China-focused Satire, Social Commentary, Comics and More

Questioning China’s Q.E.D.s: Japan is Bad

There is a simple game we often use at the primary school where the students shout out words that begin with the particular letter of the alphabet that they are given. For “A” they invariably say “Apple!” and “America!” and “B” usually brings out “Bakery!” and on and on it goes until we have successfully burned a good portion of the class. At some point we make them create a sentence using their word, as in “Grocery store! I go to grocery store!” And almost inevitably, when we come to “J,” someone will spit out the word “Japan!” much to the amusement of his or her classmates.

One of these times, the student could not think of anything to say about “Japan,” so some of the more outspoken students, amidst a great deal of snickering, offered some unsolicited suggestions.

“Japan is very bad!” shouted one.

“I hate Japan!” another said.

And then the ultimate: “He is Japanese!” crowed a boy, and ruthlessly pointed towards one of his innocent peers.

Such outbursts are not uncommon (I should also note that there was a Chinese teacher in the room, and since the students were shouting in both English and Chinese, she undoubtedly was aware of the topic, but she seemed entirely unmoved). That was by no means the first display of anti-Japanese sentiment that I had witnessed, but there was something about the unrestrained passion that this particular class was demonstrating that unhinged me, so I decided to push them to explain. “Why is that so funny?” I asked them. “Why?”

It took a moment for them to understand that I did not necessarily share their natural hatred for the Japanese. Finally, one student managed to say, “Because…” and imitated a soldier shooting a rifle.

Another, somewhat flustered, said, “Because… Japan is very bad!”

“But why?” I continued.

After a few more attempts, one student finally just scanned through his dictionary until he found the word he needed. “Teacher!” he called, and pointed me to the clarifying page. “Japan is [unintelligible].” The word: fascist.

The students’ hatred, though unnerving and misinformed, is not without some basis. When these students learn about WWII, it is generally referred as the Anti-Fascist War, but more often the focus is on what is known as the Anti-Japanese War, or the more antagonizing War of Resistance Against Japan. In the 1930s and 40s, China was involved in a struggle against the invading Japanese, a conflict that resulted in a great many Chinese deaths, as well as the infamous Massacre (or Rape) of Nanjing.

However, the students clearly do not fully understand the history (hence their belief that Japan remains a fascist power), or the fact that they have suffered no personal harm or disgrace at the hands of the Japanese. There is a national memory that passes this sort of grudge down through the generations. While it is important for the Chinese, and the rest of the world, to remember the atrocities of the past, one would hope that time would dilute the associated animosity. When this kind of prejudice, hatred, or grudge passes along, to the point where it is several generations removed from any causal experience, it loses the support of context and is distilled into nothing but blind racism. To these young children, it almost seems to be a natural feeling, rather than a reaction.

Of course, I attempted to explain to the students that fascist was no longer the proper word to describe the Japanese, but it was of no use. I was in no position to debunk what they have been so well indoctrinated to believe. Hoping to quell the excitement that I had unwittingly incited, I quickly began shouting, “Moving On! K! K!”

“Kill!” shouted one student.

“Kill the Japanese!”

As the class giggled, I hung my head and looked longingly at my watch, hoping that in the future this unquestioned fact will be reversed, or at the very least questioned.

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