Recently I visited Japan on business, and on my way to the airport, I heard some comments that gave me some real pause for thought. There were three of us sharing the airport shuttle; a Canadian woman of European decent who works for Siemens in R&D, an African American man who is a sales executive, and myself. Upon learning the woman was from Canada, the African American man tells her that he traveled to Canada frequently, and he was in Toronto a lot to fix a “mess.” In a nutshell, he had to force a sales manager who was originally from Hong Kong into early retirement, because the company was struggling in their sales numbers. He faulted the fact that the sales force based in Japan were reporting into the Toronto based sales manager. The Canadian woman blurted out, “they (the Chinese) hate the Japanese.”
“Wow!” I thought to myself. Perhaps, brutal honesty on what she is thinking. I jumped in to correct her, “you mean there is a cultural difference.” She agreed and then went on to assure me she was talking about cultural differences, further saying that even in Quebec, Siemens would make sure all the sales representatives are completely fluent in French.
While in Japan, I thought about what this woman said. As a Chinese, I certainly do not hate the Japanese. I have many great Japanese friends, including colleagues whom I work with on a daily basis. If anything, Chinese and Japanese culture are closer to each other which enables them to more easily relate.
What did she mean exactly? To try to understand her, I had this thought experiment for myself. Would I ever use “hate” to characterize the feelings between American Blacks and Whites? Absolutely not, and that’s because I understand the history of the U.S. in slavery and then in more modern times the civil rights struggles. Despite the difficulties, tremendous progress has been made thus far, and America as a whole deserves credit for it. To abruptly describe Blacks in America “hate” Whites either means utter ignorance for the situation or lack of respect for the two races (or both).
She and I continued this topic a bit further as we both headed into the International terminal. I explained to her that relationship between China and Japan have dramatically improved over the last few decades. It was the Cold War that stalled the reconciliation process between the two countries. Japan’s WWII past has yet to be reconciled with her Asian neighbors. Despite this, trade is flourishing, and leaders in Asia, including the Chinese leaders are willing to put differences aside and promote activities which build trust.
Even on a personal level, my grandparents home was destroyed by Japanese bombers and I know they deeply resented Japan’s WW2 invasion. For their generation, I’d think “hate” is the right word characterizing their views towards the Japanese. For my parents generation, they understand great miseries were brought by foreigners, but they also understand disastrous domestic policies could wreck havoc on peoples lives. This generation lived through the effects of WWII during their growing years and heard first account from their parents.
For my generation of Chinese, we empathize with the hardship our parents and grandparents generations endured. With respect to Japan, the WWII history was a recent past. We understand the need for peace in the Asia region.
The difference in feelings between the Chinese and the Japanese is really not that different than the Germans and the French for each other few decades ago. Those French who lived through WWII Germany’s invasion “hate” the Germans. Those born post-WWII feels differently. Those born post-E.U. have the WWII history largely behind them now. Again, China and Japan’s reconciliation was stalled by the Cold War.
For me personally, I think it is with normalization, trade, and contact and friendship between the Chinese and the Japanese could there then be needed trust to allow this history question be reconciled. Some say the history question needs to be answered first before everything else. I think that is backwards, and I am glad to see the two government doing their parts to try to normalize. (Here is a recent development: “Blueprint for cooperation among China, Japan and South Korea is an indicator of peace and booming trade.”)
I reject this “hate” view, because I think it is utterly ignorant or lack of respect for the two people (or both). I reject this “hate” view, because if we apply it to the case of the French and the Germans, we know it is unfair to the French to say they “hate” the Germans – even couple of decades ago.