China-Japan Relations: Decoding Rising Nationalism and Historical Strains

The relationship is not one-sided. While China's resentment towards Japan is evident, reciprocal sentiments exist in Japan, where over 90% of respondents in a joint survey held negative views of China

Photo by Ryo Yoshitake / Unsplash

China's surge in nationalistic fervor directed against Japan has emerged as a notable trend in recent years. The underpinnings of this sentiment are multifaceted, encompassing historical conflicts, cultural disparities, negative stereotypes, territorial disputes, and rising nationalism. These facets collectively contribute to the complex landscape of China's nationalistic sentiment against Japan.

Historical legacies loom large in the current dynamics. Modern animosity harbored by China towards Japan can be traced back to historical conflicts, particularly the traumatic memories of the Second Sino-Japanese War. The haunting atrocities and war crimes committed by the Japanese during this period have etched deep scars in the collective memory of the Chinese people, casting a long shadow on the bilateral relationship.

A notable trajectory has been the swelling wave of nationalism coursing through China. This is seen as not just a spontaneous surge but rather a calculated phenomenon, with experts suggesting that its timing is influenced by Beijing's political motives. Recent events have brought this sentiment to the forefront, with two incidents sparking intense debates across the Chinese internet, fanning the flames of anti-Japanese sentiment.

Culture, politics, nationalism

The discord isn't solely confined to history; it permeates cultural domains as well. Even minor manifestations of Japanese culture within China have become contentious points, triggering public backlash. Instances as seemingly innocuous as someone donning a kimono or conventions centered around anime fandom have ignited public outrage. Beijing has taken measures to curb such cultural imports, mirroring clashes with Western allies that count Japan among their ranks.

The mutual perception of disdain between China and Japan, along with the cultivation of negative stereotypes, has further fueled the strained relationship. Japan's public opinion mirrors China's hostility, as evidenced by a survey revealing over 90% of Japanese respondents holding an unfavorable view of China. Similarly, anti-Chinese sentiment runs high in Japan, with a mere 11% expressing positive sentiments towards China. This dynamic underscores the extensive historical enmity and current grievances that have marred the relationship.

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Territorial disputes compound the tension between the two nations, with historical scars and recent events intertwining to create a complex web. The antagonism traces back to historical humiliations suffered by China, including the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895 and Japan's harsh occupation during 1931-1945. Modern-day territorial conflicts between China and neighboring countries, Japan included, have further strained ties and stoked the fires of contention.

Importantly, the relationship is not one-sided. While China's resentment towards Japan is evident, reciprocal sentiments exist in Japan, where over 90% of respondents in a joint survey held negative views of China. Conversely, merely 11% of Japanese respondents expressed a favorable opinion of China. The uneasy coexistence of these sentiments is the culmination of historical animosities, ongoing clashes, and recent provocations, including the Fukushima wastewater release.

Acrimony between Japan and China

Recent events have intensified the acrimony between the two nations. Instances like product boycotts and cultural crackdowns have exacerbated tensions. However, it's noteworthy that anti-Japanese sentiment within China has notably abated since its zenith in 2014, as revealed by a 2018 poll conducted by Genron NPO.

Despite the acrimonious backdrop, the economic ties between Japan and China remain robust, continuously strengthening over time. Yet, the persistently strained political relationship casts a shadow over the trajectory of their future interactions.

This intricate interplay shapes the complex landscape of their relationship, marked by historical wounds and contemporary challenges.

While economic connections persist, the underlying tensions and uncertainties surrounding their interactions endure.

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