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You might be right, but you’re wrong with that tone of voice

Now, I generally know better than to go sticking my neck out on issues like this, but I actually agree that China should be in control of the Diaoyu islands. The problem is that I was tempted to side with the Japanese after witnessing the disgusting display of mindless nationalism over the weekend (which in some cases included calls for wiping out all Japanese, and seemed to be state-sponsored).

Hidden behind the calls for boycotts and sanctions, and the embarrassing claim based on the policy of “first come, first serve,” (which can be found in legal texts between “Dibs” and “Finders keepers”) makes it seem like this entire issue is nothing more than a ploy to drum up support for the Party. Or, that perhaps the islands really do belong to Japan, since the Chinese papers keep referring to them as having been “stolen” and that the Japanese gov’t “buying” them from the owners is “illegal,” which make China’s current assertions seem dubious.

However, People’s Daily does have a very calm explanation of China’s claims over the islands, but they last stated the rational case in 2010.

In January 1895, three months before the Treaty of Shimonoseki was signed between Japan and China, after the latter was defeated in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895, Japan illegally took over the Diaoyu Islands and included them in its Okinawa Prefecture. It cannot be denied that the Diaoyu Islands were ceded to Japan as subsidiary islands of Taiwan in 1895 after the Treaty was signed.

However, in December 1943, leaders of the United States, Britain and China signed the Cairo Declaration, declaring that all the territories that Japan had seized from China should be returned. The Potsdam Proclamation signed by China, the United States and Britain in July 1945 (later adhered to by the Soviet Union) stipulated that: “The terms of the Cairo Declaration shall be carried out”.

In August 1945, Japan accepted the Potsdam Proclamation and surrendered unconditionally, which means both documents came into effect.

After World War II ended, China took back its territories stolen by Japan, including Taiwan Island and its subsidiary islands. Therefore as part of the Taiwan Islands, the Diaoyu Islands were returned to China under international law.

However, in September 1951, Japan signed the San Francisco Peace Treaty with the US and other allied powers, and single-handedly surrendered the Diaoyu Islands, along with Okinawa, to the administration of Washington.

In response, Zhou Enlai, the then premier and foreign minister of China, sternly declared that a San Francisco treaty signed without the People’s Republic of China’s participation is unlawful and illegitimate.

In June 1971, Washington and Tokyo signed the “Okinawa Reversion Agreement,” parceling up the “administrative rights” of Diaoyu Islands to Japan.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry in response issued a statement in December later that year, which said “the agreement is a blatant infringement on China’s territorial sovereignty that is intolerable for the Chinese people. The US and Japan list China’s Diaoyu and other islands into the agreement’s ‘reversion area’ is completely unlawful. It cannot change the People’s Republic of China’s sovereignty right on those islands.”

Unfortunately, People’s Daily, Global Times, and seemingly every other newspaper (but Caixin, which toed the line), has lost their ability to reason coolly this time around, and are now in the process of trying to contain the firestorm they have ignited.

The current banner of People’s Daily, which doesn’t seem to be promoting a peaceful solution

So why is it that the Party has a fairly reasonable claim that could be argued to the international crowd, and yet they seem to prefer throwing eggs and running military drills to practice capturing islands? Perhaps, the Party isn’t trying to win any of the foreign countries over to their side, if they were the protests would involve a lot less profanity and genocide, and a touch more English. Instead they are simply interested in winning over their own people – even if it means losing the bigger battle over the islands.

The one thing you can be angry about

On Saturday Yaxue shared the story of “Subverter” Chen Pingfu. Essentially, he was deeply in debt after paying for a surgery, and turned to performing in public to try and pay off the money he owed his family members. For this he was threatened and eventually beaten by “public servants,” but he continued on. When he complained about this treatment online, he was further harassed by police, and was forced out of the only job he’d been able to find in years. Chen was a man desperately clinging to the last shred of dignity he had and local officials were determined to take that away from him.

Apparently in China, when the gov’t takes away your job and threaten you by saying, “I’ll send you to your death if you dare be a nuisance! Who do you think you are? Making you die is nothing for us! Go with us if you dare, and see how we will tidy you up!” you are supposed to swallow the bitter pill in absolute silence. For if you are angry, and express that in any public forum, you can be sentenced for “subverting state power.”

But we saw this weekend, that there is still one thing you can be angry about – Japan.

There were massive protests against Japan’s gov’t buying islands (from a Japanese family) which China claims (for excellent coverage see Eric’s coverage at Sinostand). Friends in Nanjing reported seeing smaller crowds gathered and one emailed me to comment on what happened during the Rape of Nanjing, “I still believe only a twisted and distorted nation could have done such horrific things and have enjoyed. It runs in the blood.”

From what Eric at Sinostand saw first hand, he had little doubt that these were gov’t sanctioned, if not gov’t supported protests, as the crowd hoisted Mao posters, and chanted for the long life of the Communist Party (in Xiamen they clearly were). People’s Daily has also hosted a series of other inflammatory news about Japan, which makes it seem as though the gov’t is not done stoking the fire. Global Times condemned the violent protests, but supported the protests over all (this is perhaps the most explicit piece from GT that shows their allegiance to the Party). This fits neatly with the Party’s beloved narrative that they are the only force that can protect China from being carved up by foreign imperialists (of which Japan is the worst).

Perhaps Chinese people really are this upset with Japan (over a move that has changed nothing as far as the issue of the Diaoyu islands is concerned). China does not accept Japanese control of the islands and so Japan’s recent actions should be as upsetting to Chinese students as China buying Hawaii from some guy in Gansu would be to an American. Furthermore, supporters of the Party like to remind us that the Chinese people are of low character, and would be very warlike without the firm control of the gov’t. Or perhaps it’s just that this is the only issue that one can actually take to the streets over without fear of being beaten by police, forced out of your job, or disappearing into the back of a Public Security Bureau van.

A friend in Chengdu told me that one of his greatest regrets in college was participating in the anti-American protests sparked by the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade (these were also massive). He told me more than once, that after the U.S. apologized, the protests were halted, and the students were sent back to their universities lest they begin to protest anything else. He feels now as though he was nothing more than a pawn in the gov’t’s game, but at the time it had been a liberating feeling to go and scream and wave banners.

For now the students seem content with venting their frustration with the Japanese gov’t, but as China’s economy slows down and graduates can’t find jobs, it’s only a matter of time before they realize who they are really angry with.

Family stories of the Rape of Nanking

My wife asked her students to collect stories from their grandparents from the Rape of Nanking. Many of the student’s families had fled the city, and other simply didn’t hand anything in. The following are four accounts of what happened in Jiangsu province during the war with Japan as remembered by witnesses of the tragedies.

I’m publishing this partially in response to Yoshikazu Kato’s comments made during his visit to Nanjing, in which he stated that he wasn’t certain of the facts of the event, and that further research should be done.

All I know about that period of history is from my grandma. At that time my grandma was very young, about 7 or 8 years old. One night when the whole family was sound asleep, without any warning, the Japanese soldiers rushed into the small village. These cruel soldiers set fires, shot innocent crowds and assaulted women.

My Grandma was hidden together with her elder sister under a straw mattress. She was very afraid, but she was told “No cry, no tears, no sound.” Through a small opening, my grandma witnessed these bloody Japanese stab her friends, kill her neighbors and steal their money. After the Japanese did all of these things, they moved the bodies together and set a fire to destroy the evidence.

In my hometown, Shigang, there used to be 12 temples, but the Japanese burned them and took everything valuable. So now we can only see 2 of them.

My neighbor was a soldier, and he told me why he joined the army. In the year 1939, the enemies came again and they fired off several rounds of artillery at our town. One of them landed near the house where his aunt lived. She was 53 years old and had lived alone. When she died, her belly was ruptured and her organs were outside. It was very tragic. In addition, he witnessed a Japanese soldier kill a pregnant woman and cut open her stomach after raping her. He was furious but he couldn’t do anything then. After that he decided to drive out the aggressors.

When I was a child I noticed a deep scar on my grandmother’s arm. I wondered how she got it, and so she told me this story.

When she was my age (~20), she worked with her two girlfriends in the field. After work they returned home. On their way back, a Japanese appeared with a gun. He shouted at them. Seeing this, my grandmother and her friends ran as fast as they could. Suddenly, my grandmother heard the report of a gun. She saw one of her friends fall down, and not get back up. Then she heard a second shot. Her other friend had been hit. The girl escaped the Japanese clutches, but later died at home. My grandmother was also shot, however she made it home and recovered slowly.

Although my grandma is alive, she lost her good friends forever. My grandmother is scarred not only physically but mentally.

My grandfather was an 8-year-old boy at that time, and saw his neighbor’s house collapse with his own eyes. As everybody knew, the city was not safe anymore, so his family and him escaped from the city to the rural area to seek shelter.

During the days in the country, grandfather witnessed a moving scene. The Japanese captured a man in a gray coat (it seemed like the clothes of a Chinese soldier) and believed him to be a Chinese soldier. Many people knew that he was a soldier, so they dare not help him. The moment before he was beheaded, a young country woman stepped out of the crowd and cried, “He is not a soldier but my husband. How could you kill him? Our son is still at home waiting for his father!” She hugged him tightly with tears. Then, the Japanese set him free.

The Japanese were still in the city and they always did theft and arson. In case of being raped, many girls went to the Nanking Safety Zone. So did grandpa’s sisters and female cousins. even in there, they still felt terrified, so these poor girls used coal to darken their faces and cut their hair. These “girls” are greatly thankful to these kind-hearted, civic-minded and conscientious foreigners to this day.

Maybe today is my birthday – indirect communication in China

When I was being briefed about Chinese communication styles in my preparations to come to China, I was warned that indirect communication is the preferred method of transmitting news. Today I’d like to share a few examples of this, and how woefully understated that was.

Indirect communication in China means that information (usually bad news or self-boasting) is either transmitted via a third party or through half truths. I would say that despite my other experiences, this is the more common style of communication. I have seen this manifest in several ways, and it usually involves the word “maybe.”

In fact, the word “maybe” often pops up in sentences where it has no place. One of my co-workers at one point actually said “Maybe today is my birthday.” Usually though it has a more sinister usage, like: “Maybe you need to come to work on Saturday for a meeting,” or “Maybe you should redo this report,” or “Maybe it would be good for you if that student passed.” For one reason or another, “maybe” has become the word of choice in English to make a direct sentence indirect. In Chinese the speaker has a wider range of choices, and more skill in deploying those tactics.*

This verbal tick is something I have come to understand, and I know that my co-workers are just using it as an (ineffective) attempt to blunt bad news. What is far more frustrating are the third-party attempts to inform you of something that no one wants to say. One friend was actually informed of her contract ending with a school by a student from a class she didn’t teach. The school apparently thought this was the best way to save face.

This week with my doctors I was discussing how to break bad news when a patient is diagnosed with cancer. Many of them struggled when I had them role play telling the patient directly. “Well what do you normally say when you do this in Chinese?” I asked. Most of them averted their eyes or looked down at the table, one said quietly, “We don’t usually tell the patient that they have cancer. We just let their family know. Sometimes the family doesn’t tell them either.”

While this is partially an effort to avoid confrontation (Chinese patients can get very angry when given bad news), it is also an extension of indirect communication, one that seems far from professional. Potentially terminal patients deserve to know the reality of the medical challenges they face.

I’ve even heard of families lying to their children about the death of one of their parents, opting to tell them that Mom or Dad has gone to work in another city or country. When I confronted one family about this, they said that eventually the child would figure out that his father was dead, and then they wouldn’t have to hurt him by telling him directly.

To me this highlighted the underlying assumption that somehow these people are better off not knowing the truth; that ignorance really is bliss, until you realize that your father is never coming home. For foreigners it’s hard to understand how this could possibly be face saving, as eventually all of these issues come to light, but it’s actually only the person who breaks the news who loses face. For example, the school can blame a talkative teacher for telling the students, the doctors can honestly tell the dying patient that they told their family; shifting the blame does actually avoid a loss of face (by Chinese logic).

As frustrating as this can be to a newcomer, it’s something that must be understood so that you can anticipate the ways in which indirect communication is affecting your business/career/life in China.

*updated sentence

Lessons from the Rape of Nanking

Today marked the 74th anniversary of the Rape of Nanking, and as I wrote last year, it is a day that for me is inescapable (you should read that post because I won’t be rehashing much of it). I am surrounded by the history of that dark time, but am also buoyed by the memories of those who risked their lives for the common people of China. Today I’d like to share a few lesser known facts from those six weeks.

One of the most important things to understand about the Nanjing International Safety Zone, is that the foreigners involved with it never lost their faith in the rule of law. Time and again they brought cases directly to the Japanese embassy and Japanese military command, and demanded that the soldiers involved be punished for their actions.

This led to mixed results. Often consular police would find a tiny detail in a witness’ story that was incorrect, like the placement of a lamp in a room, and discount their entire testimony. At other times they would publicly scold soldiers, which seemed to serve as a very mild warning to other soldiers. While this deeply disappointed the foreigners in the Safety Zone, they continued to bring daily reports to the consulate.

Ultimately these reports, along with testimony given by the Safety Zone members, led to the convictions of those directly responsible for many of the atrocities at the International Military Tribunal for the Far East.

Even six weeks after the Japanese occupation had begun, it was not safe to leave the zone (six weeks is the length commonly cited for the duration of the Rape of Nanking). Families were ordered to return to their homes by Febuary 4th, but this order came as news of robberies, rapes, and murders continued to be reported. In many cases, the only thing that was powerful enough to stop Japanese soldiers was the presence of foreign faces.

In a letter to his wife, dated January 31st, Dr. Robert Wilson reported that just the day before, Mr. Rabe had actually lifted a soldier off a woman in the street not far from the hospital, and that on the 29th a truck had been seen abducting women. The women of Nanjing at that point were well aware of the dangers of Japanese troops. Letters available here and here (pdf)

Dr. Wilson’s other letters provide dozens of accounts of the atrocities that were committed on a daily basis during the months that followed the initial invasion. He refers to his own location as the “so-called Safety Zone” due to the number of incidents that occurred within its boundaries. The soldiers made no distinction between young and old, and murdered indiscriminately. Dr. Wilson alone attended to hundreds of cases in just the first few days, and it clearly took a toll on him and the other volunteers. Sadly, one year after the invasion, Minnie Vautrin ended her life regretting that she had not been able to do more to protect the women who had sought refuge behind her walls.

In Nanjing today, the massacre is rarely discussed, unless there is a need to turn public opinion against Japan (Today’s Global Times articles suggest that we shouldn’t hold the past against the Japanese of today). Even the doctors who work in Wilson’s hospital know little of his efforts to save the lives of hundreds of innocent victims. My co-workers today went so far as to complain about the noise of the air-raid siren meant to remind us of the tragedy. One said, “It was too noisy, I couldn’t work at all for thirty-minutes.” To which the other replied, “It’s OK, we just have to do this once a year.”

“But online, we are free”

My co-worker and I took guests through the Nanjing Massacre Memorial yesterday, which we do several times each year. It is a place where the past serves a distinct political purpose for the present. Groups of Chinese tourists are shepherded through by guides who make sure they don’t miss a single grisly detail, murals depicting slaughter on an inhuman scale stretch over open graves filled with ten-thousand bodies, and signs remind visitors that this is an important place for political education. The memorial is essentially a monument to the Party’s narrative of history. Even though I have visited the site several times, I still find something new each time in the massive complex.

This, however, was the first time that I had accompanied one of my co-workers through the memorial. “It’s because of this my friends don’t buy anything from Japan,” she told me as we passed by a depiction of experiments being done on Chinese prisoners. I braced myself for what I expected to come next, something like “Those Japanese Devils still want to destroy China.” Instead, she whispered, “People from Hunan don’t really feel the same way, we didn’t have a massacre.”

“You know though, Japan left many things out of their textbooks,” she said a few moments later. “China and America have left many things out too,” I added, which doesn’t excuse Japan, but I think it gives some perspective. To my surprise she said, “Mao killed many people, but we still don’t talk about it.” I  nodded and glanced around to make sure no one else had heard her. She didn’t seem to care and pointed to a poster of Chiang Kai-shek celebrating the victory over Japan, “Every year the government talks about democracy but it never comes. They always say later, later.”

“You know,” I replied, “whenever I talk with Chinese people one on one, they often complain about how bad the government is. But when I talk with two Chinese people, they will never say anything bad about the government, even if they think exactly the same way. Many of your co-workers have told me the same thing.”

“I could never tell my co-workers, I would never say these things at work,” she said before leaning in to whisper, “But online, we are free.” I knew that wasn’t completely true, but if she was finding people to discuss democracy and free media with, even in the censored Chinese cyberspace, it meant that perhaps there were even more people like her than I had ever imagined. “What about Fenqing (literally “angry youth”, but refers to nationalists) and Wumaodang (people supposedly paid by the government to “guide” online discussions)?” I asked.

She giggled, “We would say ‘你知道太多了'(Ni zhidao tai duo le), you know too much.”

We walked a little further and the conversation changed with the exhibits, the particular section we passed always bothers me. It presents foreign involvement in the war as peripheral, and if you knew nothing beyond it’s description, you would think that it was solely through Chinese efforts that the war ended.

As we continued to the next building that housed one of the open graves I told her that the last group of foreigners I had brought to the museum felt that it was wrong to leave these people without a proper burial. “In China, a person must be buried,” she said, “the government only cares about politics, not people.”

I wish that when it came to the Rape of Nanking I could say that this wasn’t true, but unfortunately I know otherwise. According to accounts given in the diaries of people like John Rabe and Minnie Vautrin, bodies were buried in many parts of the city, but those places have no signs marking the tragedies that happened there, and the graves have been desecrated in the rush to modernize (I know this has also happened with several graveyards throughout the country).

Usually I leave the museum feeling somewhat hopeless, that without a clear view of the past, China is doomed to return to the kind of nationalism that led to WWII. Yesterday though, I felt a sense of relief. Despite spending millions each year on propaganda and censorship, the Party seems to be further than ever from the people’s hearts.