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The contradiction that is Japan

Updated: 2014-01-04 07:21
By Huang Xiangyang ( China Daily)

The contradiction that is JapanWhen I told one of my friends in late November that I would visit Japan for a one-week holiday, he assured me I would love it. "Almost all the people who I know have visited the country enjoyed the trip," he said. He was not wrong.

My wife, who visited Kyoto 13 years ago, liked Japan's ancient capital so much that she always wanted to relive the experience. Actually, if it were not for her insistence, I might not have thought of setting foot on the soil of Japan, even though it is a "close neighbor separated only by a strip of water".

For me, Japan was psychologically too remote a country to visit, although many of its cultural aspects, from written characters to calligraphy and costumes to cuisine, can be traced back to China.

Japan is a country that has left the deepest scar on China's national dignity. In the half century starting from 1895, Japan invaded China, forced it to cede territory, plundered its resources and slaughtered millions of its people. Japan's wartime atrocities, such as the Nanjing Massacre in which at least 300,000 Chinese civilians and unarmed soldiers were butchered by Japanese imperial troops in December 1937 are still fresh in Chinese people's mind.

That explains why anti-Japanese sentiments have always run high in China, amplified whenever Japanese right-wingers try to whitewash wartime history or politicians pay homage to war criminals enshrined in Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine. The visit to the war shrine by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last week has once again rubbed salt in the wounds of Japan's wartime victims.

I have to concede, though, that I knew almost nothing about ordinary Japanese people before my recent trip to Japan, perhaps because I had never had a chance to meet one. The word "Japanese" would conjure in my mind only images of Japanese soldiers from my childhood comic books, or war movies and TV series, which still dominate Chinese TV channels and depict them as stiff-jointed, lecherous and bloodthirsty creatures whose only source of pleasure stems from killing, raping and looting innocents.

It is not strange therefore that like many other Chinese, I too harbored a sense of animosity toward Japan and anything related to it. In 2002, when a man threw "liquid excrement" at actress Zhao Wei after she appeared in a fashion magazine wearing a skirt designed similar to the Japanese military flag, I thought it was a "patriotic act" that had gone a little too far. I couldn't have been more wrong.

In August 2012, when mobs went berserk, smashing and torching Japan-made cars on the streets of many Chinese cities because of the escalated territorial dispute between China and Japan, I started questioning the sense of righteousness long employed by many of my compatriots in the outpouring of hatred in the name of patriotism. It was then that I decided not to subject my judgment so easily to emotions.

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