Ambiguous Archipelago: Japan in the Chinese Press Today

Chinese netizens may be lavishing more attention on the South Korean pop star Rain (who, apparently, seeks nothing less than to abscond with Confucius’ bones to Seoul), but the Sino-Japanese relationship continues apace, with attendant action on the Chinese internet.

1. Transnational Nanking Massacre Research Team Completes Part One

The Sino-Japanese Joint Research Team has concluded the first stage of its work in Tokyo and has issued an interim report. The team has agreed in principle that Japan was indeed engaged in a “war of aggression” and that the Nanking Massacre should be titled as such, and noted as a crime against humanity. Bu Ping, head of modern history at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and the preeminent global authority on Japanese chemical weapons use in China, is leading the Chinese delegation. His statement praised the Japanese delegation for their objectivity and the dispassionate nature of the joint discussions.

This is where things get interesting.

Netizen comments on the story are nothing short of livid: Hasn’t it already been established that Japan’s actions in Nanking were illegal and that Japan invaded China in a war that had everything to do with aggressive imperialism and nothing to do with anti-colonial liberation?

Because I know Bu Ping personally (and am fairly in awe of his prodigious, interesting, and genuinely significant work as a scholar), I think this friction is worth thinking upon. Perhaps, as others have noted, the people writing on Huanqiu’s BBS are pure crackpots, knee-jerk nationalists, losers who are pre-programmed to attack Japan and call the Japanese names. Peter Hays Gries has done some great research on “China’s new nationalism,” but I don’t know that he or anyone else has done enough work on nationalism on the Huanqiu (or Qingnian Cankao) BBS to quantify that. In the meantime, besides watching CCTV or reviewing the latest big books (as seems able to do), these boards function as a kind of public square in China. In a country where open debate is sometimes hard to discern on less interactive media like television or newspapers, this action is still worth checking out.

I would add as a final thought here that the netizens aren’t attacking Bu Ping directly, but they don’t appear to be terribly aware of why he’s a credible voice on the issue of Japanese war crimes, which gets to bigger issues of credibility and the internet generally.

After all, how is a distinguished professor supposed to respond to comments like this?:


Researching whatever: Isn’t little Japan still mad with its own greatness? [We] need to occupy Japan, capture the Emperor alive, bomb and destroy Japan, and afterwards, we can write the beautiful history of the 21st century as one where Japan is destroyed and falls! [Rough translation]

How has digital culture impacted images of Japan among Chinese youth, anyway? Isn’t anyone writing a book or a series of articles about gamer culture, BBS culture, the cultures of the Chinese internet cafes and the image of Japan within all three? I’m certainly not there yet, but at the moment it feels like a lacuna exists. I’ll laugh with joy when the KangRi Zhanzheng Yanjiu journal (War of Anti-Japanese Resistance Journal) in Beijing issues such a piece.

2. Online conversations are continuing regarding Japanese war crimes.

This one BBS posting from August 2009, entitled “Japanese War Criminals of the Second World War,” has been picking up response after response, and this thread is now laden with discussion of, and data about, Japanese war crimes in China. It’s one to watch, and the Huanqiu Shibao is subtly keeping it on the agenda through little linklets on its regular discussion boards.

3. Parsing Words: Debating Verbs in the War of Resistance

Were Japanese armies in East Asia engaged in “invasion” or “liberation”? This discussion board takes on the question and assertions by Japanese revisionists.

4. Critiques of Japanese Society as a Means of Promoting Reform in China

This story about sexual harassment of women in Japanese companies is a signal example of how what might be pigeonholed as “anti-Japanese news” is in fact a complex critique of the PRC. Once you get past the surly photos of Japanese males going way over the line of propriety, what you get in this article is a long argument for the power of unions and workers’ association to counter various abuse of white-collar workers.

The principle of self-criticism is still active in China; what is particularly interesting is how news about China’s neighbors triggers that impulse in various ways. Even North Korea prompts introspection!

Let’s just not touch the Cold War’s impact though, shall we?

5. Japanese reports reveal schism re: postwar developments.

Whereas Xinhua is pushing a harmonious line regarding the meetings in Nanjing to readers on the mainland, in fact the joint research discussions reached a very important impasse: According to Mainichi Shimbun, China refuses to get into discussion of the postwar:

Following Thursday’s meeting, University of Tokyo Graduate School professor Shinichi Kitaoka, who headed the Japanese research team, and Bu Ping, director of the Institute of Modern History at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, held a press conference to release the preface of the report.

“It is difficult to take up issues that are directly connected to our times. There is a great difference in views between Japan and China over such issues as the Cold War, the Korean War and the Peace Treaty signed in San Francisco,” Kitaoka said.

Bu agreed: “We need to take it into consideration what effect it would have on the public (to take up those issues).”

As I happen to have a book manuscript and some fresh publications going on anti-Japanese sentiment in the early postwar (1945-1952), I suppose this makes my work potentially, and sadly, significant.

Coda: Thanks to the very impressive folks at JingDaily for the link to my related editorial, “War Memory vs. Hello Kitty.”

Chinese Heir Apparent in Japan

Xi Jinping, the current consensus candidate to succeed Hu Jintao in about three years’ time, is on a tour of Japan.  He has met, not without excitement or a bit of controversy in Tokyo, Akihito, the Japanese emperor.

via Xinhua, click image for story in Chinese

Oddly enough, December 13 was the anniversary of the Rape of Nanking; Xinhua quietly issued a few new photographs of the battle for Nanking, seeming far more interested in achieving present aims with Japan than settling past scores.

Japanese artillerymen fire a 105 mm cannon into Nanking, December 1937 -- click for link to the grainy gallery

Xinhua is, naturally, following Xi’s trip ardently.

German Sources on the War of Resistance/Rape of Nanking

What do you know about German sources on the Rape of Nanking and the War of Resistance besides the diary of John Rabe?  If you’re like most people, not much.

I wanted to share a few new tidbits from sources I recently found, as a means of indicating that in the future, more work along these lines could (and should) be done.  The point is that German (and French, for that matter) scholarship and primary sources on the Rape of Nanking and the War of Resistance really need to be consulted and understood in order for all of us to have a clearer view of what actually happened, who various witnesses were, and how the events were interpreted around the world in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

Lily Abegg was a reporter for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in China in the late 1930s and travelled all around the country.  Her description of the battle of Shanghai, and the Japanese entry into Nanking, is not completely hair-raising, but it does add some detail.  For instance, she tells the following story:

Shortly before the fall of Nanking, thousands of wounded came into the city, but there they could not count on the ruling [KMT] to take care of them any longer.  Once, two thousand (2,000) wounded  from the Shanghai front arrived in the city in medical train cars, and lay there for two days.  There, in the station, the patients who had died in the meantime were laid, and the wagons were needed for other uses.  The dead fouled the air [Die Toten verpessteten die Luft.]  Refugees from the city ran and jumped over the wounded and stole away with their packs.  Members of the international aid committees went to the ostensible Chinese leaders and demanded a single ambulence, but there was no money with which to purchase gasoline for the vehicle.  Finally one brought an automobile….But no one [foreigner] was left to move all the wounded.  Chinese observers stood by and watched.  They wanted the foreigners to do it themselves, but then a brave policeman emerged and declared that this wouldn’t do [das ginge nun doch nicht].  Finally… the leaderless people began to move themselves.

[Lilly Abegg, China's Erneuerung: Der Raum als Waffe [China's Renewal: The Land as Weapon], Frankfurt: 1940, pp. 167-167, translation from the German by Adam Cathcart]

There are plenty of more details in this text, including an analysis of General Iwane Matsui’s tactics in the battles at Shanghai that led toward Nanking, and more worth analyzing.  But instead I will leave you with a few relevant photographs.


"The Japanese rule the air. But Japanese bombers must fly over endless mountain ranges before they reach Chongqing." From Lily Abegg, China's Erneuerung, 1940.


"Chinese with their forbidden opium crop in the northern Ching'an range," from Die Mandschurei, 1937.


"On strange land. Refugees from the battle areas do not hinder the progress of Japanese troops." Lily Abegg, China's Erneuerung.

Further Assessment of the Iris Chang Papers

Iris Chang was an intensely productive, in her words, “almost obsessive” individual, and these qualities shine through in her private papers.

After publishing the book The Rape of Nanking, in preparation for her book tour, Chang captured her thoughts on a slew of a 3×5 inch index cards, cards which she then organized meticulously under headers like “Personal experiences writing the book.”  She asked herself questions like “Why did you write the book?” and “What emotional impact did writing this book have on you?”    (Iris Chang Papers, Boxes 194 and 195).   And of course there is what we would expect to hear: writing the book was a personally taxing undertaking, she cried while she was writing it, her parents cried about it, too.

But there are much more interesting little tidbits buried in these little cards.  Under the heading “Why [did the Nanking Massacre] vanished from World History?” a card can be found that reads partially like this:

Why is this event coming back [now]?

Tiananmen Square

And, in Box 195, under the header “My own experiences,” we have this:

Book [was] so upsetting to Nien Cheng, who survived her own hell by Cultural Revolution, that she had to put it down

Under the category “How You Can Change [the] Situation”,  predicting a call to action in her media tour, we get a card entitled “What can I as a US citizen do to change the status quo?”  to which Chang answers:

1. Support the Lipinski bill

2. Buy [my] book, donate a copy to the local library

3. Talk to [your] children’s history teacher & ask why this [e.g., Rape of Nanking] isn’t being taught

4. Refuse to buy Japan product & write to corporations & tell them

Other categories include “Shocking statistics” and “Shocking quotes,”  and “My feelings about Japan.”  In the last-listed category, she states: “This book is not anti-Japan and its’ not Japan bashing…..” which then swoops into something culminating vertically in the phrase “until no state denial!”  It was a rather violently structured card amid the bunch.

I found one other card to be particularly stimulating: another one with lots of data packed in, obviously something she was feeling passionate about in 1999: “My questions for the COX committee.”

Now we are onto something!

The idea being: the book emerged in a period of rising anti-Chinese sentiment in the United States, represented by the paranoid Cox Report.  The Cox Report and the detention of Wen Ho Lee emphasized in some ways the need for a more vigorous Chinese nationalism and reinforced the tropes of unjust victimization of Chinese globally that was emerging in the U.S. at that time.  As Joshua Fogel has written rather convincingly, part of the wildfire spread of Iris Chang’s book is connected with the globalization of Chinese identities and the identity politics among the Chinese diaspora.

And if that weren’t enough, here is a letter to Iris Chang (with original spelling maintained) from a little old lady in San Francisco, dated Sept. 14 1998:

Dear Ms. Chang   Re: RAPE/Nanking

Congradulations for your dedication, perseverence, courage to write so vivied the truth of the ASIAN Holocoust by the savage Japs.

When you mentioned the Lipinski Bill, I, who is vision impaired, had someone take me to see my Congressman Tom Lantos to urge him to help this Bill.  Mr. Lantos has an assistant, Jonathan Chu, whose family members were victims of Jap atrocities.

I was so anxious to see this Bill finally in Congress (House), that I made almost 400 copies of the most sickening but truthful photos in your book, together with my letter, and sent them to almost all of the members of the House.

Whenever, newscasters sympathizers tell of the poor victim japs relocated during Worl War II, I also sent them your phoots protesting against their UNtruthful news reporting.  Of NOT telling the whole truth-the Asian Holocoust cased by the savage japs.

B. Fung

Impressions of the Iris Chang Papers

It’s been a whirlwind, head-bending kind of two-day sprint through a minor swath of the Hoover Institute Archives at Stanford University.

Iris Chang wasn’t my only target — thanks to some very diligent young colleagues I was also lucky to find my way into a thicket of Korean War propaganda (some of which I hope to leak out on this blog), more work by Sheldon Harris, and a few hundred pages of the master diplomat-analyst O. Edmund Clubb in the tendentious 1950s.  But more on that later.

All things considered, Iris Chang’s incredible energy, her coiled personality, and her unchallenged productivity are revealed in these papers, where ultimate inwardness (better phrased in the German innigkeit) coexists with statements to her self like “Celebrity Affords Certain Advantages.”  And not that she cares anymore (she being deceased, and her papers thus available for my perusal), but the experience leaves me quite conflicted.

Certain very important hallmarks of historical research shine through in Iris Chang’s materials regarding the preparation for her groundbreaking book, The Rape of Nanking (1997).

Drawing from the sheer mass of the photocopied materials from such other archives as the Yale Divinity Library’s huge missionary archive, Chang took pains to cite cite cite her assertions, something that can’t be said for Jung Chang’s treatment of Mao. At least two boxes of printouts show her extracting, isolating her every sentence onto separate sheets of paper and explaining to herself what source it the sentence is based upon.  This is the a kind of thorough research and writing method with which most scholars can’t necessarily don’t always bother themselves, even if some of her sources are a bit suspect.

She is an active reader, using pencil and highlighter to good effect, amassing much data.  Going through a fraction of these papers has given me more respect for Chang — of course she is going to be attacked for leaving details from important sources out!  There are a lot of sources, and each has a life of its own.  What is really needed is a huge and comprehensive volume of primary sources as a companion piece to the book.

She has transcripts of video interviews conducted with then-New York Times reporter Tillman Durdin and his charming China Hand missionary wife, letters from missionaries like Fitch and Bates and Magee, of course, and makes notes on these things in abundant pencil, mixing English with Chinese.

Iris Chang reads Chinese!  This is a good thing.

On the other hand, there is a huge amount of material in these papers that reveals that Chang in the aftermath of the book’s completion was wrapped up wholly in its marketing, and was in some ways beset by various proposals (both business and personal) in the several years after its publication.

In one notebook excerpt from April 2000, she records her impressions of a meeting with a certain Hollywood agent affiliated with Mel Gibson.  After learning that “a profascist in Japan called me a Chinese slut,” Chang gets a pitch from the agent.  It appears that he wanted her to sell him the rights to her story, or work with him to turn the story of her book into cinema.  “Your passion is the story,” he appears to tell her, “you didn’t do it for the money,” before offering either $50,000 or 250,000 to make it happen.   At the end of the conversation memorandum, written in Chang’s rapid black ball-point sprawl is the sentence “contact Jerry Bruckenheimer.”

These are things that most history professors, and full-time researchers of history, don’t deal with.  They move on to the next book, teach the next class, apply for the next grant.

They forget to call Jerry Bruckenheimer because they are too wrapped up in the secondary literature.

Chang took more of  a reporter’s approach to The Rape of Nanking.  She uses more David Bergamini than anyone else, and a few boxes of photocopies from relevant secondary works (like an advance copy of Herbert Bix’s Hirohito [chapters 13-17] and the promising book by Iritani The Wartime Psychology of the Japanese People) lie basically unannotated.  I didn’t find her copy of Bergamini.

One of my students mentioned that Iris Chang should have had a colloquy with Jung Chang.  I thought that might have been interesting indeed.

In a subsequent post I hope to reflect further on her own self-analysis in these writings.  Like a mostly-empty notebook entitled “Meetings With Japanese Peace Activists,” even in the blank spaces in these papers is gathered much, much food for thought.

Coda: More of my recent essays on recent Sino-Japanese relations, and Iris Chang, as reflected in the Chinese press and in the work of Japanese manga artists like Kobayshi Yoshinori can be accessed here.

Sino-Japanese Notes: Incident in Hiroshima

Chinese media are reporting on an incident with strange resonance in Hiroshima, where on October 18, at about half past midnight Beijing time, a 37-year-old Japanese man attacked the Peace Memorial in an attempt to erase the words “wrong/mistake” (错误)from an inscription, screaming something along the lines of “Things we have done were not wrong!”

“自己做的事情没有错” is how the Chinese render it, which I suppose is what really matters here.

Hiroshima has been pretty quiet in the Chinese news of late, even in spite of the rumblings about a 2020 Olympic bid with Nagasaki, to which China is certainly internally plenty opposed.  Chinese audiences got some basic education about the number of civilian deaths in Nagasaki, anyway, when former prime minister Abe Shinzo Taro Aso went to the Peace Park there this past August.  However, note that Xinhua didn’t bother to send a photographer, relying instead on the French AFP for images.

Abe in Hiroshima, August 2009

Taro Aso (麻生太郎) in Nagasaki, August 2009

The BBS comments on the Hiroshima story are being kept quite light, but here are a few roughly translated retorts from the Chinese netizens:

纪念碑不应被毁,该毁的是靖国神社!这人糊涂啊 [Sure there is a memorial which needs to be destroyed: destroy Yasukuni Shrine!  This guy is a real muddle-head.]

And then, accosting his fellow commenters, this fellow steps up: 你们的国民就是人了?怎么没想到到南京献花?[Are you citizens really human beings?  Why have you not thought to go to Nanjing to lay a wreath?]

We will see how this develops.

And speaking of Nanjing, here is Kobayashi Yoshinori’s moderating voice (scans from my own collection):

Right-wing manga authors see Chang's _Rape of Nanking_ as just part of the communist propaganda conspiracy

Right-wing manga authors see Chang's _Rape of Nanking_ as just part of the communist propaganda conspiracy

Oh, fortunately there is some good news, though it has yet to be reported in Xinhua.   Black is back in in Tokyo.  (Was it ever out?)

Three fans of the visual kei rock band Nightmare are pictured in Tokyos Harajuku district. (Mainichi)

Three fans of the "visual kei" rock band Nightmare are pictured in Tokyo's Harajuku district. (Mainichi)