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“Japan’s natural disasters and the Chinese people’s reflections”

Posted by on 2011/05/20. Filed under Opinions. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

By Liang Jing
Mar 20, 2011 – 10:42:42 AM

Chaos and turbulence show the character of a society. The magnitude 9 earthquake in Japan caused huge losses, but also gave hundreds of millions of Chinese who understand nothing about Japanese society a chance to see that society’s huge capacity for self-help. The excellent performance of Japanese society faced with a huge natural disaster formed a stark contrast with a Chinese society under a dictatorship, stimulating the Chinese people to reflect on their own social and cultural development. Therefore, this natural disaster may have unexpected positive impacts on people.

Since the Meiji Restoration, Japan has led China in modernisation. The conceited Chinese were forced by a law-of-the-jungle situation to learn from Japan, leaving many humiliating memories. However, with China’s economic “rise” in recent years, Chinese people increasingly look down on the Japanese. When Japan was hit by the earthquake, many Chinese people gloated over it, revealing the depth of the poisoning of the national soul by China’s morbid society.

Obviously those in power know that the nation’s people have lost their “human” responses, and this is not conducive to the “national image.” So the official media published an article entitled “What sort of national mentality do we need?” This article attempts to use the remarks of those in power to “guide” those arrogant savage “patriots.”

The article explains hatred of the civilised world and pathological venting of some Chinese as an lack of “calmness and moderation,” they hope the nation won’t be so “impetuous,” or “ready to blame others”, but display “maturity” and “humility.” That is, criticism of China by the civilised world, isn’t over moral right and wrong, but out of jealousy and bad motives. Therefore, the Chinese people must psychologically prepared, must be superficially “decent.” [1] This official logic is the same as the reality of the survival experience of the Chinese people, because Chinese society today is dominated by the law of the jungle. There is no fairness or justice, people naturally have no respect for the “successful” who develop in such a rich environment, but only envy and hate them. The logic of the official history is also consistent with China’s experience of bullying by Japan, the Japanese of that time really looked down on and wanted to enslave the Chinese people.

However, if the ordinary Chinese people were to have more and deeper knowledge of contemporary Japanese society, this logic of those in power would become less convincing. This is the significance of the Japanese earthquake for China. As in China’s Wenchuan earthquake in 2008, the media reports of the disaster-struck areas directly brought the audience to the bottom of society, directly let the audience see its most ordinary people. Chinese people should remember, the schools became the zones of greatest concentration of earthquake victims, whereas Japan’s schools and other public buildings protected many people’s lives. The victims in the two countries also let everyone see the strong contrast between the two societies.

I clearly recall a detail of the CCTV broadcasts of the Wenchuan earthquake zone. In the drive to the epicentre in the mountains, an anchorwoman met a fleeing peasant. When she stepped forward to ask about the disaster situation, the peasant obviously had no idea how to respond.

His prematurely aged face, and above all his familiarity with being discriminated against by city people, ignored and neglected manner, made all TV viewers see the great divide between China’s different urban and rural worlds, and to see the lack of dignity in the actual state of existence of its second-class citizens. Watching the desolate figure of the peasant disappearing alone into the distance, the anchorwoman could not help crying. Caring people understood that she sensed the great misfortune of those born as Chinese peasants.

But the Japanese society that was presented to television viewers in China is one where everyone has dignity. Faced with the disaster, everyone knew what to do, and not only was the entire society quite orderly, but had a peace and calm lacking in China’s authoritarian society. Hotels and shops provided free accommodation and food for the victims; even the underworld organisations opened their clubs for refugees.

In China’s Wenchuan earthquake, Chinese society saw a huge eruption of self-help and self-help ethic. But before long, the government began to drive away the private individuals who went in bring the people disaster relief, seeing these volunteers as “destabilising factors.”

These huge contrasts between Chinese and Japanese society in the face of natural disasters have led the Chinese people to reflect. Well-known columnist Xiao Shu commented that “What is most terrible isn’t natural disaster but disorganization of society.” A society lacking in self-organizing capacity, that can only rely on an executive order to mobilise and organise, is actually a society like a plate of loose sand.” [2] In the rush to show off to the world the capacity of its authoritarian regime, the Chinese government carried out reconstruction in the earthquake zone at a feverish pace and amazing scale of investment. It was not only hugely wasteful, it was also extremely unfair, and left many environmental and social hazards.

In the 19th century, the naval Battle of Shimonoseki taught the Chinese they could not accept abuse, and must have a strong state and a powerful army. However, the essence of modern civilisation is not a strong state and a powerful army. I hope that the Sendai tsunami of the 21st century will make Chinese people understand that only by building a strong self-governing society, can we win dignity for each and every Chinese.
* Liang Jing, “Riben de tianmie yu Zhongguo de fansi” [Japan’s natural disasters and the Chinese people’s reflections], Xin shiji xinwen wang, 16 March 2011 [梁京:”日本的天灾与中国人的反思”,新世纪新闻网,2011年3月 16日 (here).].

[1] Zhang Hong, “Women xuyao shenme yangde guomin xintai? (huiwai guanzhu)” [What kind of national mentality do we need?],Renmin wang, 13 March 2011 [张红:”我们需要什么样的国民心态?(会外关注)”,人民网,2011年3月 13日 (here).].

[2] Xiao Shu, “Yi da guomin da sheui yingdui da weiji da fengxian” [Deal with big crisis and big risk using big nation and big society],Fenghuang wang, 13 March 2011 [笑蜀:”以大国民大社会应对大危机大风险”,凤凰网,2011年3月 13日 (here).].


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