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775: The M-List
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By Emily Kuo Kubo

Personal Reflections

Japan and China should move on— just like my family has done

When I brought my Japanese-American boyfriend, now husband, to meet my family two years ago, I was concerned that his ethnic background would be an issue with my family, who had always hoped that I would marry someone ethnically Chinese. For one, my grandfather had once belonged to the old Chinese Nationalist army that fought fiercely against Japanese occupation, then the Communists, before retreating to Taiwan. I made sure that before their meeting I mentioned the fact that Matt’s grandparents had spent WWII in internment camps in California and under no circumstances were involved in China. Luckily for me, my good-natured grandfather is especially enlightened for his generation, and holds no grudge against the enemies of his past. But getting past my father, I feared, would be a more worrisome undertaking.

Emily Kuo Kubo is a freelance writer living in Tokyo

In particular, my father was a very traditional Chinese man who habitually referred to the people of Japan as “the little Japanese people,” a term coined far back in history that reflects the stereotype of Japanese people being small in both stature and of the mind. However, my father could not help but like my soft-spoken, well-mannered boyfriend. In an effort to reconcile his own prejudice with the new reality, my father later told my mother, half-jokingly, that Matt must have descended from the “3,000 elite golden boys and girls from China” who accompanied Xu Fudong (a famous doctor who served under the Qin emperor) in search of the fountain of youth. Fudong was no fool, and he knew that the task at hand was more than any mortal can handle. Legend has it that in order to preserve his own head and appease the infamously demanding master, Fudong requested that a group of young boys and girls with unique talents assist his search for immortality. The group sailed eastward, and its members are believed by some to have reached and eventually settled in Japan, populating the islands. A tall, nice boy like Matt, my father argued, must have some Chinese blood in him.

I tell this story because recent incidents like the Chinese fan unrest at the 2004 Asia Cup posed a harsh reminder that the wounds of the Chinese people have not healed, that the strife between the two cultures, burdened by the painful history of a long Japanese military occupation from the 1930s to the 1940s, is as raw as ever. This is compounded by Japan’s Prime Minister Koizumi’s yearly visits to Yasukuni Shrine, which honors both the ordinary Japanese war dead along with 14 Class A war criminals. Despite formal protests from both China and South Korea, Koizumi pledges that he will continue his annual tribute.

Learning how to move on has proved to be no easy task, as clearly demonstrated by the many gestures of grudge by some young Chinese youth, for whom being anti-Japanese is an expression of their nationalism. Surely, to the polite, formal Japanese whose daily life is governed by unspoken sets of rules, such untamed outbursts of passion during the Asia Cup must be regarded with fear, distrust, and perhaps secret disdain. To some Chinese, however, Koizumi’s continued visits to the shrine plays like a passive-aggressive way of expressing Japan’s rebellion and asserting power in a world where China represents the most obvious threat to its security and economic vitality. Japan’s decision to send peacekeeping troops to Iraq, and the ongoing debate within the current government to revise its pacifist constitution, echoes uncomfortably with its past imperialistic ambitions.

Nonetheless, I believe, as I must, that with time and effort old foes can indeed become close partners again. In my little story, learning how to move on and a willingness to tweak one’s perceptions has meant the joining of hands. However I may personally feel about the politics, it seems unfair for China’s new generation to harbor the past generation’s rage and pain and lash them out against the Japanese today.

Indeed, I believe that neither party should have to carry that kind of burden—just as I would never wish my children to bear the shame of my sins and the wrath of my vengeance.

This is not to say that I remain uncritical of the past (or the present, for that matter). It is still in my humble opinion that Japan should offer a formal apology as a noble gesture, and I am adamant that Koizumi should cease all visits to Yasukuni Shrine. (My own occasional outbursts against the Japanese government on such matters usually meet something of an awkward and feeble defense from my husband, and a quick changing of subjects, strangely reflective of official Japanese reaction when these sensitive subjects are raised). However, in those moments when Matt and I do engage in one of our heated debates about “my people” versus “your people,” Matt would gently but ever-so-smugly remind me that it is futile to draw such distinctions, for he traces his ancestry back to the original 3,000 Chinese golden boys and girls whose vessel, either by predestination or freak accident, landed in Japan.