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15/12/2005

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Date Posted: 10:34 15/04/2004



War of words

China's Japan-bashers get angry about a dictionary


THE ONLINE message boards are booming once again with anti-Japanese fury following a story published in Beijing rag Xin Jing Bao yesterday. The report draws attention to a number of changes made by Japanese publishers to a Chinese-Japanese dictionary originally edited in China. As the sun rises in the east, so the two sides in this thorny nationalistic divide continue to make things very difficult for each other.

Xin Jing Bao has been getting rather excitable recently, cunningly overcoming media restrictions on domestic issues by concentrating its sensationalist, audience-grabbing headlines on the subject of Japanese perfidy. The government has, apparently, been asking the domestic media to tone down their anti-Japanese language, and to mention - now and again - the great role Japan has played in the construction of post-Mao China. However, the government request was half-hearted at best, and the media doesn't, in any case, seem to be listening.

The second edition of the dictionary to be published in Japan covered over some of the sore points in Sino-Japanese relations. Under an entry for the Mukden Incident, words like 'Japanese imperialists' and the 'invasion' of China were replaced by 'the Japanese army' and the 'occupation' of China. Other entries involve insensitive descriptions of old Guomindang leaders, as well as the current Taiwanese leader, Chen Shui-bian. There are many more instances where sensitive political issues are distorted, says Xin Jing Bao.

Shang Erhe, the son of the original Chinese editor of the dictionary, the late Shang Yongqing, is reported to be livid, and is threatening to sue. Meanwhile, the usual responses have accumulated in the bulletin boards of the nation's leading Internet portals. Within a day of the Xin Jing Bao report, there were already 500 messages in support of Shang Erhe.

The precise wording of a dictionary might not seem significant enough to cause a diplomatic incident, but the Japanese ambassador to Beijing was forced to make a statement to deny any government involvement in the changes. In any case, it is the latest in a long line of incidents in recent years.

A Japanese journalist told Running Dog that the issues should have been settled long ago when Japan recognized the People's Republic in 1972. The problem of Japan's textbooks - which omitted to mention the true nature of Japan's 'occupation' of China in the 1931-45 period - is a deliberate misunderstanding, he noted, and arose from a simple error. As for the Yasukuni Shrine, the war criminals resting there are just a fraction of the thousands commemorated, and it would be political suicide were any Japanese leader to avoid visiting the place just because China tells him not to.

Above all else, he said, the Chinese government, faced with a crisis of legitimacy as it turned its back on Maoism and collective ownership in the early years of the Deng period, sought to emphasize the role of the Chinese Communist Party in the defence and reconstruction of the nation, and this, inevitably, involved the demonizing of Japan. Most of the monuments and memorials set up to commemorate the iniquities of the Japanese invasion have been constructed in the last two decades, he said.

As for the Zhuhai orgy last year, he went on, how many other groups of sex-crazed foreigners turned up on Chinese shores last year? Every time something happens involving a Japanese person, company, or even media image, he said, the Chinese press are all over it, and are quickly followed by pages and pages of intemperate discussion group members desparate to find another reason to hate Japan.

We aren't going to don beads, play guitar and ask - in classic John and Yoko fashion - why we can't just live in perfect peace and harmony instead of arguing all the time. After all, Running Dog still hasn't forgiven the Picts. However, without Japan, there would be no spanking new airports paid for using soft loans secured from Tokyo, no Sony PlayStations, and furthermore, no karaoke, and the campaigns launched by some activists to boycott Japanese goods have failed completely. And yet, the anger is natural, particularly among the victims, and the brutality of the Japanese occupation - including the germ warfare experiments of the Imperial Army's notorious Unit 731, the forced labour, the sexual slavery - is difficult to overlook.


China's English-language propaganda rag, the Beijing Review, this month dedicates most of its issue to the debate. The editorial is sanguine, telling us that 'Japan is Japan', and remains stubborn to the last. It tells us that Yasukuni is a matter for them and not for China. However, the magazine also notes the growth in ultra-nationalism in Japan. It does not, of course, mention similar developments in China, many of which have been provoked by the government itself, according to some Japanese observers.


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