Sino-Japanese relationships are deeply rooted in history and have developed and evolved over a period of many thousands of years. For many centuries, China was a major influence in Japan due to being the cradle of eastern civilization. China and Japan have a similar alphabet, philosophy, religious views, and even architectural designs (“Chinese Influence”). China and Japan used to have extensive trading relations, as Chinese merchants exported metals, paper, food, gems, and other merchandise to Japan, as the island nation lacked many of these important goods.
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However, the relationship between China and Japan began to decline with the start of Westernization of Japan, which started in the second half of the 19th century and culminated in the Meiji Restoration of 1868 (“Chinese Influence”). Japan, which quickly adopted many western values, started viewing China as weak and their ways as wrong and outdated. With Western values came the craving for colonization, which was the underlying motive for Japanese expansion into China during World War 2. The atrocities committed by the Japanese forces towards the civilians and the prisoners of war have undermined Sino-Japanese relations for a very long time.
The lecture I was present at highlighted several important factors which contribute to the degree of mutual hostility between the two nations. From the Chinese, it is the memory of the past conflict, which the lecturer had stated to be “exaggerated by the Chinese history books.” I disagree with that assessment. During the Sino-Japanese war, approximately 14-20 million Chinese perished either at the hands of the Japanese army or died from disease and hunger that followed the onslaught (Kingston). With civilian casualties being this high and well-documented, the Chinese do not have any reason to exaggerate things. It is one of the cases when the truth is more horrible than a lie. The Japanese, on the other hand, according to the lecturer, censor their own history and leave out important parts of it, particularly including their own war crimes (Spitzer). This is especially true about the Nanking Massacre of 1937-1938, during which around 50,000-300,000 Chinese soldiers and civilians were slaughtered by the Japanese (Rummel).
According to the lecturer, both countries use the negative image of one another to reach their own political goals (Brown). China used the image of Japan to unify its people and thus raised several generations of people who loathe that country and its people. Japanese feelings towards China are more complicated – in addition to seeing China as inferior comes the wounded pride of being defeated in WW2 (Kingston). As it stands, Japan is not allowed to have a standing military force capable of operating abroad. Japanese political forces use the image of hate-filled China to justify becoming strong again and re-establishing their armed forces (Gady). The Japanese media have been portraying China as vindictive and untrustworthy for a long period of time in order to support this political agenda. The views of Chinese inferiority are largely based on the confrontation between the two political systems – China is totalitarian, whereas Japan is a democracy. The conflict between the West and the East that was started during the Meiji Restoration persists to this day, only in a different form.
The lecture itself was not very informative. The lecturer spoke in very simple terms and did not touch upon the majority of the historical facts mentioned in this paper. While the ideas and conclusions it offered were correct, they were not supported by any evidence aside from mentioning a Japanese newspaper and an anecdote about the adventures of a Japanese student in China. This complex and interesting topic deserves much more attention than it had been given.
Brown, Kerry. “The Most Dangerous Problem in Asia: China-Japan Relations.” The Diplomat. 2016, Web.
“Chinese Influence.” Skwirk, Web.
Gady, Franz-Stefan. “Toothless Tiger: Japan’s Self-Defense Forces.” BBC. 2015, Web.
Kingston, Jeff. “China’s Contribution to Japan’s Defeat.” Japan Times. 2013, Web.
Rummel, Rudolph. “Statistics of Japanese Democide: Estimates, Calculations, and Sources.” Hawaii.edu, Web.
Spitzer, Kirk. “Why Japan is Still not Sorry Enough.” Time. 2012, Web.