Japan Talk

Yesterday at lunch, a friend from Hong Kong talked about the influx of Japanese and how there was now speculation about how the local housing market would be impacted. This led to speculation that soon Shenzhen might also see Japanese home buyers. Someone then commented that the problem had been caused by arrogance — the Japanese thought a dike would be enough to protect them, when they should have sited the nuclear plants well above the coast. Then partial sentences about Japanese national character and a pause in the conversation, which was broken when someone commented, “The Japanese really are to be pitied.”

My friends are of an age that they were raised to hate Japan. Indeed, a large component of their nationalism has been anti-Japanese. No matter how bad CCP abuses of power have become, nor how strongly they support anti-corruption efforts, nevertheless every National Day, they have celebrated winning the War against Japan and remembered Japanese atrocities in Nanjing. So yesterday was interesting because my friends were actively processing anti-Japanese sentiments along with a strong ethical sense that victims of disasters are to be pitied and helped. Their ethical sense carried the lunch.

Obviously human empathy can be engaged before tragedies of this magnitude occur; my friends had been amazingly sympathetic for Wenchuan earthquake victims, for example. Yet yesterday’s lunch conversation  has me wondering about how much tragedy or meditation or ethical training is needed to get each of us out of the complacent antagonisms that define us as individuals or activists or patriots. And as citizens, how do we learn to hold our leaders more accountable for nationalistic hate-speach even when (and yes because) we have come to believe so much of it?

2 thoughts on “Japan Talk

  1. Never had realised there was such a place.
    The problem is, and lies on, the nature of right wing nationalism (an extremist monopolised by the official). It is not a matter of individual psychologism, nor is it about proper citizenship, leastways claims made by the few ain’t gonna change anything. The changes will come when official nationalism, as well as economic progression, provoked purposely to compensate for the lack of legitimacy, cannot cover the brutal truth of what you have referred as “abuses of power” and “corruption”(most likely the uneven development between rural and urban societies), then can we envisage a decisive turn in nationalism(except the new revolution process itself is nationalist,) and think our strategies anew.

  2. Dear Rao Peng,

    Thank you for joining the conversation. As far as I can tell, the question of belief is not a question of what happens to us, but rather how we understand what is happening to us. Indeed, the one space of freedom that each of us has is the freedom to decide how we respond to events with which we disagree or don’t like or fear. In other words, we do not choose what happens to us, however, we do choose how we respond. And that space of freedom interests me and gives me hope precisely because it is the place where all of us are equal, even when we are unequal to the challenges of accepting and living with the consequences of our freedom.

    I also hope, with you, that a more egalitarian society can be crafted out of our current lives.

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