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?