China’s visceral hate for Japanese paymaster
China needs Japan too much to indulge its ancient rivalry, says Joseph Mackertich
The troubled Olympic torch comes to Japan tomorrow. Although it will only be in the country for a day, it is arguably the most significant episode so far in the bizarre spectacle that the torch relay has become.
As a rule Chinese people despise the Japanese. An overwhelming majority of Chinese - including intelligent, educated people - see the Japanese as arrogant, violent and greedy and it is doubtful whether the government can convince the Chinese to put their hatred on hold for the sake of a harmonious summer Games.
During both the Asian Cup in 2004 and the Women's World Cup in 2007 (football events both held in China), the Japanese teams were harassed. Come August, flags will be burned and people hurt, much like during the anti-Japanese protests that shook the streets of Shanghai in 2005.
The most obvious grounds for animosity are that China feels Japan has yet to properly apologise for its murderous conduct during World War 2, although resentment existed before this.
At the start of the 20th century, the Qing Court felt humiliated that China, traditionally the regional superpower, had become 'the weak man of Asia' while the 'Japanese dwarfs' went from strength to strength under the Meiji Restoration.
Resentment is not only still rife, surveys show that it is actually greater in the current generation than in those that lived through the war. This is not a surprise. The Chinese state-run press inundates the public with stories depicting the Japanese as duplicitous, perverted and sadistic.
A favourite of Chinese editors is to run stories about Japanese businessmen holding orgies in Hainan, a tropical coastal province.
Aware of the tension present under the surface of Chinese society, the government milks the public's loathing of Japan - diverting attention from its own shortcomings. It may now be too late to undo the decades of negative propaganda that have defined Japan in the eyes of ordinary Chinese people.
At its heart however, the Chinese-Japanese quarrel is startlingly superficial. The Japanese and Chinese economies are so closely linked that any real disagreement would have dire consequences for both countries.
Since 2000 trade between Japan and China has doubled to almost $200bn a year. In terms of a pure business relationship, China, as one of the world's biggest manufacturers, and Japan, one of the world's biggest consumers, is a marriage made in heaven.
Culturally, too, China's young are more receptive to Japan than they would care to admit. A teenager living in Hangzhou may claim to hate Japanese people but they may very well watch Japanese soap operas, play Japanese video games or listen to Japanese pop music.
The Chinese government needs Japan as a scapegoat, but needs it more as a business partner. ·
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