Chinese fantasy and science fiction author Chen Lan recently posted a blog entry to Sina Weibo that has been retweeted over 52,000 times since early September 17th, a day before the anniversary of the Manchurian Incident. Like many intellectuals in China, she has voiced opposition to the vandalism and violence exhibited by some anti-Japan protesters. What sets this most recent protest commentary apart is Chen’s description of her own journey from hatred of Japan, rooted in patriotic education, to an adult with a greater understanding of the world. Below is my translation of her essay, “Confessions of a True Mao Fan and a Patriotic Youth.” As always, please contact me or leave a comment if you find a mistake.
A young girl once grew up in an educated household; her mother and father were both intellectuals. Her mother was a die-hard Mao fan: a portrait of Chairman Mao hung in their home, and there were over 200 foreign and Chinese books about Mao (or really, anything that even touched on Mao), from Rongzhai Suibi to Hong Qiang Nei Wai to selections by Mao himself. Whenever speaking of him, this girl’s mother would say, “Venerable Chairman Mao…” Under her mother’s influence, the girl had already read Selections by Chairman Mao several times by age 14, and gone through Hong Qiang Nei Wai, Zou Xia Shen Tan, and other such books multiple times as well. She had read about Chairman Mao eating taro, his legs and stomach becoming swollen during the three years of natural disasters, and other such details; she had cried passionately countless times.
Half of this girl’s family traced their ancestry to Nanjing. On September 18th during her first year in college, lost in the city, she wandered all over Nanjing trying to get to Jiangdongmen to visit the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall. At that time, entry cost about 10 RMB, but the girl was too poor to pay. She only had 2 RMB for the bus ride home, so she climbed over the back wall into the memorial hall. She looked at the pictures and historical documents, and the bones; she sat outside the memorial hall in the old, pebble-filled square and cried softly. On that day she saw two Japanese tourists with notebooks, visiting the memorial with a translator. Anger rose in her heart and resentment in her chest; she wanted nothing more than to take one of those pebbles and bash in the brains of those two Japanese people.
Once she graduated and began to work, she had an opportunity to go north for business. She stayed at the hotel and didn’t go anywhere besides Lushun Prison. She visited that site because she remembered that the hero who had fought against Japan, An Jung-geun, was martyred there. She lingered long outside the Japanese invaders’ execution room. The Japanese invaders’ execution room was where they would hang prisoners. There was one set of gallows and beneath it a wooden barrel; when they would let out the floor beneath the gallows, hangman’s noose would drop, and the body would fall right in, so it could be easily dragged outside and buried. They have dug over 200,000 bones up in the dirt outside Lushun Prison. Standing for a long time along the far side of that hole, she compared herself to the five skeletons that hung there. It was already late, and the emptiness was vast, with only the deep eyes of the five skeletons looking on, declaring that sixty years had not erased the their humiliation and sorrow.
This girl made her hands into fists and wept. She read contemporary history, the history of a weak people, when they had been shamed, and their fate was worse than dogs; she read about the terrible times when they couldn’t even be slaves. She cried out over every injustice and couldn’t contain her fury. Though she was tormented by these feelings, she couldn’t let it go.
After a long time, a very long time, even after she had become a devotee of freedom, she still could not overcome the stranglehold her hatred towards the Japanese invaders had over her. She would look askance at any of her classmates who studied Japanese, and say without a second thought things like, “Don’t you feel like you’re polluting your mouth with the language of Japanese pirates?”
This girl became the moderator of an forum called free.com in 2003, and posted this subject at the top: “Personal attacks forbidden, except against the Japanese pigs!” Another moderator felt this wasn’t appropriate, and the two fought it out, until the girl resigned and cut her ties with her former friend.
This girl never bought Japanese goods, a habit that she keeps even now, post-youth era, now that hatred has been forgotten. It has become a second nature not to buy Japanese goods; when selecting a car, she simply doesn’t consider Japanese brands.
By now, you can all probably tell that the reason I am so familiar with this girl is that I am this girl.
I looked into my own heart today when I saw all of this on Weibo: the calls to smash Japanese cars and kill all Japanese. All the extremist language that any “patriotic” youth has ever said, including calls to nuke Tokyo. I’ve not only said all of these things, I even hatefully wrote of them in a science fiction novel I published in 2006. In that book, Final Love, I gleefully used nuclear weapons to wipe Japan off the face of the earth. 23rd century Japan often visited that part of the sea. So today, every time I mocked them, I felt as if I was lashing out at my former self.
Back then, I thought I was absolutely in the right. Back then, I truly felt moved by my sorrows and angers. If the me of back then were able to travel through time and arrive at the present day, I would take eggs and a Chinese flag from anyone who would give them to me and take to the streets. If I happened to see a fellow countryman speaking Japanese, I might truly actually beat him, because I would think anything related to Japan could not possibly be forgiven. That was my iron rule, my steel bottom line.
But as the internet has opened up, and as I’ve read more and more, the historical truths that had been covered up rose to the surface, and forced their way into my reality. I had no choice but to examine and reexamine my way of understanding the world and my moral values. I had no choice but to destroy and rebuild them in the process of reflection.
After I had finished the historical records of Zhang Jie and Li Zhiyuan, even if I wasn’t willing to believe them, there were still many irrefutable facts, and those official ode-like publications made a chain of evidence that couldn’t be overturned. From 1960 to 1962, 40 million people died of hunger, and during that time, and Mao built more than twenty vacation homes during that time, spending over 100 million on each one. At that time, his people were dropping like flies. Mothers were stewing and eating their own children. His former aide Liu Shaoqi once said to him, “If you starve the people to death, you will make history!” I didn’t want to accept these cruel truths, but whether it was serious academic publications from abroad or official party records like that of Chen Yun, official figures all confirmed that people died in a cruel tragedy the likes of which had never been seen before, at the hands of that “great man” whose picture hung on the wall in my home.
This great man once thanked the Japanese who visited in 1964, saying, “Japanese imperialism has helped the Chinese people. Without you, there would be no new China.”
This great man forgave Japan’s great debt after World War II
This great man….later, when I read the stories of the performing teams, Chunou’zhai, Zhang Yufeng, the swimming pool, all those exciting stories no longer moved me.
Even later, as a read the historical records on the war against Japan that contained several truthful figures, I discovered that originally it wasn’t that the army wasn’t fighting Japan – at the Battle of Changsha and the Battle of Shanghai the list of casualties was a long list indeed, and every inch of Heshan was bought with blood. In truth, after the war it wasn’t the apes of Emei mountain, but those who planted opium in Nanniwan.
Even later, I read of the strange relationship between China, Japan, and Russia before Japan officially invaded China. The USSR had decided to release the floodwaters on China, making China and Japan go to war to ensure that it would always be secure in the far east, so it could focus on fighting Germany.
I finally began to understand that the world was a large chess board, and besides pure hatred, there was also wisdom and deceit. To a government, hate was just another pawn.
Even later, I remained puzzled about why, even in the 80s and 90s, I would always hear voices calling for Sino-Japanese friendship. When Nanjing and Osaka became sister cities, we watched the reports with joy and jubilation. Why then, in the late 90s, did the voices of hatred and vengeance grow stronger one more?
There was one day I read that although China had absolved Japan of its debt, Japan ahd given China all kinds of assistance after the Reform and Opening up, billions of dollars of assistance, without asking for any kind of repayment. One day I read that Japan’s head of state had apologized for the injustices it had committed against East and Southeast Asian nations, that it had apologized more than sixty times, in fact. I learned that the revision of Japanese textbooks to deny the Nanjing massacre was just the idea of a few right wingers, and that Japanese textbooks were not the same throughout the country, and that the revised materials did not even make up 1% of the market.
…So, I began to wonder, had I been manipulated by some other ‘facts’? Had I been brainwashed?
Even later, I met some Japanese citizens, and I met citizens of other countries – I discovered at last that the global path was not so evil, nor was it so good. People were people anywhere you went, but a country with rule of law, faith, and human rights would reduce tyranny, make thought more pure, and result in a more humane society.
Japan was not as I had imagined either, wanting to kill all Chinese more than anything in the world. The new generation of Japanese wasn’t even that interested in politics. The rightist I hated most, Shintaro Ishihara, had also complained that the Japanese were “like bloodless, neutered dogs.” In the 21st century, they cared more about their own rights; they would blame the government for problems real and imagined, and officials were always busy apologizing. They also didn’t like war.
I was always so smug about not buying Japanese goods, as if it would destroy Japan’s economy, but I ignored a crucial fact: that since World War II, ever since recovering from the terrible destruction of the Bomb, Japan had never relied on the China market.
The truth is, the rise of every nation can only happen with the enlightenment of that nation. One hundred Zhu Geliangs can’t prop up a Liu Chan.
After the earthquake in Japan, cars were backed up for miles, but order was maintained; not a single car cut in front of another. Supermarkets gave out free provisions, and a large group of Japanese would divide a few rolls among themselves, giving them to women and children first.
After I saw these scenes on the news, I was pushed to the brink of despair. My hatred was no longer important. The hatred our nation has carried these years will not help us make progress – only a nation like that can succeed. My countrymen, my people, when will we be able to see this kind of unity and love at home?
What can hatred bring us? The Japanese attacked Pear Harbor, killing tens of thousands of American soldiers, and the Americans dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing hundreds of thousands.
If these two countries still carried that hatred with them, the world would not be peaceful today.
History has left us with many debts, but it does not tell us that war will settle them. “The only people who long for war are those who have never experienced war.”
When we look around, we still see so many people who believe deep in their hearts that the Japanese are wolves. They also believe that old saying, “China and America will eventually go to war; China and Japan will eventually go to war.” They surely cannot understand that in a country where people have the right to vote, for over 100 years it has been law that Congress must vote to declare war. They surely will not understand how loudly the American people have denounced war…in a democratic and free country, people strive to stop war from happening.
We are mentally stuck in the 19th century, with a dog-eat-dog mentality and a belief in the Dark Forest theory. We have this idea that the strong must take advantage of others, and the weak must be taken advantage of. Saddam behaved this way, and so he was taken down. In this world, we already have a relatively established and widely accepted set of rules for this global civilization in order to avoid a war, to avoid repeating the tragedy that occurred during World War II. Einstein once said, “I do not know with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”
Over sixty years ago, the Japanese behaved like animals. They crushed the world beneath their feet with violence. Now, more than sixty years have passed, and they are working hard to prove to the world that they are people. Are we really going back to the most terrible part of the 20th century, using hatred, narrow-mindedness, and violence to prove to the world that we can be animals too?
In the feast of nations, China has always been a latecomer. In the global dance, we have always been a beat behind.
From yesterday to today, are we still trying to prove to the world that we are a backwards, uncivilized, that we don’t believe in rule of law, that we don’t respect the rules, that we don’t believe in rights, that we only believe in power and barbarism?
An American who lived in China during the 80s ‘til the late 90s once told me that his impression of China in the 80s was this: it was full of life, and the people were hardworking, studious, full of hope, and had a passion to improve. And now, he tells me, people only care about money and power.
Here on the other side of the world, I know that other nations are not any better than we are. They’re actually lazier – they complain that they are tired after working only 40 hours a week, they think only of how to enjoy their lives, their time, and this world. In Beijing, Shanghai, and the other cities in which we live, the majority of people work harder than ants, they toil away almost their entire lives. They obey, they advance, they strive, they save, they accept their fate, they love their children and families, they smile in the face of the most inhospitable conditions for survival, they hold on to hope, just as long as they’re not starving to death. We are this people, and if we had a good system of governance, liberal education, and freedom to worship as we pleased, we would be the best people in the world.
On that day, all Chinese will be able to travel to any corner of the world and be happy, at peace, and at home.