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Sunday, 17 April 2005
China protests over Japan's new history textbooks
Topic: Politics
Japanese atrocities committed during World War II have not been forgotten by many people in Asia. If the Japanese need reminding of this fact, the recent protests in China over the Japanese government's approval of revamped history textbooks -- which many people think whitewashes those atrocities -- have done just that.

Thousands protest against Japan as China says relations at 'crossroads'
Thousands of people staged violent anti-Japanese rallies across China Saturday in a second weekend of protests as Beijing said relations with its neighbour were at a "crossroads". Onlookers estimated up to 10,000 people marched along Yanan Road in Shanghai towards the Japanese consulate while several thousand others rallied in the eastern city of Hangzhou and similar numbers in Tianjin, southeast of Beijing.

At the consulate in Shanghai, riot police three-deep linked arms to prevent the rowdy crowd from entering the compound as they pelted it with rocks, bottles and paint, smashing windows. Elsewhere in the city, Japanese restaurants, businesses and cars were attacked with rocks and eggs, while a restaurant was completely destroyed. Two Japanese were injured in Shanghai after being surrounded by a group of Chinese, Kyodo news reported citing the Japanese embassy.

More protests, sparked by the Japanese government's approval of revamped history textbooks which Beijing felt made light of the nation's atrocities in World War II, are expected around China Sunday.
Read the full story here.

Glenn Reynolds points to an eyewitness account of the Chinese protest in Shanghai by Ian Hamet, as well as Hamet's analysis of the protest.

While many have described the Chinese reaction as excessive, the Japanese government was surely complicit in instigating the protests by the way it handled its history textbooks even as it was opening up another potential area of dispute with its giant neighbour by preparing to let its companies drill for oil and gas in a part of the East China Sea that is also claimed by China.

Having said that, the Chinese people have tended to be nationalistic and xenophobic, traits that are at least partly fuelled by their own government. To quote from Hamet's analysis:

[The protest] was the payoff of decades of anti-Japanese propaganda in the school systems here. Pretty much anyone you ask will say he hates Japan and the Japanese, and takes personal offense at the way Japanese schools teach World War II. Even if he has Japanese friends. And a Japanese mobile phone. And digicam. And reads manga. And watches anime...

However, people here don't know, or don't care, that Japan today is vastly different than 60-70 years ago. The government there was formed under occupation, and I seriously doubt that anyone outside of China (and possibly Korea) has any fear of a renewal in Japanese military aggression. And if you try to explain that to anyone here, the pretty much discount what you say or get shriekingly angry at you for dismissing their grievances.

Furthermore, one aspect of Chinese culture you don't read much about is a nationwide inferiority complex...
And Chinese nationalism is not just directed at past imperialist transgressors. I had written about the tiff that the Chinese government had with Singapore over a visit to Taiwan -- a relatively minor issue blown out of proportion (see "Lee Hsien Loong's Taiwan visit unleashes storm from China"). This sort of thing gets replayed again and again.

In the meantime, foreign governments can help themselves by avoiding unnecessary provocative action. Japan -- in view of its own past -- probably more so than others.

Posted by lim_cs at 1:49 PM JST | post your comment (0) | link to this post

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