Recently, the Chinese appear to be sending out conflicting signals about their relationship with Japan. On the one hand, they are celebrating their victory over Japan in the Second Sino-Japanese war and displaying their moral and military superiority. On the other hand, they seem to suggest that no tension remains between China and Japan with a ‘Chinese-Japanese friendship hug’ campaign.
On the 7th of July, the Chinese celebrated the 70th anniversary of their victory in the Second Sino-Japanese war. This war is often overlooked, as it is overshadowed by the Second World War. However, despite its lack of coverage in the West, it had a huge impact in the East.
At the start of the twentieth century, Japan asserted dominance in the East, as well as increasing status in the West. This started with their victory in the First Sino-Japanese war, followed by their victory in the Russo-Japanese war. Then, after the First World War, Japan became a permanent member of the Council of the League of Nations. It was the only Asian nation to gain that privilege.
This period of increasing status on the world stage coincided with Japan’s Meiji restoration and it could be considered as Japan’s entrance to the modern world. However, its rivalry with China remained. Therefore, the Second Sino-Japanese war was a challenge to the Japanese image, their status and dominance. It was a challenge that allowed China to emerge victorious and destabilise the sense of superiority that Japan had gained in the earlier years of the twentieth century.
The rivalry between Japan and China still continues today, with both nations trying to become the dominant power in the East. In celebrating its victory, China shows that this rivalry is still alive and that the Chinese still want to show that they are superior.
This was recently emphasised by the opening of an exhibition in Shanghai, on the 1st of July, which showed the cruelty of the Japanese towards the Chinese during the conflict. It is described as an ‘exhibition of the crimes committed by Japanese invaders against the “comfort women” ‘ by People’s Daily Online. The exhibition colours the Japanese as cruel and savage, while the Chinese appear innocent in comparison.
Moreover, it has been announced that there will be a display of the Chinese military on the 3rd of September. This further aims to assert the superiority of China, with a parade of troops from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The display of Chinese military indicates the pride that the Chinese have in their military strength and their military victory over Japan.
On the other hand, on the 5th of July, a campaign called the ‘Chinese-Japanese friendship hug’ sought to prove that the Japanese and the Chinese have put aside their rivalries. Young Chinese and Japanese people were photographed hugging in Tokyo. According to the People’s Daily Online, they wished ‘to demonstrate the everlasting friendship between China and Japan.’
The photographs in the exhibition in Shanghai clearly oppose the photographs of the young people hugging in Japan. The contrast is striking and China’s message to the world about its attitude to Japan seems to be contradictory.
It seems as though the Chinese want to continue asserting their superiority over Japan to the world. They do so by shaming Japan and emphasising their own power. However, they also want to show their integration with the modern world, in which good relations between nations are prioritized.
Despite attempts to show that the previous hostility between China and Japan has been removed, it is still apparent that China holds resentment for the Japanese. A few photographs of young people hugging cannot dispel centuries of hostility. This is especially apparent when celebrations of Chinese history still encourage nationalist beliefs.