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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Signs of Hate and a Japanese Mother Ready to Leave China

At a bar street in Changsha, Hunan province, one of the bars was not remarkable to me in any way except one:

sign forbidding Japanese from entering a bar in Changsha, China, with the words 驱逐倭寇 保卫河山 日本人or猪不得入内

The strong Chinese words on the sign next to the bar's entrance tell a disturbing story. A rough translation:
Expel the "Japanese".
Defend the rivers and mountains.
Japanese or pigs will not be admitted.
The Chinese word used for "Japanese" is extremely derogatory (as described by a Chinese friend) and references pirates common hundreds of years ago. The image appears to be the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, the source of a key dispute between China and Japan.

I did not see any similar signs on the many other nearby bars. But although discriminatory signs may not be typical at bars in central Changsha, I have heard anti-Japanese sentiment expressed in Changsha. For example, during a friendly discussion some high school students felt compelled to tell me that "Japanese are bad" without me mentioning any Japan-related topic. So I asked them whether they would be friends with a Japanese person. One 15 year old girl said with a skeptical expression, "Well, they could be my friend, but they need to show they are a good person." Her statement was striking given how excited she had been to meet me, obviously realizing I was a foreigner. She did not appear to negatively prejudge me and need to check to see if I was "good".

In the post "Chinese Being Friendly to a Foreigner in China" I wrote:
To be clear, I would not claim that [all of these experiences] occurred only because I am a foreigner. Nor would I claim that all foreigners would have had the same experience. Again, there are many complexities.
Anti-Japanese sentiment was one of the many "complexities" I had in mind.

But not every person in China harbors strong negative feelings for Japanese people. For example, in Changsha I met a Chinese student who said that the anti-Japan and anti-Japanese sentiment in China was ridiculous and that the island dispute should be an issue the governments can resolve without needing to rally any citizens. She did not care who controlled the islands.

She knows her Japanese classmates are now careful not to speak Japanese in public, but she says she has rarely seen anti-Japanese sentiments openly expressed in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, where she studies at a university. But while recently visiting a friend in Wuhan, Hubei province, she was shocked to see a large number of restaurants with signs forbidding Japanese from entering.

Regardless of whether the student's and my observations are representative for Changsha, Guangzhou, and Wuhan, they are at least symbolic of the variations that can be found between different people and regions of China.

Although the anti-Japan protest marches seem to have subsided, it is hard to believe much anti-Japanese sentiment does not remain. It is also hard not to wonder what messages many Chinese take from the Chinese government's continued behavior, such as not sending its finance chiefs to important meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank apparently because they are being held in Japan.

The effects of the anti-Japan protests continue to be felt in a variety of respects, such as rapidly declining sales in China for Japanese automakers. Like before, I would like to share a relevant perspective that has not received significant attention elsewhere. The Japanese mother living in Shanghai who shared her thoughts and experiences (here and here) regarding the anti-Japan protests recently wrote more and after some consideration agreed to let me share it. Again, she is someone who was once very positive about her experiences in China, and she sought ways to immerse herself in its culture, including learning Chinese. To say the least, her perspective has changed:
I've done a lot of thinking, and it made me want to stop thinking about it all together. But I still continue to. As for the Island dispute, it's just too bad it had to happen this way. I personally feel (as many Japanese do) that [the Japanese government] shouldn't have nationalized the islands the way they did at the timing they did. But that is all now left for the goverments to deal with.

One thing I can tell is that I'm more aware now of what this country holds inside itself. I've come to realize that patriotic or non-patriotic, rich or poor, most Chinese do have anti-Japanese sentiment deep down, and that it will not change unless the communist government falls apart, and God knows if that would ever happen. I've lost every bit of confidence and positive curiosity that is necessary in order to keep on living in this country. Daily life seems back to normal, but to me it will never be the same. I used to think it would be nice if we could stay here until my daughter finishes high school, but now am ready to get packed any day. I'm just tired of telling my kids to not speak Japanese in public, or getting nervous every time I catch a taxi. Just as simple as that.

I know that there must be much more to this country and that it could be very appealing to certain types of people, but I just can't see any hopes of Chinese and Japanese people ever building a relationship based on real trust. I don't understand those people who come to this country seeking business opportunities, just to have everything destroyed every several years.

My husband says I'm a bit extreme, and I probably am. But like I said, I'm just tired of this whole thing. I want to live in a normal country...

I'm just a tai-tai [wife] who is only here to be with my husband. I was never prepared to embrace, in the true sense, all that comes with living in China. I am free to leave if I wanted and therefore could easily be saying things about this country in a seemingly irresponsible way. But I also know there are loads of Japanese people who live here with a very strong determination and, regardless of all the absurdity, still love the people of this country. I truly respect all the efforts they must have made to build relationships on a personal level. I just know that for myself, in this lifetime at least, this isn't where I wish to put my energy...
I wonder what I would do if I had to be concerned about speaking English in public and was forbidden from entering some bars, restaurants, and shops in China because of my nationality. Would I stay?

I will not attempt to predict the future of either China or the Japanese mother. But I hope the island dispute will be resolved peacefully. I hope the peak of anti-Japanese sentiment in China is now in the past. I hope more people will be able to distinguish a government's decisions from its people. I hope the Japanese mother and others like her will be able to lead a more open and less fearful life.

And I hope a bar I saw in Changsha is not a sign of things to come.

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