This has been much in the news lately, so I suppose it’s about time I post something about it. Incidentally, after not checking on my own site for just a few days, I came back today to find I had 46 spam messages. Wow. I’ve never seen so many at once before.
For those living under a rock the last few weeks, anti-Japanese riots have erupted in China, nominally connected to the territorial dispute over a set of tiny uninhabited islands known as Diaouyu in Chinese, and Senkaku in Japanese. Here is a recent Wall Street Journal article on the events, just one of a countless number published in the last few weeks.
I refuse to get into it here, because then I’m just inviting more debate, more wasteful flamewars (though, at the very least, it would get me to actually have some non-spam comments on this blog..). But, suffice it to say that despite the assertions of a recent NY Times editorial column by Han-Yi Shaw, and numerous rebuttals in which he is gloriously torn apart, this is not really about who truly, legally, rightfully, is in the right regarding claims to these stupid islands. The Chinese rioters, supported by their government, have seen to that. The dispute over the islands, much as they might like to pretend otherwise, was never really their primary attention. Once again, the Chinese have found an excuse to launch anti-Japanese riots, reviving a myriad of issues decades old and conflating them all with what should be a much more limited, specific, political debate, fanning the flames of hate and re-igniting the crucible of Chinese ultra-nationalist fervor & outrage against wrongs committed generations ago.
A friend suggested that we must take Chinese conceptions of nation and national territory into account, understanding Chinese attitudes about how any and all territory that was historically part of China is seen as integral to the wholeness of the Chinese nation-state, and how even the tiniest incursion is thus seen as an attack on the whole. A very interesting thought, and one I kind of enjoy, as I much prefer cultural lines of inquisition to the utterly boring realm of political theory and power politics; the Orientalist idea of China having a markedly different, separate, cultural conception of itself is a wonderfully romantic and intriguing one. I like it, and I’d be curious to know more about this. If anyone has any academic articles to recommend on Chinese conceptions of the essential nature of possession of all Chinese people & land, I’d be curious to read them.
Master wordsmith Murakami Haruki summarizes contemporary Japanese attitudes on nationalistic fervor best, I believe, saying:
“Anger-fuelled disputes of this kind are not unlike cheap liquor: Cheap liquor gets you drunk after only a few shots and makes you hysterical. It makes you speak loudly and act rudely. . . But after your drunken rampage you are left with nothing but an awful headache the next morning. We must be careful about politicians and polemicists who lavish us with this cheap liquor and fan this kind of rampage.”
With any luck, the Chinese and Koreans can learn this lesson too, and won’t have to learn it the hard way, as Japan and Germany did. (Hopefully we Americans can soon learn that lesson as well.)
You can read the entirety of Murakami’s essay, in translation into English, here.
This bullshit of Chinese & Koreans refusing to let go of age-old issues, and refusal to allow relations to become more fully friendly and peaceful has got to stop. It has got to end. What we need, in the words of Genki Sudo, is a “permanent revolution.”
Sigh. If only it were so simple. What magic words can they exchange in negotiations that will make a permanent revolution a reality?
People act as though the world they know, the world of the present, is the only way things could possibly be. Either that, or they believe that the 1890s-1940s are all there is to history. But the relationship between China, Korea, and Japan is more than a thousand years old, and it has taken many dramatically different forms over the centuries. It was different before, and it can be different again. All it takes is a willingness to put the recent past aside, and look to the future.