some family memebers, close or far, killed/tortured/raped by the Japanese soliders during WWII. THIS IS NOT ABOUT WHO MANY PEOPLE THE JAPANESE KILLED (30 million), but how many UNARMED BABIES and OLD PEOPLE they killed, who they killed/TORTURED those innocent Chinese people, how many women they raped, and how they created a lab and used Chinese as guinea mice to try out their new virus and at the reaction after the innocent Chinese people are injected, how they covered the truth in their textbooks, how they still have not apologized, and how the prime minister of Japan still visits the cemetery of the soldiers who did all this (Yasukuni Shrine) regularly. I do not want to say this, but how dare you comment on our feelings and ask us to seperate the people from the military? Aren’t the soliders Japanese? Why could we seperate the US government and the military from the people? The same reason why you can do that to Japan. Because it did not happen to YOU.

    Last but not least, pray for Japan. I do feel very sorry for what happened in Japan. R.I.P to those who died in the natural disaster.

    • Joyce B says:

      sorry i messed up with “how” and “who” twice.

    • anonymous says:

      Japan refused all rescue teams yesterday and only so far has taken in South Korea team. USA and UK rescue teams are accepted but they have not even arrived yet.

    • Joyce B says:

      In 1923, when a huge earthquake hit Great Kanto (Japan), China actively provided assistance to Japan including 200 thousand taels of silver(about 3.5 million US dollars, when China was the poorest in its history), sent the first rescue team, exempted all tariffs of Japanese goods, and called on all Chinese people to forget about the past and stop boycotting Japan to alleviate their burden, even junior high school students donated their money. However, 14 years later, in 1937, when the Yangtze river flooded many places in China, in turn, not only did Japan not refuse to donate a penny to China, but they also officially launched their 8 year full-scale invasion of China (the war mentioned above) at the same time, at China’s weakest.

  7. DDuwill says:

    Your post is just few points from uneducated Chinese, most of Chinese was showing their love and sympathy to Japanese.

  8. zhou xueping says:


  9. zhou xueping says:

    而且有趣的是,当年的Pearl harbor比南京大屠杀情节轻多了,时间更久远,美国愤青们也没有忘记。

  10. Observing says:

    Some of the responses here show how some people casually throw out “facts” which are not based on reality, and use that to excuse racist and despicable behavior.

    Joyce B. in particular with the usual line about Japan never apologizing to Chinese.



    Let me guess, Prime Minister Koizumi’s unprecedented visit to the Marco Polo Bridge, amongst other apologies offered to China, are “not enough.” So now it goes from Japan “never” apologizing to “it’s not enough.”

    And then people accuse Japan of white washing its history!

    A natural disaster is a natural disaster, in China or Japan. To even hint that there’s an “excuse” for some people to engage in hateful posts on the internet because of the past is ludicrous. How about, there’s no excuse, period. I’m not downplaying what China suffered during the WW2 period, and it’s not only certain Chinese that always engages in stupid online behavior in times of tragedy, but shouldn’t we be criticizing these people, period?

  11. Observing says:

    I’d also like to say that the internet breeds a ‘select’ group of cowards who use the anonymity of the internet to engage in mean spirited and hateful remarks, regardless of the tragedy and nationalities involved.

    People always blame the government, in this case the Chinese government, but if that’s the case then why is it that several Chinese government officials have personally expressed their sympathies and offers of aid to the people of Japan? Beyond the hateful messages, there are numerous examples of Chinese citizens offering their aid to Japan, including those involved in sister city exchanges.

    Look beyond the hate and blind ignorance, and you’ll see a lot of good in people.

  12. K says:

    I am of Japanese and Chinese ancestry. And whenever I tell people that, someone always gives me weird looks.

    Yes, there is tension between China and Japan. But that tension is fading!

    The Chinese who posted such horrible comments are just a FEW people out of the entire Chinese population. The Chinese have a saying “見死不救” which means you see death/tragedy but you don’t save them. (Literal translations are always funky..) This saying is SO looked down upon!!

    I mean China is offering aid to Japan! No one in China would want to see something like this and be happy about it. Unless they are blinded by history.

    Even the United States are aiding Japan! Only some ignorant ones are saying it is revenge for Pearl Harbour.

    People have hearts and souls. The history might not be erased, but they let bygones be bygones.

    Do not blame the Chinese for feeling the way they do. The Japanese brutally TORTURED INNOCENT CIVILIANS, RAPED WOMEN, killed everything in SIGHT. They were monsters. MONSTERS. That will always be part of Japan’s dark past.. Always.

    But that doesn’t stop China from helping them. Any civilized country would help another country in such need.

    Besides, China has been doing quite well over the past couple decades. They still hold onto traditions, which is understandable. They have a history well over 5000 years so it’s hard to let go, you know? They’ve been progressing well to the changing world. I wish them luck.

    I’m very proud to be the child of two people of different ethnicities which have been falsely dubbed as “enemies”.

    China does not hate Japan. Japan does not hate China!

    God bless the world.

  13. […] soon after the Japan earthquake, reports went around about how Chinese netizens were jumping for joy. They were followed by reports noting the ambiguity of the sentiments of Chinese […]

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  15. not a bigotry says:

    Eric, You should’ve read some Chinese history before you made those comments.

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