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. tobira says:

    Unluckily in Japan it happens the same when you ask about other asian ethnicities, especially Chinese and Korean.

    The asian reactions has a lot to do with revissionism in the japanese historybooks.

    Hopefully one day asians (why not mankind?) will live together in peace.

    Congratulations for your blog.
    Keep up the good job.

  2. 123 says:

    Stop talking about shits. and your bias, thank you so much

  3. 123 says:

    First of all, I am a Chinese, even that I am about 17 but I learned and watched so many stuff about Japan… I don’t hate them but the anger is still there……. And Eric let me tell you, you are not a Chinese and you will never understand our feelings

    You just an American, and I see alot of bias towards China,

    You wrote a bout the current Japanese government didn’t order war crimes, so they don’t have the responsibility apologize. But let me ask you, a old guy borrowed 1000 dollars from you, but he is passed away…. so you wouldn’t ask his son for the money? Bulls……Fing bulls,

    After peal harbor, 2 bombs were fired, what would the US do after Japanese raped all you women, take all your stuff and kill your family????? 10 Bombs?? who knows..

    and you are not Chinese, you will never understand, and I wonder how you got into Qinghua, just because you are an American, not anything else.

    You are just an American that never have mom sister raped. and you feel easy talk about your views.

    I feel sad for you.

    • who says:

      123 – and yet you consider yourself a human being? i think you are an uneducated dehumanized bastard! a lightning should strike you twice!

    • Lithium says:

      What about 911 celebration? From many Islamic Countries’ prospective, that was called “Justice”.

  4. Qian Lin says:

    I am Taiwanese chinese and I like Japanese people. I dont love them. In fact, i dislike most of the japanese particularly the men. They are so chauvinistic and perverted. A small minority are extremely kind and maybe even one of the most generous people i have ever met in my life. God blesses Japan and may their woes end. I find chinese or whoever who celebrate are no better than the japanese in the past and deserve to go to hell. Bless Japan. Love from Taiwan and China.

  5. Rose Woo says:

    I’m Chinese, and I agree with a great deal of what the author of this page has said. I too have had family members affected by the Japanese. However, the past is here to stay, forever… we have to learn to live with it, not be poisoned and held back by it. I don’t know who’s right or who’s wrong here… but all i know is that in these matters a little bit of maturity, restraint and compassion can go a long way

  6. Kedai says:

    Quote: “After all, no Japanese celebrated the Wenchuan earthquake in 2008. In fact, they sent rescue teams and aid.”

    Really? “No Japanese” did that? There’re some excellent examples of selective memory here.
    Anyone who had some proficiency in the Japanese language could have easily found the same type of schadenfreude on Japanese forums after the Wenchuan quakes as you noticed among the Chinese comments. And to use the official response of the country’s government as a proof of Japanese magnanimity is a joke.The Chinese sent official rescue teams to Japan, too. Does that somehow erase the effects of those comments?

    Anyway, rather laudable are your attempts at portraying the Japanese as the most compassionate, level-headed group of people on the planet; but they are futile. Japan’s Asian neighbors have had to deal with this particular nation’s aggression for well over 400 years (Hideyoshi, anyone?); and the same kind of feelings toward them are pretty much shared among the Chinese, the Koreans and many people in Southeast Asia.

    And, just so you know, 1930s Japanese soldiers were pretty much the best representatives of Japan as a nation back then. They were your boys next doors armed with bayonets and rifles, only trained to slaughter without compunction.

  7. Andrew Huang says:

    My mother was born in Nanjing. I stayed there for a few year. I love that city. There is something ancient and spiritual that attracts me in particular which is nonexistent in Shanghai or other cities i stayed.
    But I don’t understand why people always bring up bad memory of that beautiful city. we need to move on. What happened in the past generation is not an excuse for us to hate a friendly person now.
    We never learned anything else about Japanese except Japanese Invasion in our history book. I had my first encounter with Japanese culture is through Kurosawa and Miyazaki. I began to wonder how could a race be so evil to create movies so true and pure. And how can we be so rightous that many of our films are detestable.
    The more I learned about Japanese (and Korean) culture, the more I feelresonant with them. I feel the grace which is not there in many Chinese traditions(I prefer kimono than qipao, Qipao is gaudy). I mean we Chinese are unfortunate, many of our great culture are lost due to Barbarian invasian and civil wars and culture revolutions. We are fortunately to have some neighbours to faithfully keep our traditions.
    Lastly, the reason i come in this site is I am searching:
    It says that many chinese are saved by Japanese army during the flood. Hey, is that our picky memory only remember the bad things?

  8. Iluvcats says:

    It’s bad to remember the old things from last time when japan came over and conquer but now i like Japan because have anime, manga and good massage chair there technology is great.

  9. Lithium says:

    To those who accuse Chinese celebrate Japan earthquake, how much currency you donated to Japan? We Chinese transported enormous amount of currency and recourse to Japan after earthquake, so we have the right to say anything and everything.

  10. Danny says:

    Chinese & Japan r brothers. Enough said n shut the fuck up

  11. Big Correction:

    Yuan was established by Mongolian, was not Chinese. It was Mongolian who invaded other countries. Song dynasty was the most glorious dynasty in Chinese history. However, Mongolian destroyed the glorious and most traditional and genunin Chinese Culture. Chinese was the lowest class of people who is like slave. It is a shame the modern Chinese think Yuan Dynasty was China. After Mongolian invaded China, 70% Chinese were killed, the great chinese civilization were almost destroyed.

  12. daotooent says:


  13. Hazel tan says:

    while reading this article, it’s obvious that you have insufficient intellectual understanding of the inhumane deeds that the Japanese had committed during the world war 2. It’s normal for the Chinese to still bear a grudge against the Japanese considering the amount of damage done. It’s very easy for bystanders like us to simply make sweeping statements about how ‘narrow minded’ the Chinese are for not ‘forgiving’ the Japanese. Because you are not the one who gone through the war, you are not the one who lost your loved ones in the war, thus it is very easy to ‘forget and forgive’ and embrace the Japanese with their ‘apology’ and condone the sins they have committed.
    Not to mention the multiple attempts by the japanese to conceal their crimes by editing their education syllabus. Shame on them.
    My point is that I am not trying to encourage behavior of those who mock at the Japanese for the tragedy that struck them. we should lend them a helping hand. However, what I am trying to re-emphasize is, we should try to put ourselves in the shoes of others before making crude comments about people.

    @tony the white cat: your comparisons is clearly an invalid one. Please read more before making comments. Much appreciated.

Leave a Reply to Qian Lin Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s