April 19, 2005
China Vs. Japan
The semi-confrontation between China and Japan is interesting (though at root very sad) for a number of reasons. One is the reversal in roles - where once China was an ally and Japan an enemy, now Japan is an ally and China a rival. So there is a temptation to dismiss China's concerns. But the flashpoint - the sanitization of Japanese history in WW2 - is a real one. The Japanese did dispicable things, killed and enslaved on an epic scale, and are still disliked and mistrusted by other asians for it still. While it rankles national pride, the truth should be taught so it can be learned from. But nobody likes to be reminded of their mistakes, and such dislike is only compounded by traditional Japanese (and Chinese) views on honor, respect, etc. (normally rolled into "face").
On the other hand, one wonders if Chinese history books teach the reality of Mao - the untold misery and death he and his cohorts brought to the Chinese people. He did far more harm to the Chinese than the Japanese ever did. Is that included in Chinese textbooks? Or how about Tibet? But that leads to another observation - people are far more forgiving of who they consider "the same" than those they consider "other". (You can see this at work in Democratic and Republican partisans in this country who routinely howl and gnash their teeth at actions by the other they ignore in themselves). And both societies historically have been very nationalistic and xenophobic.
And that leads to the idea that you can't look to who's hands are the dirtiest - you have to look at the particular instance and facts. Are Chinese right to be upset about Japanese rewriting history doesn't really depend on how well China writes history, how well they've behave towards other nations, nor even how they currently treat their own citizens (which can be pretty awful). It depends on whether the Japanese can rewrite history to feel better about themselves.
The Chinese response also raises questions as to what is going on in China. First you have a regime that has no legitimacy beyond the fact they are already in power. It's communist in name but while it's politics are communist it's economics are more capitalist (and mercantilist). It's fearful of internal enemies, which is the only thing that can account for it's dread and suppression of Falun Gong. And it's fearful of it's neighbors - none of whom are friends and allies (with the possible exception of Pakistan). India's rise and increasing warmth with the US only ads to the to the fear. Given that, you wonder why the ruling elite has embarked upon policies of confrontation - with Japan, with Taiwan, and to a lesser extent the US.
Posted by Kevin Murphy at April 19, 2005 12:30 PM
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On the other hand, one wonders if Chinese history books teach the reality of Mao - the untold misery and death he and his cohorts brought to the Chinese people. He did far more harm to the Chinese than the Japanese ever did. Is that included in Chinese textbooks?
I lived in Beijing for a while, and at the risk of exposing my ignorance, maybe I can make a few comments.
While I can't speak for the rest of the country, the Beijing attitude towards Mao is that he was a great leader and patriot who kind of went insane there at the end. He's still revered, because he *did* do a lot of good for China. For example, the Chinese (the young Chinese that I talked to, anyway) are particularly proud of the fact that Mao's first official act was in support of women's rights.
First you have a regime that has no legitimacy beyond the fact they are already in power.
Actually, I would argue that the Party is legitimate government. I don't know anyone who lives in China who seriously believes that the Chinese are ready for democracy. That sort of thing takes time, and a belief in the rule of law, which China does not yet have, especially outside the major cities. Besides, the Party (for all it's faults) does seem to truly have the good of China as a whole in mind, despite some expected degree of corruption. The human rights abuses are atrocious, of course, but the Chinese as a whole have a different conception of human rights than we do.
That isn't to take away from the legitimate criticisms of the CCP, it's just to point out that (in my view) the issue isn't entirely clear and one-sided.
The Chinese communists have killed, according to the black book of communism, 65 million Chinese -- I'm sure they tortured and imprisoned and otherwise made life miserable for a lot more than that. I wonder, is that in their history books? Isn't that what the Chinese government is criticising (rightfully, IMHO) the Japanese government for? Glossing over the death and misery the Japanese visited on asia during WWII? What is their treatment of their invasion of Tibet? Similarly colored in rosy tints?
I'm not doubting the sincerity of the Chinese you talked to, but I find it odd that they would mention women's rights over material improvements and China's standing among the nations, especially when you consider the ratio of girls to boys who are aborted or exposed.
And as far as legitimacy, my point is that the communist goverment gave up on communism, so any internal opposition group has just as much claim to rule as the current group except for the fact that the current group is already in power (and has a record to be judged upon). It's not like they can claim to be the represenatives of the divine or reflect the proper order of the universe like the Emperors could (for most of the time) or that they represent the vanguard of the future like the old Communists could.
The Party has the good of China as a whole in mind as long as that doesn't conflict with the continuation of the rule of the Party.