Disturbing Signs of Anti-Japaneseism

Yesterday a cab driver asked me if I thought China and Japan would go to war. Then today I saw this sign outside a real-estate agency in Wudaokou, the local hub of international students:

I was taken aback by the cab driver’s question because though I was aware of China and Japan’s territorial dispute over the East China Sea islands, I hadn’t realized the seriousness and scale of public discontent it had brewed up throughout China. That is until today.

At first when I read the bright yellow sign, I laughed and took a picture thinking My instagram followers will get a kick out of this ridiculous sign.  I had noticed that the Japanese flag was crossed out, and it had bothered me initially, but I didn’t think too much of it. A few hours later, however, as I kept thinking about the flag it increasingly bothered me to the point where I felt angry. It should’ve occurred to me the moment I saw the sign that the crude image of a bleeding Japanese flag could offend a Japanese passer-by. There were, after all, many Japanese students at the surrounding universities, including mine.

With the surge of my own discontent, I marched out of the cafe where I was “doing work” and walked determinedly back to the real-estate agency. I went straight up to the sign with paper and tape in hand and covered up the threatening image.

One of the real-estate agents hanging-out outside (I’ve never seen them working) asked me what I was doing, so I said innocently that I was covering up the bloody flag because it made me uncomfortable. The next thing he asked was if I was Japanese — I had expected this question. Then another employee, a young woman around my age, accused me of vandalizing their property and that that was disrespectful. To this I rebutted it was disrespectful to display such a threatening image in a neighborhood where many Japanese students roamed the streets. These Japanese students came to China to study, to study our language, our culture, and possibly one day to improve Sino-Japanese ties. Regretfully I didn’t say this out loud because I couldn’t think fast enough, especially not in Chinese. Besides, before I could say anything further another employee came at me exclaiming, “Was the Rape of Nanking not disrespectful?!?” Of course it was; it was disgusting and devastating and plain old wrong. But it happened in 1937, and I’m not saying it should be forgotten or forgiven — definitely not — but if we hold onto these bitter grudges we will never move forward.

What the first employee said next was extremely disturbing. When I asked him why they had drawn blood on the flag, he told me it was because the Japanese should be killed, roughly in those words. And he dramatically ripped the paper off to re-expose the bleeding flag. A very strong sinking feeling, similar to nausea, grew in the pit of my stomach. Finally, I left the situation (which captured the attention of a few nosy passerby’s) and went back to the cafe feeling totally defeated and unsettled.

I’ve never been good at defending my arguments, but I know inherently that what I did was right, or at least okay, even if I failed at it. Looking back on what happened, however, I don’t think I handled the situation effectively. It might’ve been more diplomatic if I had asked the real-estate agents who had made the sign if I could cover up the disturbing image explaining that it made me uncomfortable, rather than march right up to it and arguably “vandalize” their property. I think they would’ve at least considered my argument if I had respected their opinion first (even if it was ill-conceived).

I don’t have strong opinions on who should control the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands, but I don’t think they are worth going to war for. And although I don’t think tensions will actually escalate to that level, the cab driver’s question alarmed me and brought to light the intensity of current unrest — everyone is talking about the dispute and protests broke out in various cities in China, including Beijing, this weekend. I am all for free speech (I grew up in Brookline, Massachusetts), but when it infringes on the livelihood of people around you — making people scared to admit their nationality, making them scared to even come out of their dorm rooms — shouldn’t there be some kind of (non-violent) intervention? Of course not to the scale of attacking the embassy and killing the ambassador…but something.

My uncle, a former historian, is not a fan of the Japanese. He individually protests by boycotting Japanese products, but he would never resort to disrespectful slurs or violence to express his dislike.

Yes, the Chinese are very patriotic (how can they not be? Patriotism is instilled, internalized, forced into the Chinese people) and their protests against the Japanese is a form of nationalistic pride, but throwing eggs and rocks at the Japanese embassy, blowing up Japanese cars, pulling the flag out of the ambassador’s car and making petty little signs do not make you look good in the international eye and it certainly isn’t a mature response to the dispute.

My own little dispute with the real-estate agents today was a slap in the face. It woke me up to how real the tensions are between the Chinese and Japanese. I came home and caught up on all the news about the East China Sea islands as well as the South China Sea islands territorial disputes, and tried to form my own opinion on who should own the islands. But I just can’t help thinking how ridiculous it is for people to hate one another because of pride and power and possession. On the other hand, it also showed me how unified the Chinese can be during times like these. If only people could aim these collective efforts towards something more domestically beneficial, like protesting against political corruption, or improving urban and rural sanitation, or building safer infrastructure, instead of worrying about piles of floating rocks in the ocean that the ordinary citizen will never be privileged enough to step foot onto anyway.

**I’m curious to know what you would’ve done if you had seen the sign above. Should I have just let it be (in the end it remained anyway…)? Did I try to cover up someone else’s right to free speech (even though there isn’t free speech in China) by attempting to cover up their drawing? Should I protest Century 21 (the real-estate agency)?? What are your opinions on the territorial disputes? And what the heck is this world coming to (with political unrest all over the world)????????

18 Comments on “Disturbing Signs of Anti-Japaneseism”

  1. Hi Emily, there is strength in number so maybe you could find other Chinese people who think alike and together go that office and ask them to remove the banner, or at least hide the bleeding Japanese flag. They may not do it, but you would feel better and they may think twice about putting up other offending signs. Everyone should be able to express their opinions; they did and you did so at least there is some sort of debate, which is a good thing, but the end result may not always please both sides. But hey, you wrote about it in your blog and anyone reading it will now associate this company and this conflict, and maybe think twice behing using their services.

    Have you ever heard of Matthew and Hunter Islands? Me neither until I got here and read all the arguing between Vanuatu and France. I don’t think there will be a war, but there are marches and protests, diplomatic threats, etc. Now try to hear what the locals on these rocks think… Oh wait, they are uninhabited! People will fight over pieces of volcanic rocks for patriotic reasons… but little common sense. I wish they would spend all this energy and money on improving life on the islands they do have.

    • Emily He says:


      I have never heard of Matthew and Hunter Islands…but I didn’t even know where Vanuatu was until you told me you lived there! I agree with you that the time, energy and funds spent on fighting/protesting would be more valuable if they were focused in other areas. I don’t know about Vanuatu, but in China the problem is history. People can’t move on from things that happened (not that) long ago. Things haven dwindled down in the last 2 days, I think, and I didn’t see the yellow sign again yesterday. And at least people at school seem to be handling the situation civilly. You made me feel better about what I did, so thanks Janique for always responding to my posts so thoughtfully!!

  2. For a 5,000 year old civilization, China and it’s people are capable of being very uncivilized. You might get a kick out of my latest post. Diaoyu never belonged to China at all so all these “patriots” are doing is parroting back the government’s lies.

    What you did was right, however, it was doomed to fail. Hatred of Japan is instilled since birth in China. One rational person won’t be able to change that.

    • Jason says:

      What about all the Chinese students studying abroad in Japan? All the Chinese people who love Japanese animation? What about all the Chinese music that uses Japanese songs?? Are all these people have hate instilled in them at birth? They had the same education as everyone else…but somehow they weren’t affected….

  3. occultoantonio says:

    I followed this event on the news. It’s the same old story. Indeed, reminds me the dispute between UK and Argentina on the Falkland Islands / Malvinas. It’s always the backdrop that politicians want. And politicians who foment hatred among peoples.
    take care, my friend.

    • Emily He says:

      Yes, it’s true. We hear these territorial disputes all the time! You’d think by now there would be a way to effectively and civilly solve these problems but sadly that’s just not the case. Anyway, thanks for the comment 🙂

  4. grace says:

    That’s vile. I would run into the real estate agency and hug each one of them, telling them that god will forgive them for their sins if only they could forgive themselves. Or rather, start an “all you need is love” flash mob. I like overzealous love as a means of neutralizing hatred.

  5. “Besides, before I could say anything further another employee came at me exclaiming, “Was the Rape of Nanking not disrespectful?!?” Of course it was; it was disgusting and devastating and plain old wrong. But it happened in 1937, and I’m not saying it should be forgotten or forgiven — definitely not — but if we hold onto these bitter grudges we will never move forward.”

    I couldn’t agree more with you on that. Forgiving is not for the other person but rather for yourself; for your health and well-being. Sadly, it didn’t help when two Second Lieutenants in the 9th Infantry Regiment of the 16th Division, … where the two second lieutenants were treated as war heroes. I had to tell one of the females who was Japan-obsessed that whatever it happened in the movie “The Flowers of War” did actually happen to the women of Nanking. It was not “made up” or “blown out of proportion.” There are videos and photos of such tragedy. Having said that, I can’t even imagine watching your parents being murdered right in front of you by the Japanese; that sort of thing happened to my husband’s father. My husband’s father was 16 when he saw his parents being murdered by the sword. Despite of that, my husband (although, he is actually Taiwanese) learned Japanese when he was a kid and to this day, he can speak the language fluently without accent. That’s the thing about generations; we change. You’re right, we should move on. For ourselves.

    I couldn’t agree more that nobody should be afraid to admit their nationality. We should never be punished for what another generation has done but rather, learn from it and move on. I honestly have no real opinion on the dispute. I try to stay away from that.

    Oh! I am a New Englander, as well. Hah. 🙂

    • Emily He says:

      Wow, thanks for sharing your husband’s family’s story! It’s so tragic, and real, and hard to even imagine for so many people (including myself). That being said, I thought maybe it was insensitive for me to think we should or even can “move forward”, but I’m glad you agree, and it’s refreshing to hear that people like your husband’s father, despite what he went through, can turn something so awful into a positive step forward for the well-being of greater society. It’s very admirable!

      In general, I think I need to brush up on my Chinese-Japanese history (I know the major events), but it would really help with my understanding of both sides. Unfortunately, though, in China I don’t think I can access any information from the Japanese perspective….

      Thanks for commenting, fellow New Englander and current neighbor!!!!!

      • Oh my husbands father did not like the japanese but due to fear. My husband is the one who learned the language despite of his fathers past. I am on my smart phone so it is a pain to respond. Haha

  6. The deep hatred for the Japanese is unfortunately inbred into the average Chinese citizens. The dispute over the Islands is simply an excuse for the Chinese citizens to emphasize their hatred, I believe that they don’t care about the islands at all, but all they really do care about is their hatred itself.
    The Chinese Government on the other hand, is fighting for the Islands for the Oil Reserve that lies near it, and uses the hatred its people hold to gain support.
    Will there be a war? No. Unless people are stupid then yes.

    For you my friend and your fellow Japanese, I really suggest for you guys safety to be extra careful in China and avoid doing anything that may place yourselves at harm.

    I’m not saying to be defenseless and coward behind a safety net, but sometimes the harsh reality is that people do not accept reason, especially when they’ve carried a hatred for so long.
    China has displayed through their violent protests that their people only care about themselves and nobody else (burning down other people’s Japanese own cars, blah blah blah) but, safety is the first priority, so think twice before doing anything. But what you did was brave, but safety first.

    • Emily He says:

      Hi Priscilla,
      Thanks so much for your comment! I’m actually not Japanese (I’m Chinese-American), but I will pass on your advice to any Japanese classmates I come across.

      I agree with you that hatred for Japanese is ingrained in many Chinese, and I think history is to blame because there is such a long and violent one between the two countries. I’ve heard some arguments, like yours, that the Chinese don’t actually care about having the extra land because if they did, then they would’ve protested for the South China Sea islands as well. So yes, it is blatant that the protests are due to hatred, and it’s shocking to witness all of it. And in 2012!

      Just curious, do you live in China? Are you Chinese, too? I really appreciate your comment..

  7. Jean says:

    This is my theory on the long-standard animosity between Chinese-Japaneses: IMMIGRATE to North America or to Europe, etc.

    And you will be forced to drop those wasteful, destructive hatred….’cause non-Asians just lump all East Asians together: “they all look the same”. 🙂 😦 It’s not funny in the end.

    That changes the game real fast when one has to focus on the future in a totally different environment.

    Honest sometimes that is the only way to get rid of generations long hatred..people leave China or Japan …forever to become citizens elsewhere. Then the next generation is not “tainted” with hatred of past generations.

    I’m sorry: My parents were never directly affected by Japanese invasion during WW II. My father was too young though he did see Japanese drop bombs faraway in southern China.

    Thank God. So parents never expressed the sort of hatred that other Chinese have expressed.

    So I’m concerned about what is going on in the seas among Chinese and Japanese.

    And every country can be just as guilty except some countries are more bellicose-like to try to assert sovereignty. For Canada, it is the vast Canadian Arctic.

  8. alvintobias says:

    We(The Philippines) have some territorial issues too with the Chinese Government. A stand off happened months ago according to news, I think that was intense. This is still a hot topic here in the Philippines. Everyone here is sensitive about this and I can see that there are few Filipinos who are extremely mad to China. They’re wishing some ill thoughts about China. Maybe they’re just overly patriotic. But most of Filipinos here are taking it democratically. As a “Catholic Country” they don’t really used to wishing ill to anyone. There are a lot of Chinese here and we love them. Out of my 10 friends, 2 of them are Chinese.

    Maybe there are some Japanese who do that too to China.

    I think all of these can only be settled thru the international court.
    Let’s avoid war! ^____^ I love siomai, I love chinese foods haha!

  9. TAE says:

    I know how you feel about not being able to respond quickly when faced with emotionally charged situations; I think we all feel that way at some point.
    It gets better, though, especially if you’re a brave girl like you seem to be.

  10. occultoantonio says:

    i wish you Happy New Year. I hug you, Emily.

  11. Cafe says:

    I somehow doubt that approaching them mild-mannered would have changed their minds about the sign. I don’t blame you for what you did and if I were there would have definitely felt like doing the same!

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