Saturday, June 07, 2014

We’ve Always Liked China…But How Much Longer…

The following commentary ends differently depending on how I feel that day.

I manage to surprise most foreigners when I tell them that Japanese children are taught Chinese classics as part of their compulsory education. Perhaps that accounts for the fact that Japanese fantasy anime are just as likely if not more so to take their inspiration from Chinese history as from Japan’s.

The Chinese influence goes well beyond the classics, of course. We could not imagine the Japanese writing system making do without Chinese characters. This situation is unlikely to change any time soon either, as information technology has made Chinese characters much easier to use.

This is in sharp contrast to the nations that were not absorbed into the clutches of the Chinese empire. The Vietnamese got rid of Chinese characters by the early 20th Century, while a friendship “sealed in blood” did not deter the North Koreans from switching to all-Chosongul (or “-Hangul” according to their neighbors to the south) mode as quickly as they could after they established control over their share of the Korean Peninsula. Chinese characters held on much longer in South Korea, but had mostly disappeared from public life by the end of the 20th Century.

There’s no way to deny it; beneath all the ongoing turmoil, we Japanese like China, respect it. We freely acknowledge the legacy, which by the way stretches well beyond the literary realm. But that does not mean that they have to like us back, or that they will have any use for us except for totally utilitarian purposes. Perhaps it is high time we realized this, and moved on.


Robert Dujarric said...

Good point. Also Chinese restaurants are quite popular and there haven't been anti Chinese demonstrations here. Generally the only protesters in front of the PRC embassy are from Falun Dafa.

Jun Okumura said...


Letting the Falun Dafa roam free in front of the Chinese Embassy? Now that’s suspicious. Perhaps the Chinese should be happy that we don’t let them throw stones.