Response to the Gazette article

After reading the article, “China’s hypocrisy is showing”, published in Montreal Gazette on April 20, 2005, I feel very angry. I think it necessary to elucidate a few points.

First, the author of the article has clearly under-estimated the “widespread brutality” of the Japanese invasion of China during the Second World War.

The single most well-known atrocity was the massacre in Nanjing, the then-capital of China, between December 1937 and February 1938. Under Japanese orders to “kill all captives”, some 300,000 civilians and surrendered soldiers were slaughtered in just six weeks. An extensive photographic record documents the singular brutality of this event. In these images smiling soldiers can be seen conducting bayonet practice on live prisoners, displaying human heads as trophies, and presiding at live burials of their victims. Prisoners of war were cut down by machine gun fire, or in some cases burned alive. Perhaps most shockingly to the world at the time, over 20,000 women ranging in age from 8 to 80 were gang-raped and then executed by Japanese soldiers. (See http://www.historyplace.com/worldhistory/genocide/ and http://www.icmcsu.com/zhuanti/nanjingdts/ Chapter 3, 4, 5 for photos) These events were reported in Japanese newspapers, and though the eyes of the West were elsewhere, in Time Magazine and on the front page of the New York Times. After the war, they were documented before the international war crimes tribunal in Tokyo.

Chinese losses in this, the second Sino-Japanese war, are generally put at between 10 and 20 million souls, of whom barely three million were soldiers; in contrast with Japan’s 1.1 million military losses. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Sino-Japanese_War) These figures are fully comparable to any losses suffered in Europe during the Second World War, and in fact second only to those of the USSR. To this day the survivors of these events and their families are traumatized and haunted by memory. This is not a part of history that any Chinese can take lightly. Yet few Canadians know much of the events of the Second World War in Asia.

Second, regarding the question of whether Japan should receive a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council, it is unavoidable that the Chinese people should ask whether Japan, like Germany, has taken steps to ensure that the events of the Second World War will never be repeated. Unfortunately, the answer is no.

While in 1972 China and Japan restored full diplomatic relations and the Chinese government agreed to renounce demands for war reparations, it is not to be supposed that this was a democratic reflection of the will of the Chinese people. Indeed, popular dissent remains strong. In the thirty-odd years since the re-establishment of ties, there has been little sign of remorse from the Japanese for crimes committed during the war. In the almost seventy years since the events themselves, there has been not one formal or official apology from the Japanese government to the Chinese people. Instead, an ever-increasing number of Japanese writers and politicians have denied not just the Massacre, but any wrongdoing in the War. Not once but several times revisions to Japan’s official history texts have seen the invasion downgraded to an occupation, and the officially sanctioned mass killings rewritten as incidents arising from soldierly frustration. The Nanjing Massacre was even cast as a beneficent act of liberation from Western colonialism.

How can the Chinese people feel secure in a future where Japan has a permanent seat on the Security Council? It is as if Europe had to face an unreformed Germany in which no effort had been made to uproot Nazi ideology. Is it not completely understandable that the Chinese people should “fiercely oppose” Japan’s accession to the Council?

But the author of the article characterizes the Chinese protests as “not reasonable” and “less than entirely spontaneous”. Knowing something of the history of the war, and of its aftermath—which would anger any person of conscience—it is hard to imagine that popular Chinese fury would need to be fabricated, whatever the view of their government on the matter. To accuse the Chinese people of hypocrisy or even exaggeration is to deny their very genuine pain.

Of course, within a reasonable system, protests of this sort are never reasonable behavior. But when reason in the system is lacking, unreasonable responses arise as a wake-up call. To denounce the behavior without examining its cause is both callous and irresponsible.

In asserting that “China, among the most repressive societies in the world, is in no position to criticize its neighbour”, the author confuses the country, the government and the people.

As to the government, though it has many repressive policies, it also has the right and the duty to criticize other governments’ wrongdoings. No one should be deprived of their freedom to speak simply on the basis of their own imperfection. Such is the nature of equality. And most certainly we should not conclude that because the Chinese government has repressed protests in the past, it is bound for the sake of consistency to repress protest today.

And as to the people of China, they are the victims of a repressive society and a government that has made many mistakes. They were born to that system and did nothing to deserve it, just as most Canadians were born to a better system and did nothing to earn it. Any success the Chinese people may have in public expression of their opinions is a thing to be welcomed. Even if this success arises only because on this one occasion the Chinese government happens to support the Chinese people, could we not feel glad on their behalf?

The article as published was not purely one-sided, but its title must have been chosen with a purpose. In light of all this history, does the title “China’s hypocrisy is showing” not reflect a certain hypocrisy of its own?

[I would like to acknowledge the substantial contribution from my editor, Complicated Rain.]

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