|Chinese soldiers fighting the Japanese in the battle of Taierzhuang, 1938|
Yesterday was the 78th anniversary of the so-called Marco Polo Bridge Incident, known as the 七七事变 (Seventh of July Incident) in Chinese. This historical event, which occurred in 1937, is used to mark the official beginning of Japan's invasion of China (although Manchuria had already been occupied some years previously). It consisted of Japanese troops attacking Chinese ones near an ancient bridge on the outskirts of Beijing. The bridge in question was highly praised by Marco Polo, leading it to be called the "Marco Polo Bridge" in English (although it was rebuilt in 1698, long after the Venetian traveler lived).
As they do every year, the Chinese government held a ceremony near the bridge in question to commemorate the anniversary. This year however, it was only China's fifth ranking highest leader who took part, whereas last year president Xi Jinping himself participated and made a speech. Some have seen this as a sign that relations with Japan may be improving ever so slightly.
Meanwhile, these two news items from the last few days give a good idea of how hatred of Japan has become normalized in China to the point where people don't even notice it, and of how children are being indoctrinated into it.
In Shandong, a theme park for kids organized an activity in which dozens of children had to shoot with water guns at park attendants dressed as Japanese soldiers from World War II. The activity was called "the entire people attack the gui zi". "Gui zi" (devils or ghosts) is a derogatory term for the Japanese which was obviously used quite unthinkingly.
Meanwhile another theme park in Taiyuan organized a "defend the Diaoyu islands game", in which children navigated floating warship models adorned with Chinese flags via remote controls, while voices declaring China's sovereignty could be heard blaring from speakers. The Diaoyu islands are of course those little rocks in the sea which Japan currently controls, but which China claims were always part of its territory.
It's hardly surprising that amongst the Chinese hostility towards Japan actually seems to increase the further removed they are by age from Japan's actual invasion of their country. The truth is that in the vast majority of cases this attitude is not linked to actual family or personal memories of Japanese atrocities, but to an educational system which teaches children to be blindly patriotic and then turns hatred of Japan into a prime symbol of that patriotism, and a media which compounds this message.
Of course, it is true that Japan's occupation of China was pretty atrocious. Chin Ning Chu, the bestselling business-management author who was brought up in Taiwan and lived in America, recalls in one of her books how her mother, who came from North-East China, lived in a village which was occupied by the Japanese as a child. The village had a police station in it, and there was often a trail of blood leading to and from the station. Her mother had to walk over it when going to school. She also recounts how people were afraid of traveling, since Japanese soldiers would often check the papers of any Chinese waiting on the platforms at the local train station, and at the slightest sign of an irregularity they might well torture them on the spot.
It is a pity that the propagandistic use which is being made of this history in modern China, and the silly attitudes this propaganda engenders, make it very hard to focus on how terrible the Second World War actually was for the Chinese people.