Imagining China (from Japan’s perspective)

Got something really thought-provoking in the mail the other day.  Japan Institute of International Affairs’s Commentary is running a series on "How Japan imagines China." No. 3, by Commentary editor Masaru Tamamoto, is a real eye-opener (at least for me).

Consider this paragraph, for example:

There is an almost schizophrenic mix of Japanese emotions at play. A Chinese purchase of a Russian submarine is a security threat, a defense official may declare. Yet, the next day the same official may dismiss the import of such a purchase, declaring that it is a Chinese-operated submarine after all and the Chinese navy manages to lose at least one submarine a year at sea. Anyone familiar with the history of modern Japan will readily recognize in such a remark the unstable mix of respect and condescension that is an enduring characteristic of how the Japanese have imagined China.

Now we know. Two paragraphs later, we read:

Of course, the expression of Japanese nationalism is not simple. Attitudes among the young toward the Chinese demonstrations are telling. As with their parents, the young found the demonstrations distasteful. Yet most of the young, who are said to be increasingly nationalistic, had a difficult time recognizing the “Japan” toward which the Chinese expressed so much anger. The Japanese Empire and the Second World War are not only distant in their imagination, but most younger Japanese lack a sense of identification with a collective called Japan. “Are you glad to have been born Japanese?” people have been asked in opinion polls over the years. The response among the young has been overwhelmingly positive, but not for reasons normally associated with nationalism. The common response is because life here is better than elsewhere, at least for now.

A riveting read.


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