BEIJING – By administrative order, dramas about resisting the Japanese wartime enemy will fill Chinese TV channels this week as China celebrates — including with a massive military parade — the victory over Japan 70 years ago.
Combined with pervasive patriotic education that goes to great lengths in detailing Japanese atrocities, the order on programming from Sept. 1-5 ensures that the Chinese public — generation after generation — always remembers the country’s past humiliation as well as the bitter but valiant efforts to resist the Japanese.
“We are reminded of the war against Japan so constantly that I have developed an inherent antipathy toward Japan,” said Cong Yuting, a 26-year-old teacher from the northeastern city of Dalian.
Anti-Japanese sentiment in China is never far from the surface and have broken out in the open when tensions between Beijing and Tokyo fly high, even as Chinese visit Japan in droves, buy Japanese products and embrace Japanese anime and fashion.
Why so much anger, after so much time? It’s complicated.
Japan’s apologies — perceived to be less than wholehearted — and its leaders’ ambiguous stances are often blamed. Recent moves by Japanese leaders to change the country’s Constitution to allow Japan’s Self-Defense Forces a greater role have added to China’s perception of the country as militaristic and unrepentant.
But Beijing’s propaganda machine also has been a factor, overshadowing in many Chinese minds the fact that for more than a half-century after the war, Japan has been one of the world’s more pacifist countries, not to mention generous to China with aid, especially infrastructure loans in past decades.
“Constant brainwashing since day one in the education and mass media systems has played a key role in building and keeping alive these strong anti-Japanese sentiments,” said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, professor of government and international studies at Hong Kong Baptist University. “Larger segments of the Chinese society seem to really believe that the Japanese are still very militarist and nationalistic.”
Patriotic education is mandated in Chinese schools, and students often go on field trips to sites highlighting atrocities of the Japanese invaders.
The propaganda is intended to strengthen one-party rule, enlist solidarity against a common external boogeyman and distract the public from thorny domestic issues, Cabestan said.
“The party unites the Chinese society under its banner and uses nationalism and anti-Japanese sentiments as glue around it and a diversion from other problems,” he said. “The deepening economic difficulties have contributed and will contribute to intensifying the magnitude and decibels of the current anti-Japanese propaganda.”
The focus by China’s Communist Party leadership on the resistance against the Japanese generally glosses over the fact that for much of the 20th century, the communists were fighting against the country’s Kuomintang under Chiang Kai-shek, and that Chiang was the Chinese leader recognized by the Allies fighting the Japanese as the military commander in China during World War II.
The Chinese government has ordered a flood of TV programs, films, variety shows, books and special events commemorating the 70th anniversary of the war victory against Japan — usually playing up the role of Communist troops — while banning broadcasters from airing entertainment programs in the first five days of September.
The culmination of events comes Thursday with a massive military parade through the heart of Beijing. China marks Sept. 3 — the day after Japan formally surrendered to the Allies in the Pacific aboard a U.S. naval ship in 1945 — as the day of victory over the Japanese.
For many years already, China’s television screens have been filled with anti-Japanese dramas, which not only receive government funding but also are exempt from quotas on the numbers of programs per genre, and are more likely to pass state censors. They also have a ready and loyal audience, making this genre popular with TV producers looking for safe investments.
Gearing up for this fall’s mandated war theme, most crews in China’s film city of Hengdian were filming war dramas featuring the resistance against the Japanese. State media have reported that more than 50 war dramas are planned for this year.
Beijing also has ordered cinemas throughout China to heavily promote war films in the first 10 days of September, and has ordered that 100 books and 20 audio products with war themes be published in September.
In 2012, when tensions over the Japan-controlled Senkaku Islands in East China Sea boiled over, Beijing allowed anti-Japanese protests throughout China, which briefly included demonstrators hurling rocks at the Japanese Embassy in Beijing. State media helped fan the anti-Japanese sentiment.
In daily conversations and in pop culture, the Chinese are used to dismissing Japanese as “devils” and calling the country — condescendingly — “Little Japan.”
Some Chinese scholars insist that it is Japan’s failure to adequately apologize for its brutal colonization of much of China starting in 1930s and its wartime brutality that is the core reason for continued anti-Japanese sentiment.
“As an aggressor, Japan has not apologized, so how can you expect China, as the victim, to be tolerant and forgiving?” said Huang Dahui, director of the East Asia Studies Center at Beijing-based Renmin University. “How can the victim have closure when the perpetrator has not expressed genuine remorse?”
Huang said the Chinese are not inherently anti-Japanese, and that their nationalism is only triggered when China is provoked. “It’s only a response,” Huang said.
Cong — the schoolteacher — now lives in Japan after having followed her husband to Tokyo on a job assignment. Cong teaches Japanese how to speak Chinese and has started to see Japanese people as disinterested in politics.
Asked if China has gone overboard in constantly propagating war history, Cong paused and said, “It’s hard to say. I don’t think it’s a bad thing. If we don’t do it, those born in the 1990s, 2000s or even those in 2010s won’t know this part of history.”