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Impressions of Japan

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This is the Thinking China Digest, a weekly roundup of recent essays and articles published on the Chinese web, with links to translations on the Marco Polo Project.

After anti-Japanese demonstrations fired off around China, this week’s digest proposes to take a step back, and reflect on perceptions of Japan in China as manifested by three recently published articles. Yun Zhi’s travel narrative, written before the Diaoyu incident, gives us insight into Japanese culture and society as perceived by a Chinese visitor. Li Haipeng’s post explore the complexity of Japan and China’s interwoven history and interdependent relationship. Finally, Rose Luqiu Luwei’s more personal piece offers a meditation on preconceived ideas and historical change.

Impressions of Japan
By Yun Zhi, 03 September 2012

After a trip to Japan, Yun Zhi outlines in this post the main points of cultural difference that he noted: cleanliness, simplicity, history, beauty, order, age, and social distances. Although this is an expected list, it is a reminder of the differences between Japan and China. The main interest of this post, however, lies in the writer’s attempts at making sense of various details manifesting cultural difference within a wider context. Japan still has traditional houses and alleys at the foot of modern buildings, giving visitors a sense of history: this might have to do with land rights. In the Shinkansen, people do not squeeze on the seats to make room for elderly people standing up; but one in four Japanese people is elderly, and many of them still work in the services industry. Japanese people of both sexes share naked baths together; this is reminiscent of the freedom experienced in the Chinese Tang dynasty.

Marco Polo translation: Impressions of Japan
Original link: 日本印象

Japan’s real presence in China
By Li Haipeng, 21 September 2012
Li Haipeng’s piece starts with an important reminder: in the 80s and 90s, the relationship between Japan and China was good, after Deng Xiaoping announced that both countries should look to the future, and let bygones be bygones. Yet overall, the relationship between both countries is difficult and complex.
Japanese lifestyle and culture is appealing to many people in coastal China, as evidenced by the success of Isetan department stores or the choice of Japanese as a foreign language. But cultural and economic links are not as deep as it seems. Though Japan is China’s first trading partner, investment figures tell a different story, with Japanese investing more in Hong Kong alone than all the rest of China. Still, complete boycott of all things Japanese in China, as suggested by some anti-Japanese activists, would not be feasible. Almost everything made and sold in China – buildings, railways, cosmetics, phones – contains at least some Japanese parts, fibers or chemicals. Even management practices and key concepts in the Chinese language have been imported from Japan.
Although Japan is now ubiquitous in China, the two cultures remain very distant – Japan might even be further from China culturally than the US. People from both countries have different sets of values, and a very different way of communicating. Japanese companies are not doing as well in China as they do in Europe and the US, and they see a changing, unstable China with suspicion. For Chinese workers, they are less popular employers than US or European companies, and they often have to face popular protests.
Deep tensions remain – particularly the difficulty of building a common history of the Pacific war – but Li Haipeng expresses hope for better relations in the future. The post finishes with an ironic reminder that both countries are less interested in each other than they are in Europe and the United States; understanding this common obsession with the West might be the key to understanding the relation between Japan and China today.

Marco Polo translation: Japan’s real presence in China
Original link: 日本在中国的真实存在
This article was published in a special issue of the 1510/CoChina weekly magazine on the Sino-Japanese relationship. The whole magazine can be downloaded here.

Japanese transitions
By Rose Luqiu Luwei, 25 September 2012
In this piece, Rose Luqiu Luwei explores the question of national stereotypes and historical legacy.
It opens in Bagdad where, during and after the war, she met elderly Japanese people who came as human shields, and a young Japanese man volunteering with a church to help send and receive letters on behalf of the local population. Her own surprise at both encounters made Rose Luqiu Luwei aware of her own preconceived ideas about Japan.
Going a step further, she then mentions a Chinese colleague who, after living in Japan for a while, started denying the reality the Nanjing massacre – based on his experience of Japanese society – causing anger among his friends.
Although you can’t deny the evils of the past, Japanese society did change, comments Rose Luqiu Luwei: many Japanese people want to be responsible actors on the international scene, most young people reject military values. But Chinese perceptions of Japan remain mostly negative, at least in this current generation.
Marco Polo translation: Japanese transitions
Original link: 当日本人在转变

All articles in this digest and a large range of other Chinese readings are accessible at Marcopoloproject.org. Some are available in English, French and Spanish translation. (You can join the project if you’d like to help with translations.)

Danwei is an affiliate of the Australian Centre on China in the World at The Australian National University. This posting is a result of one project that is part of that on-going collaboration.

China Heritage Quarterly and East Asian History are two other publications supported by the Australian Centre on China in the World.