One positive thing that I must say before I get into the real heavy political topics is that it seems that much of the historical hatred between China, Japan, and Korea is slowly dying away. My interviews confirmed my suspicion of a different today, where we live in an increasingly globalized society. Due to space time compression, the idea of the nation state does not hold as much precedence as before. I am an example of this. Born in China and raised with Chinese values, I am also a Canadian citizen and having spent most of my life in Canada, I agree and identify with many of Canada’s infamous social policies. Furthermore, I am also a student at one of America’s great educational institutions, the University of Wisconsin-Madison. How all these will affect me as I grow up, only time will tell. Oh and to further add to the mix, I also enjoy a game of soccer.
I remember specifically rooting for team Japan all throughout the 2012 London Olympics soccer games. It may come as a surprise considering I myself was born in China and raised by very Chinese parents that I would identify with the Japanese national soccer team. However to me, soccer was just soccer, and like any good sport should be enjoyed without politics. It also helped that Japan has an amazing soccer program. During the bronze medal game between Japan and Korea however, things got extremely heated. The referee literally blew the whistle almost every 5 minutes to break up players who got too physical. You could tell there was extreme tension in the air that transcended the game. Of course it had to be politics that was ruining the beautiful game. The issue between both countries was an island called Dokdo by Koreans, and Takeshima by the Japanese. After researching a little about the topic I realized that Japan and China have their own similar issue with another island called Senkaku by the Japanese, and the Diaoyu islands by the Chinese. There also were serious protests that occurred in China at the time that I decided to take on this project.These islands have now become a problem for relations in all 3 countries, and in this project I looked to not form a conclusion about who the islands belong to, but rather look to highlight the historical, cultural, and future implications of contention over the islands.
I obtained information by interviewing students and faculty currently studying or teaching at University of Wisconsin-Madison. The interviews were either informal opinion based questions or formal sit downs and totaled over 4 hours in length. Overall I interviewed 16 undergraduate students, and 2 faculty members, 1 teaching assistant, and 1 graduate student. Some people, like me, were very interested in the topic so it was quite easy to set up an interview, but at times even some of my friends did not want to be interviewed about such a political topic.
Like I originally expected, most people from each prospective country was adamant that the particular islands belonged to their respective country and each cited historical and cultural reasons as proof. What was unexpected however was the fact that most realized the contention was solely political and highly nationalistic. The historical animosity between China and Japan, and Korea and Japan led to obvious memories of past events which undoubtedly made issues all the more heated.
It seems as if Japanese people seem to be generally surprised at the attitudes towards Japan as a whole. While the the Japanese can understand certain resentment towards the right wing of Japanese politics, maybe best represented by the mayor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara and some of the controversial things he has said and tried to do, the Japanese are generally surprised at the stigma given towards them as a whole. Many feel as if the issue of historical grievances needs to be recognized but do not apply to them as individuals as they aren’t the war criminals who committed war atrocities but rather citizens who are going through many of the same problems as many of their Chinese and Korean counterparts. In fact, it’s even the opinion of both professors who I interviewed that have experience with Japan and its culture that even on the national level whenever a politically insensitive statement is made, it’s usually made by right wing Japanese criticizing left wing Japanese and not China and Korea. Even the whole debacle of the Diaoyu Islands as a whole in some respects was due to, again, Shintaro Ishihara who tried to purchase the island for his own political stunts (Jackson, 2012). Of course the Japanese government at this point stepped in and purchased the island with the intent of not developing it. This was when the protests in China began.
The Chinese at this point responded by boycotting Japanese goods. It did not just stop at boycotts however as protests often involved destruction of Japanese cars, brands, and stores based in China. City after city found itself in a wave of anti-Japanese sentiment that culminated into mobs roaming the streets. Often looting occurred and many of the protesters took on the identity of what I will call the “ideal patriot” whose anger at Japan’s intended expansionism which to some brought on memories of colonialism practices gave the movement legitimacy. The truth of the matter however is that these protesters were only hurting Chinese citizens and only damaging Chinese businesses and the Chinese
Economy. Nearly all of the Chinese I interviewed recognized this fact. An example of this self-destruction can be found in the Japanese automakers that have factories in China that provide Chinese citizens with jobs. Many cut labor and working hours to anticipate the slow in demand for products (Shirley, 2012). While all of the Chinese students I interviewed agreed with the stupidity of the self-destruction, many were indifferent to the cause and motivation behind the protests themselves. Theories came from all sides and it became apparent that there may not be a single cause or reason. The main theory they argued was that the protest began well-intentioned but then things escalated out of control. Others thought it was started by right wing Japanese trying to start a ruckus in the region. The most realistic theory in my opinion is the one that realizes that while there definitely are some right wing patriotic Chinese, there are also Chinese who find themselves increasingly economically behind mixed in among legitimate nationalists. I personally have witnessed the extent of the ever increasing disparage of wealth among the successful and lower rung in industrializing China which may even include the numerous unemployed recent college graduates. It is the opinion of many that under the, “ideal patriot banner” the protesters took the facade that the real patriotic right wing protesters of Japan provided to release the stresses of life, taking out their anger on successful capitalists who could afford both Japanese imports and afford to open Japanese businesses. The irony is that because these protesters were under the “ideal patriot” banner, police, initially and especially in rural areas, were hesitant to impede patriotic movements. This theory may explain the relative abundance of self-destructive protest that occurred in China that was lacking in Korea. Furthermore of all the Chinese students who I interviewed, all agreed that while protesting was important, that it should take on a different form that did not involve violent demonstrations.
The situation in Korea is similar to the situation in China. While protests were not nearly as violent or as damaging as found in China, they did occur and sometimes in the international spotlight. One controversy in particular which originally sparked my interest in this topic was what happened after the 2012 Olympic soccer Bronze game between Japan and South Korea. South Korea had won the match and a little while later one of the players proceeded to hold a poster claiming that the Dokdo islands belonged to South Korea (Das, 2012).
This political statement ended up costing him the Bronze medal. The Korean students who I interviewed were extremely adamant that the Dokdo islands are a part of Korea and feel like Japan’s past actions towards their home country deserves retribution and while protests in Korea have not escalated to the level found in China, tensions between the two countries is also extremely high.
Although some retribution money has been given by Japan in the past, there may be a concern in Japan about the point at which retribution is deemed enough. To highlight this issue, one professor I interviewed stated, “It would be like white America trying to pay for slavery. How would you possibly do that”? While I agree with this, I do believe there should be some effort among the highest levels of Japanese government to make an official apology to both Korea for her comfort women, as well as to China for the Nanjing massacre. Only in this case will I think that the average Chinese and Korean feel that the Japanese are legitimate in realizing their past mistakes, because it only takes one person, again mayor Shintaro Ishihara and his denial of Nanjing massacre to ruin the image of all the rest of the Japanese people who may or may not share his views (Jiang, 2012). If the highest level of the Japanese government did apologize, it would mean Japan and its society as a while realized it made an error. In this way the positive view of the whole can drown out the negative views of the few.
On a positive note, I would like to add that almost everyone I interviewed hoped for relations to get better even though many were doubtful that they would. Countries are no longer separate entities that don’t affect one another. Economies are intertwined and any aggression will only be a lose lose situation for everyone. My generation in particular seems to stress the oneness of region. At Madison for example it is becoming increasingly common for Chinese, Korean and Japanese students alike to be enjoying their college years together. Our immediate goals as students, and end goals as citizens of this increasingly globalizing society are all similar. I feel that this principle should apply to these three countries as well. We shouldn’t let certain individuals within each respective country ruin it for the rest of us who are living out similar problems with similar goals in mind. At the same time we also need to never forget the lessons of the past while still recognizing it as the past. In this way the past will cease to negatively affect the outlook of our futures, which is the most important thing of all. I along with many others who I interview feel as if the new leadership that is set to be implemented in each country is a chance to come to the table and find solutions to current issues and set precedents for future issues. Maybe I am naive in my hopes and dreams. However ask anyone, be it Japanese, Chinese, or Korean and they will tell you that a little less cynicism and a little more naivety would be a welcome change for the politicians of tomorrow.
The term, “Fishing Islands” was coined a professor who I interviewed.
By James Xu
Shirley, N. (2012). Plummeting sales lead Toyota to trim China output. LeftLane News. Retrieved from: http://www.leftlanenews.com/plummeting-sales-lead-toyota-to-trim-china-output.html
Andrew, D. (2012). South Korean Denied Medal Over Politics. The New York Times. Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/12/sports/olympics/south-korean-soccer-player-park-jong-soo-denied-medal-over-politics.html?_r=0
Jiang, W. (2012). Cool heads must prevail in Beijing and Tokyo. The Globe and Mail. Retreived from: http://m.theglobeandmail.com/commentary/cool-heads-must-prevail-in-beijing-and-tokyo/article4552346/?service=mobile