Describing the recent racial upset in Xian as a chance event, several Japanese and Chinese students in Beijing say they try to get along despite major gaps in their understanding of World War II, which textbooks and media portray differently on the two sides of the East China Sea.

Japanese students, about 14,500 of whom are studying language and culture at Chinese colleges, grow up learning that 1937-1945 as a “war in” or an “entry into” China that is covered in three pages of a textbook, although some texts suggest Japan made a mistake.

Chinese students, on the other hand, learn from elementary school on that Japan “invaded” China, “massacred” its citizens and that people back in Japan were unaware of what was going on. Media remind the Chinese almost daily of events from the past.

But because Japan and China share aspects of culture, language and a sense of beauty, people in their late teens and early 20s say they are ready to move on, despite a persistent shadow of mistrust.

They live on the same campuses, though in separate dormitories, at most major Chinese universities and in some cases attend class together.

Although Chinese complain of a social distance from their Japanese classmates, they say relations are normally warm enough to head off incidents such as the Oct. 29-31 Xian incident, which started with a lewd performance at a party by Japanese students and ended with protests and incidents of violence by Chinese students.

Yang Fan grew up in the 1980s in Shandong Province on illustrated texts that left her “outraged,” because she was taught Japan never apologized for the war. But she also realized the Chinese texts were one-sided and she is optimistic about the future.

“History won’t have too much impact,” said Yang, now a fourth-year Beijing Industry University student. “History has passed. We can look ahead. We should communicate more.”

China Agriculture University first-year student Akinori Oshida remembers that textbooks from his schools in the Tokyo suburbs covered the war in just three pages and did not use the term “invasion.”

He compares Japan’s 1940s expansion to the British taking Hong Kong.

But he said Japanese who see themselves as better than the Chinese should know that Japanese kanji comes from written Chinese and that many arts enjoyed in Japan have Chinese origins.

Similarly, Chinese youngsters often say they appreciate Japan’s sense of beauty and its vision — expressed through everything from the Hello Kitty character to animated cartoons.

“China is Japan’s father and mother,” said Oshida, who plans to spend two years in China despite a chilling of relations with Chinese classmates after the Xian incident.

Tension also persists elsewhere.

Beijing Broadcasting University student Zhu Sihao’s neighbor is Japanese, and Zhu says they make an effort to get along but stay on good terms only by avoiding discussions of history.

“We have no special feelings for each other, so we don’t talk about these questions,” he said.

Zhu calls Chinese history texts “objective” in their World War II narratives but excessive in their discussion of “Japan resistance.”

Day-to-day media reminders about Japan keep tensions high, said Gao Hong, vice director of the politics department of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences’ Institute of Japanese Studies. Although Japanese people’s views of the war differ and Japanese textbook publishers handle the period in different ways, reports in popular Chinese newspapers are broadly critical of Japan, he said.

Critics say the government attacks Japan to distract people from China’s own social and political problems.

Younger Japanese people have other reasons to distrust Chinese, said Yuri Imamura, one of about 50 Japanese students at Peking University.

She said Chinese immigrants in Japan, who are poorer than the Japanese and enter the country only to earn money, cause enough crime to make the Japanese suspicious.

“Their quality is lower. When there’s violence, it usually involves Chinese people,” Imamura said. “The impression I have from meeting (Chinese) people is stronger than from textbooks.”

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