TV & Radio
Saturday, Dec. 10, 2005
Why Japan Keeps Provoking China
Beijing's growing regional power has spurred a rightward political shift in Tokyo
By JIM FREDERICK/TOKYO
Surrounded by long, broad paths and shady groves of cherry trees, Yasukuni Shrine is one of the most pleasant refuges in the crowded urban tangle of central Tokyo. But its peaceful setting belies its central role in a deepening controversy over Japan's interpretation of its wartime past. Inside its walls, Shinto priests regularly honor men executed as war criminals after World War II, and memorabilia from kamikaze pilots, the Burma death railway and other highlights of Japan's wartime history are displayed at the shrine's museum, next door. When Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visited the Shinto sanctuary (as he has once a year, every year since taking office in 2001) on October 17, he knowingly ignited a firestorm of condemnation from China and South Korea. For those countries, the visits are a hurtful homage to Japan's warmongering past and are one of the main reasons Chinese premier Wen Jiabao called off a meeting with Koizumi at the East Asian summit starting December 12.
"Yasukuni has been a major obstacle to better relations throughout Asia for a long time," says Jeff Kingston, a professor of Japanese history at Temple University's campus in Tokyo, "but the friction just keeps getting worse."
Although the name Yasukuni means "Peaceful Nation," the Shine's controversial history has been anything but peaceful. Built in 1869, Yasukuni Shrine commemorates the souls of more than 2.5 million of Japan's war dead. During Japan's colonial era, military and political leaders made the shrine a focal point of Japan's native religion, which they used to help justify Tokyo's drive to conquer Asia. Nationalist propaganda proclaimed that the souls of those who sacrificed their lives at war for Japan would live on forever, venerated as heroes, at Yasukuni. Soldiers, pilots and seamen heading into battle would frequently bid farewell to each other by saying, "See you at Yasukuni."
Although Japan embarked upon a drive to become an economic superpower following its military defeat in 1945, the Yasukuni shrine has remained a quiet but potent and enduring symbol for the country's die-hard nationalists. Since 1959, priests at Yasukuni have quietly enshrined over 1000 convicted war criminals, including infamous figures like Hideki Tojo, the wartime prime minster and Nazi supporter who ordered the attack on Pearl Harbor. The shrine frequently attracts ultra-conservatives who wear rising-sun headbands, drive ominous black vans blaring military marches, and call on the Japanese people to reassert the emperor's divinity and resist foreign influences.
While those black-van nationalists have long been an easy-to-ignore radical fringe, increasing anxieties over China's new global assertiveness have spurred a gradual rightward shift in the Japanese mainstream over the past decade. For politicians like Koizumi, Yasukuni is regaining its talismanic importance — even before he was elected, Koizumi promised on the campaign trail to visit Yasukuni every year.
Not surprisingly, most Japanese are reluctant to acknowledge that nationalism is on the rise, and they resent the accusation especially from China, a country that spends a far greater proportion of its GDP on defense than Japan does. They point to Japan's 60-year track record as a democratic, pacifist, nuclear-weapon free nation, and say that Japanese leaders have apologized for World War II frequently and publicly. They also ask what the the more than $33 billion in direct aid, technical assistance and loans Japan has given to China since 1979 is, if not de facto reparations for past injustices.
But while Japanese school kids are not taught to hate the Chinese, they are sometimes offered a distinctly exculpatory version of World War II history. At Yasukuni's museum visitors learn that U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt restricted energy exports to Japan not in protest at Japan's invasion of China, for example, but because in 1939, he had resolved to join Great Britain in the war, and used "embargoes to force resource-poor Japan into war." Likewise, an exhibit on the "Nanking Incident" of 1937 does not mention the tens of thousands (and perhaps hundreds of thousands) of Chinese citizens the Japanese military slaughtered there in 1937 and 1938. It says only that, "The Chinese were soundly defeated, suffering heavy casualties. Inside the city, residents were once again able to live their lives in peace."
And due to Japan's distinction as the only country to have suffered the effects of atomic bombs, many Japanese even perceive their country as one of the war's great victims. The growing popularity of nationalist pop culture, meanwhile, is only reinforcing the lapses in education. In "Introduction to China," a best-selling comic book, readers learn that Japanese atrocities like the massacre at Nanking or the biological experiments on Chinese prisoners by the Imperial Army's Unit 731 either never happened or have been cynically exaggerated for Chinese political gain. And today, the comic claims, China is a leading exporter to Japan of crime, prostitution and disease.
With booming economic growth and accompanying military build-ups in East Asia, the arguments over historical events 60 years ago may sound somewhat beside the point to many outsiders. But with the premiers of China and Japan no longer on speaking terms, talk is already turning to this: Will Koizumi's successor visit Yasukuni?
Saturday, Dec. 10, 2005
Why China Loves to Hate Japan
Denouncing the erstwhile invader may provide an ideological buttress for China's own leadership
By MATTHEW FORNEY/BEIJING
You don't have to look far to see why Chinese grow up learning to hate Japan. Take the forthcoming children's movie, "Little Soldier Zhang," which Beijing-based director Sun Lijun says he made having "learned a lot from Disney." The film chronicles the adventures in the 1930s of Little Zhang, a cute 12-year-old boy feeling his way through an unfriendly world. But the resemblance to Pinocchio ends there. After Japanese invaders shoot Little Zhang's grandmother in the back, the boy seeks revenge by joining an underground Red Army detachment. He moves among heroic Chinese patriots, sniveling collaborators and sadistic Japanese. The finale comes with Little Zhang helping blow up a trainload of Japanese soldiers and receiving a cherished reward: a pistol with which to kill more Japanese. "I thought about including one sympathetic Japanese character, but this is an anti-Japan war movie and I don't want to confuse anyone," says Sun, who will premier his film on International Children's Day.
Chinese kids can be forgiven for thinking Japan is a nation of "devils," a slur used without embarrassment in polite Chinese society. They were raised to feel that way, and not just through cartoons. Starting in elementary school children learn reading, writing and the "Education in National Humiliation." This last curriculum teaches that Japanese "bandits" brutalized China throughout the 1930s and would do so today given half a chance. Although European colonial powers receive their share of censure, the main goal is keeping memories of Japanese conquest fresh. Thousands of students each day, for instance, take class trips to the Anti-Japanese War Museum in Beijing to view grainy photos of war atrocities — women raped and disemboweled, corpses of children stacked like cordwood. As one 15-year-old girl in a blue and yellow school uniform, Ji Jilan, emerged from a recent visit to the gallery, she told a TIME correspondent: "After seeing this, I hate Japanese more than ever."
So it is not surprising that this nationalist animosity reaches the highest levels of government. The Chinese Premier, Wen Jiabao, recently created shockwaves by saying he would refuse to meet with Japan's prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, at a ground-breaking summit of East Asian nations that begins Monday. Reasons include rising Japanese nationalism and a recent visit by the Japanese Premier to the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, which commemorates Japan's war dead, including some war criminals from the time of Japan's invasion of China in the 1930s. But underneath that diplomatic spat over history is a struggle for power and influence in East Asia that is increasingly straining Beijing-Tokyo relations. "The China-Japan relationship in the near term is more tense and worrisome than the potential for conflict elsewhere in the region," says Thomas Christiansen, an expert in Asian security at Princeton University.
Of course, nobody expects China to forget the past. The war launched by Japan's militarist leaders killed an estimated 20 million Chinese. During the Rape of Nanjing in 1937-38, soldiers butchered 300,000 civilians, according to Chinese figures. Most Japanese are aware of what happened but their society has never engaged in the type of introspection common in Germany after the Holocaust. Carefully worded official apologies have landed far short of the five-star kowtow demanded by Beijing, senior Tokyo officials occasionally deny atrocities and just last April a new government-approved textbook written by right-wing groups downplayed the wartime brutality visited on civilians.
The problem is that just as Japanese soldiers once dehumanized Chinese, Beijing's propaganda often paints Japanese as pure monsters. Grade school textbooks recount the callous brutality of Japanese soldiers in graphic detail, and credit the Communist Party with defeating Japan. (Another reason for Japan's surrender, it says, was the atomic bombs dropped by the U.S.) More moderate voices are silenced. A 2000 film by one of China's leading directors, Jiang Wen, remains banned because it depicted friendliness between a captured Japanese soldier and Chinese villagers. Although the film showed plenty of brutality, censors ruled that "Devils at the Doorstep" gave viewers "the impression that Chinese civilians neither hated nor resisted Japanese invaders."
Why keep up the propaganda onslaught 60 years after Japan's surrender? Many suspect China's unelected leaders hope to use anti-Japan sentiment to buttress their own legitimacy. Ever since the Tiananmen Massacre of 1989, support for the Communist Party has rested on the shaky foundation of economic growth. Nationalism, by contrast, could prove more enduring. "Reviving war memories keeps the nation united against Japan, and behind the party," says Beijing-based writer Liu Xiaobo. It's a risky strategy. Anti-Japan sentiment grew into rowdy street protests in Beijing and Shanghai in April, which the quickly government suppressed for fear they could spin out of control. But until China's leaders have some new pillar of legitimacy, Liu predicts, "the Japanese will stay devils in China."