Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao has arrived in Japan for a summit that is being hailed as an achievement of some significance.
The two countries have had an uneasy relationship with differences over their war-time past remaining unresolved.
Here Chinese and Japanese schoolchildren discuss what they think about each other and how history books, the media and popular culture have shaped their perceptions.
CHEN YAJING, 15, BEIJING
I have been learning about Japanese history for three years. I think that they should be ashamed that the history they teach is distorted. However, there are a lot of good things about Japan, like Japanese technology and comics, so I am a bit confused whether to like or hate Japan.
I’m a huge fan of Japanese horror movies, they are simply fantastic. Like that movie, The Ring. There was a Japanese and an American version, but they are just not comparable. The Japanese one is so much better.
China isn’t good at making movies, and there definitely are a lot of ways in which China can’t compete with Japan.
I still feel that the Japanese government isn’t right. They shouldn’t be so hypocritical regarding history; they just keep denying the facts. I can never forgive them. No matter how good their comics are, how strong their technology is, this history will not fade away.
I would consider travelling to Japan but it is not somewhere I would dream to go to. It’s so small and crowded, and I’d rather travel to European countries instead.
JUNKI ISHIMURA, 13, TOKYO
I have two Chinese friends at school. They’re both quite rebellious. If the teachers tell them off for something they will say they didn’t do it. We’ve learnt that Japan fought a war with China and colonised parts of the country. Sometimes the Japanese were a bit cruel, forcing places to adopt Japanese names and forcing people to adopt the Japanese language.
But we didn’t really get into the details of what actually happened. I feel my understanding of the war is a bit thin.
At primary school they taught us history, but not about who was right or wrong. The conclusion was that war is bad for humans – that no one wins or loses in a fight.
In middle school we’ve learnt more about trade between the two countries.
The Chinese people seem to hold grudges from the war against the Japanese though. I learnt about this mostly from the news. I feel there is less anti-Japanese sentiment these days.
I totally understand why the Chinese hold grudges but the situation should be improved little by little. Japan and China should have a relationship like the one Japan has with the US.
ZHONG TIANYI, 12, BEIJING
I’ve been learning about Japan for a few years now. What I remember best is how they invaded China. The history book I’m studying now has quite a few chapters about Japan’s invasion and how they started the war.
The dates we should remember are 7 July, the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, marking the beginning of Japanese invasion, and 18 September when they took control of some major Chinese cities.
There are also chapters about how they massacred people in Nanjing and how they forced Chinese people to accept Japanese culture and language.
I think the Japanese are bad, they are not loyal to anyone. They used to have a similar cultural system to China, and now they say they have a similar cultural system to the Western world.
I’ve learnt that there are good things about them as well, they are good at learning from others, for example. I like some things about Japan, like technology and comics. I liked the comic book Slam Dunk very much, it was so well executed.
KASUMI KOJIMA, 15, TOKYO
I think China is important for Japan. We are neighbours, lots of Japanese people travel there on holiday and trade between the two countries is becoming more and more important. Neighbouring countries should cooperate and get on with each other. It’s safer.
Japan and China have different cultures. There are problems, of course, and I can understand why the Chinese would not have favourable feelings towards the Japanese.
They should talk more about the issues they have and resolve them one by one. They can’t leave things unresolved.
At school I learnt that Japan went to war with China for money. I think that was really bad. It was Japan who did most of the bad things.
The old textbooks, the ones that generations before me studied from, taught that Japan was a good country and that others were bad. The textbooks have now been changed.
In the old days they presented the wrong facts. For instance they said that North Korea was colonised because it was a bad country. My history teacher told us about this.
It’s now easier to find the right information. But I think the best thing to do is to actually visit the place, perhaps to study there.
Kids my age can get on pretty well with Chinese people. The politicians are thinking about how they can have the upper hand, but the rest of us, we get on fine.
WANG HONGYANG, 14, BEIJING
I’ve been learning about Japanese history for three years. The history I’ve been taught is mainly about how the Japanese bullied us. It’s all horrible, but the Japanese people I know are quite nice. I’ve been to Japan, my uncle and aunt studied there. They tell me that the Japanese people are really kind. So I really couldn’t tie any part of the horrible history to Japanese people.
I really liked Japan, the quality of the things I bought there is so good.
People treated me nicely, but I do think there is some discrimination against the Chinese. After all, we are behind them in terms of development. And because of their distorted history text books, young Japanese don’t favour us Chinese. They think we’re just nagging them about the history.
The history can never change, we can’t adore everything about Japan blindly, and we have to keep our moral integrity. I think we can forgive them for what they did if they treat us with the right attitude. If they keep denying everything and not showing sincerity, then there’s nothing we can talk about anymore.
So there you have it: Chinese students know they may be brainwashed and are actually aware of the strengths and problems of Japan contrary to Japanese nationalists, particularly 2channers, and Japanophiles’ claims that Chinese kids are all brainwashed fascists and racists because they know the ugly side of that country. On the other hand, the Japanese students are aware of some unpleasant transgressions that went on in World War 2 but are completely in the dark over the details and are more than eager to be good company to their regional neighbours contrary to some assertions that Japanese youth are becoming increasingly right-wing.
What some of these rough accounts actually highlight is the strong love-hate relationship that Chinese of the future may have towards their Japanese counterparts. On one hand, they are aware of the past problems and the Japanese government’s inability to truly come to terms with them and their asshole politicians such as Abe Shinzo. At the same time, they appreciate the finer points of Japanese popular culture, which is actually the same “soft power” that is winning them misguided fanboys called Japanophiles.
It appears that the government’s defiant and irritating behaviour has made it difficult for Japan’s neighbours to accept them with open arms despite the generally pleasant company there like any other country and the unique products and services that are popular among youths. It’s also counterproductive to see critics of China exaggerate the anti-Japanese sentiment by simply dismissing all those who are critical of some part of Japan or its culture as racist against Japanese or Chinese people all being victims of “Orwellian” brainwashing.
On the other end of the region, the accounts by the Japanese students reaffirm suspicions that the general populace is generally ignorant of the root causes for current regional tensions. Although they are aware of the harmful effects of war, it doesn’t seem clear that they understand the causes of the war and the exact details that are causing so much hostility to their country but a few are aware the government has played their part in increasing tensions. Then again, the students also were eager to be friends and work towards a better future with a few pointing out they have interesting Chinese friends. So it looks like critics were partly right by pointing out the general ignorance of the Japanese people’s understanding of their regional history, while anti-Chinese sentiment in response to anti-Japanese sentiment seems to be cooling off.
Conversely, everything I could be saying could be just wishful thinking on my part since these are just teenagers giving their views based on their relatively limited experiences in the world. However, it would be wise to point out that some of these kids will be the future generations that will possibly play a role in East Asian affairs in the following decades in their own way. Let’s all keep keep wishing for Abe to stay the course and not do anything stupid until his successor is in power.