August 15th is drawing close. It is a good time to think about China’s relation with Japan.
Besides, a new survey on this topic was discussed in Yomiuri Shimbun, August 4, 2008.
“Only about one-third of Japanese think the relationship between Japan and China is good in contrast to nearly 70 percent of Chinese who view the relationship positively, according to a survey conducted jointly by The Yomiuri Shimbun and a weekly magazine published by Xinhua News Agency.”
“…only 19 percent of the Japanese respondents said they could trust China, while 56 percent of their Chinese counterparts said they could trust Japan. While 78 percent of the Japanese respondents said they could not trust the other country, only 42 percent of their Chinese counterparts gave the same answer. ”
“As for the future of the Japan-China relationship, 38 percent of the Japanese respondents and 75 percent of the Chinese respondents said it would improve. Fifty-one percent of the Japanese and 21 percent of the Chinese said it would not change, while 8 percent of the Japanese and 3 percent of the Chinese said it would deteriorate.”
The data were collected between July 11 and 16 with face-to-face interviews. The sample size was over 1000 respondents providing valid answers in each country. I got a feeling that the Chinese optimism and enthusiasm toward a good relation with Japan will surprise and dismay Chinese Fenqings and maybe even some elements in the West.
How do the Chinese really feel about Japan? Is their acrimony toward Japan “real”, in the sense that it is stable, entrenched and pervasive? I have always had a feeling that the negativity is hyped and trumped up by elements in the West (especially the United States) with clear calculation and deliberation. Presenting China as nationalistic and xenophobic is only part of the rationale. Some people in the West have a keen interest in cultivating Japanese suspicion and weariness toward China. The Chinese government sometimes cannot stop themselves from falling into this trap. If China and Japan one day build a cordial and functional relationship based on a mutual trust that is robust enough to handle any contingencies, there will be no room for Western manipulation in Northeast Asia and beyond.
Chinese feelings toward Japan are best characterized as ambivalent. The negative elements in this ambivalence are very tractable, despite their rabid expressions. The rabidity of their expression demonstrates their shallowness, instead of depth or profundity. This negativity is extremely susceptible to change by two forces, (1) governmental influence and (2) cultural exposure.
Chinese policy toward Japan has become “future-oriented” instead of being boggled down to the unpleasant recent history, a change that has been omitted in Western “observations”, purposefully in my opinion. In the aftermath of the Sichuan earthquake, Japanese rescue personnel was among the first foreign teams invited to the center of the disaster area to save Chinese lives from the rubbles, and “to be there with the Chinese” in one of their most vulnerable moments, along with rescuers from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Russia. The word “Japan” on the back of the rescuers’ brightly colored uniforms was featured on TV screens everyday when I was in China. There was no subtlety or ambiguity in the ranking of relational closeness on the Chinese part. The symbolism was as clear as Hu Jintao’s round of Ping-Pong with Fukuhara Ai during his state visit to Japan earlier this year. Japanese reservation is also clear. Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo was standing on the sideline when Hu and Fukuhara played Ping-Pong. At a more concrete level, there have been discussions about joint development of the Chunxiao gas field in the dispute East China Sea. Meanwhile, Chinese scholars’ opinion that “adopting Japan as a teacher will promote China’s reform” has been blatantly printed in mainstream newspapers. Given these policy changes, I am not at all surprised by the Chinese positivity from the Yomiuri survey.
Now let’s look at cultural exchanges. A walk in Beijing’s streets and shopping centers gives one the impression that the Chinese are embracing Japanese culture without reservation. One can feel this open hearted enthusiasm from the over-priced Muji and Shisado stores at Xidan’s Joy City to the Bazaars of the Beijing Zoo Wholesale market, not to mention the popularity of Satoshi Kon’s animated movies. This enthusiasm with things Japanese is nothing new to China. For my generation, Takakura Ken (高仓健) and Yamaguchi Momoe (山口百惠) were completely blended in the sentimental nostalgia of our childhood and adolescence, the formulating years of a person’s life history. They were not just idols in the sense of popular culture, but served as serious gender role models for a generation of Chinese youngsters, creating a real soft spot for the culture they originally come from. Chinese women of reproductive age in the 80s were so impressed by Ken sen’s masculinity that they gave off the bold outcry of “Where is China’s Takakura Ken?” in a popular magazine. Think about it, those were days that magazine articles created shockwaves in the Chinese society. If you were a literary youth (文学青年) like me in the late 1980s, it would be impossible to escape the influence from Shimasaki Toson (島崎藤村), Kawabata Yasunari(川端 康成), Tazai Osamu(太宰治), Matsmoto Seicho(松本清张), Mishima Yukiu(三島由紀夫), all with superb Chinese translations except Mishima, who was discussed obsessively in journals. Today’s Chinese youth embrace Muraue Haruki with the same fondness (村上春樹, too contemporary and Westernized for me though). Japanese literature has a connection with Chinese readers that no Western writer can achieve; it is not a similarity in writing but an affinity in the way of experiencing.
What is the direction of China-Japan relationship? The Chinese are future-oriented, confident and optimistic. The Japanese are still hesitant, as they have been for the last 60 years.