Illustration: Sun Ying
Yoshikazu Kato, a well-known Japanese writer resident in China, has stirred up controversy. During an appearance in Nanjing, Kato stated that he wasn't certain of the facts of the Nanjing Massacre in 1937, and called upon people to examine all sides of the story. The Gansu Provincial Education Bureau confirmed on Weibo on June 7 that a speech by Kato at the Gansu Agricultural University has been cancelled as a result, and Kato has faced harsh criticism online. Over the weekend, Kato admitted on Weibo the inaccuracies in his words but said various channels should be used to approach historical truth. The Global Times invited three writers to give their thoughts about Kato's statement.
Ignorance or crafty self-promotion?
By Feng Zhaokui
I first noticed Kato in April 2005, when protests erupted in China, after then Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi paid another visit to Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine.
Kato, then the president of the Japanese association of Peking University, said the Chinese students were very nice to their Japanese classmates, and he and other Japanese students lived well in Beijing. His words refuted some Japanese media outlets' claims about fierce anti-Japanese feeling in China.
However, Kato seems to have grown more self-regarding as he started to build his fame among young Chinese. It was surprising that he gave such an ambiguous statement on the Nanjing Massacre. It was either because he really didn't know enough about the history, or he just pretended that he didn't know.
If he was just pretending, then we can say Japanese society today still has such dense and narrow nationalist emotions that any words or deeds that displease China may help build one's political capital.
Just a couple of months ago, Takashi Kawamura, the mayor of Nagoya, denied the Nanjing Massacre. It was political speculation rather than historical ignorance. I'm not sure if Kato was just pretending not to know the historical facts, or he was practicing "political skills" facing certain pressure from Japan.
Surveys show that Japanese public's attitude toward China has fallen to a low not seen since the two restored their diplomatic relations in 1972.
In such circumstances, those who insist on telling the truth, as Japanese ambassador Uichiro Niwa's opposition to the Tokyo metropolitan government's plan to buy the Diaoyu Islands, may face huge pressure. Some local Japanese officials even endeavor to irritate China to help realize their personal political ambitions.
Over the past decade, Kato has become a cultural ambassador facilitating communication between Chinese and Japanese youths, and he has many young fans in China. However, his latest statements have blurred his image.
If Kato still wants to contribute positively to China-Japan relations, what he should do at once is to learn clearly and fully about what happened during the Nanjing Massacre.
The author is a researcher of Japanese studies with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. email@example.com
Anger wrong-foots Chinese response
Kato's words about Nanjing Massacre have certainly touched one of the most sensitive nerves for many Chinese. Given that he has been studying and living in the country for almost a decade, the controversy triggered by his words is expectable.
However, what I'm really concerned is some Chinese youths' reactions online to Kato's comment. These youngsters have been not only defending him but even ridiculing their fellow countrymen who felt offended by Kato's words. Although they argue that they are talking from a cosmopolitan perspective, this in fact reflects their lacks of national identity.
Several reasons may have contributed to this worrying development. We need to have our younger generation develop and accept their national identity, but our approach has been quite awkward. It lacks the openness and flexibility to meet demands of a modern society. People growing under this system will not only become poorly informed about different views, but also have no idea on how to face challenges posted by these differences.
This can easily push young people to the other side. In the case of the Nanjing Massacre, our teaching of this event has been based on our painful historical memory of this terrible event, but this means little to teenagers three generations removed from the war.
In contrast, the Japanese, despite their reluctance to admit the massacre, have been teaching their young people data and statistics about this event. Comparing to our angry reactions when challenged by this issue, the calm and sophisticated Japanese presentation can easily appeal to even our youngsters.
Our children have grown up in a relatively closed environment, and most of them haven't had the chance to really see the world for themselves. The huge volume of information from the Internet, instead of enlightening them, has actually confused them. It has misled them into rejecting everything associated with China, even their national identity.
But the reality may catch them by surprise, and Kato is in fact a very good demonstration of this. His comments reflect his strong sense of national identity. He has been defending and promoting the mainstream ideology of Japanese society in China, and it is sad to see some of our young people mistake this as some "universal value" accepted around the globe.
The article was compiled by Global Times reporter Gao Lei, based on an interview with Zhang Yiwu, professor and deputy director of the Cultural Resources Research Center of Peking University. firstname.lastname@example.org
China hands should respect bottom line
By Yu Chen
To discover what Kato actually said rather than being influenced by online opinion, I clicked the video of his book promotion in Nanjing that has spread widely online.
The controversial remarks were part of his answer to a reader's question as that how to better understand the truth of history between China and Japan. Kato responded that different historians have varied arguments, and that people should investigate history from different channels and different sources.
From the video, Kato didn't deny the massacre, but as a young Japanese man, he has been taught differently from Chinese of the same generation.
For a long time, the Japanese right-wing forces have been trying to twist history and misleading Japan's younger generation by rewriting history in some of the country's textbooks, and Kato is one of these young Japanese, necessarily influenced by such propaganda.
China can do better by providing everyone involved with the materials and original sources needed to properly research history.
However, Kato's fault is that he overlooked Chinese feelings. In recent years, as China opens more to the external world, more than a few foreign experts on China have become prominent.
They perceive and interpret China from their perspectives, and their understanding of China is different due to their educational background and different values. They do attract some fans in China with their particular views. However, they should respect the bottom line of national feelings.
Over the last decade, Kato has been praised by many Chinese, including officials, for his sharp comments and occasional criticism of the government. But this time, Kato crossed the line, which is why he's under fire.
Kato has admitted in interviews that he is a Japanese patriot and observes China to better serve his country. I appreciate his frankness, and I do wish we could also have young people like him in China. However, this doesn't change the fact that his ambiguous historical attitude is very inappropriate in this case.
The author is a journalist based in Beijing. email@example.com