Friday, April 15, 2005


Today's New York Times has an article that concerns Chinese protests against Japan:
China has tapped a deep strain of nationalism among its people, gambling, analysts say, that it can propel itself to a leadership role in Asia while cloaking its move for power in the guise of wounded pride and popular will.

But the government also seems to have taken steps to control - some say manipulate - a nascent protest movement to prevent a grass-roots challenge to the governing Communist Party.

In the last few weeks, relations between Asia's two leading powers have reached their most serious crisis since diplomatic ties were re-established in 1972. China has confronted Japan over newly revised history textbooks that gloss over wartime abuses. It stepped up its claim to disputed islands and undersea gas reserves between the countries.

China took Japan and the United States to task for declaring that they would jointly defend Taiwan in case of an attack from the mainland.

After weeks of hints, Chinese leaders said outright on Wednesday that Japan did not have the moral qualifications to become a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council...

..."Only a country that respects history, takes responsibility for history and wins over the trust of peoples in Asia and the world at large can take greater responsibilities in the international community," Mr. Wen said.

"The moral issue is China's trump card over Japan," Mr. Shi said. "China is now playing that card."
I can understand Chinese rage if Japan is in official denial over its abuse of China in the 30s and 40s. Too often, Nanking's rape is eclipsed by European atrocities of the same era.

But I can't help but wonder about China's claim of 'moral' supremacy over Japan. While they riot for accuracy in Japanese history books, their own textbooks most likely lack historical exactitude. The 40 million or so Chinese who were killed by Mao probably don't figure in most Chinese history books. And I wonder how they handle China's claim over Tibet? And Tiananmen, 1989? Or Falun Gong? How do they record Mao's disastrous Cultural Revolution now that they're unabashed capitalists?

Obsessing over Japanese history is a good way to keep Chinese citizens from engrossing in their own unfortunate history. Mao's giant portrait still dominates Tienamen Square, the last time I checked. And his successors still speak his name reverently, at least in public. Since the regime appears to be detaching from Mao's murderous legacy while simultaneously claiming legitimacy from his communist system, there's some unfinished historical business, I should think. Perhaps there's a few inaccuracies in Chinese textbooks. Just a few.

I was interested to read this:
But in one indication of how the government sought to manage the event, at least four leading organizers of previous grass-roots efforts to confront Japan were ordered to stay home, the four said in separate interviews. One organizer said the authorities had reminded him of that order by cellphone on Saturday.
Ah yes, the Other Wireless Network. It didn't really occur to me until I read how effectively an autocratic country with cell phones can leverage a system of virtual minders -- calling their minions incessantly to make sure they're towing the government's line. I suppose if my cell phone rang at all hours with a government hack telling me what I could do or not do, I might be pretty tame.

Tame. Is that what the Chinese are? For all their riots, all their rage, all their industry, all that roiling, expanding population -- are they tamed by minders with cell phones? How long can that last?