How Sony hurts Chinese consumers by repeated humiliations against Chinese national pride
Published: Jul 13, 2021 12:07 AM
A closed factory of Japanese consumer electronics maker Sony in Beijing on Monday. The smartphone factory operated for 20 years. Sony shut down the factory in late March amid China’s industrial upgrading and the sliding revenue of its mobile business. Photo: IC

A closed factory of Japanese consumer electronics maker Sony in Beijing File Photo: IC

As a renowned Japanese company profiting in China, Sony has repeatedly crossed the line with various actions that hurt the national pride of the Chinese people. 

Its founding prospectus emphasizes that one of its founders, Masaru Ibuka, worked to produce new military equipment for the Japanese army during the World War II. Another co-founder, Akio Morita, collaborated with a notorious rightwing and anti-Chinese figure to publish a book, and the company has launched new products for three years during the anniversary of the July 7 Incident, which marked the beginning of the all-out War of Resistance by the Chinese people against Japanese aggression (1931-45), with slogans like "never compromise". Do you believe this is all just a coincidence?

Repeated insults 

On June 30, Sony's branch in China announced on social media that it would release a new product at 10 pm on July 7, exactly the same day and time that marked the beginning of the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression. 

The July 7th Incident in 1937, also known as the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, in which the absurd demand from the Japanese army to search for what they claimed was a missing soldier in the town of Wanping near Beijing, sparked Japan's full scale invasion of China impacting the trajectory of modern Chinese history.

Sony, as a Japanese company, was immediately criticized for choosing such a sensitive time to launch the new product, with some netizens asking why the company didn't schedule the release at 9 am on September 2, the anniversary of the signing ceremony of Japan's unconditional surrender in World War II.

After being questioned, Sony's China branch deleted the posts on its social media. The company later posted an explanation on its Weibo account saying it was "sorry for the misunderstanding and confusion caused to the public over the choice of dates due to poor work arrangements," adding that it has cancelled the relevant event.

Presumably, after realizing that this explanation was not very convincing, Sony closed the comment section of the post.

Similarly, at 10 pm on July 7, 2020, Sony released a new zoom lens, and on December 13, 2019, China's National Memorial Day, a remembrance day for the victims of the Nanjing Massacre in 1937 by the Imperial Japanese Army, the company released a new product with the slogan "never compromise".

Chinese consumers were not convinced that Sony was "thoughtless" in repeatedly choosing sensitive moments in Chinese people's history to launch new products. Neither were Japanese consumers.

Japanese media described the boycott on July 7 as the highest level of criticism Sony has ever received in China.

"It's like choosing August 15 [the day of Japan's surrender in World War II] to launch the iPhone in Japan, and December 7 [date of Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor] to launch a new car in the US," a Japanese social media user commented, adding that "if you want to make money in a country and don't know the local culture and history to a certain extent, you can make such a silly mistake."

Others believe that Sony may not expect its mistakes can bring troubling times because the company has lost its former glory and power in the Chinese market.

Some media also pointed out that on December 4, 2020, the movie Monster Hunter, sponsored by Sony in the Chinese mainland, also caused an uproar for the insults against China in the dialogues of the characters. 

At the beginning of the movie, a soldier teased another soldier saying, "What kinda knees are these?" and the soldier answered "Chi-knees!" which is sounds like "Chinese."

There is also a nursery rhyme peppered with racial slur saying, "Chinese, Japanese, dirty knees, and look at these," alluding to "unclean Eastern people." 

The film caused dissatisfaction with a large number of Chinese audiences and went offline after only one day of release. 

Dark past

In 1944, Sony's co-founder and Honorary Chairman, Akio Morita graduated from Osaka University with a degree in physics and enlisted in the Japanese Navy. He became a commissioned sublieutenant assigned to the Air Armory at Yokosuka, where he met his future business partner, Masaru Ibuka, the other founder of Sony, who was an industry representative on the Wartime Research Committee at that time.  

Ibuka, worked with many engineers to test and produce weapons and equipment for the Japanese army during World War II, a mission that he found "profound and fascinating" despite the harsh conditions, and claimed the mission "filled him with passion and intense motivation."

After the war, with scarce test equipment, components and funds from the military industry, Morita, Ibuka and 20 other engineers who helped develop weapons for the Japanese army, founded the Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering Corporation, which later became Sony Corporation in 1958.

Observers point out that many major Japanese corporations, including Mitsubishi and Mitsui, have a dark history of aiding Japanese militarism during the World War II but usually post-war zaibatsu tended not to express their political views overtly, mostly backing politicians with money behind the scenes.

But Morita was different. In the late 1980s, he approached the far-right politician Shintaro Ishihara, who was the instigator of the dispute over the nationalization of the Diaoyu Islands and openly denied the Nanjing Massacre. They discussed their ideas and coauthored Japan's iconic neoconservative book, The Japan That Can Say No.

The book asserts that if Japan sticks to the post-war model based on the US-Japan security alliance, this will inevitably be a constraint on Japan's independent world strategy and would prevent the country from realizing a "Japanese century". The authors affirm that if businesspeople and politicians work together, it may be possible to conduct a new national experiment beyond the ordinary.

After its publication, the book quickly catered to the rising right-wing thinking in Japan and became a bestseller. Interestingly, the English version of the book did not include an article written by Akio Morita, allegedly because Sony was concerned about its own interests.

Whitewashing crimes

In 1980, Sony opened a branch in Beijing and later opened offices in Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Chengdu in 1985, 1994, and 1995 respectively. Sony China Co Ltd was officially established in Beijing in October 1996.

While Sony has lost its past glory in the Chinese market, it is still the company's fourth largest market in the world after the US, Japan and the European Union.

At the same time, Sony has established engineering, design, R&D and software bases in many cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, Wuxi, Dalian, and Shenzhen.

Now Sony mainly sells in China electronic equipment like game consoles and games, TV sets, and imaging and photography .

 In April, Sony China released its 2020 financial report on its Weibo account, showing that its sales revenue in 2020 is nearly 9 trillion yen, up 9 percent year-on-year.

Da Zhigang, chief expert at the Northeast Asian Strategic Studies Institute, told the Global Times that what Sony has done for three consecutive years reflects its true understanding of historical issues. 

Japanese right-wing politicians tried to beautify the aggression and Sony played a similar role. While the form of expression is different, it is also a shameless "praise" for the Japan's invasion of China and the Nanjing Massacre. Its behavior is more cunning and hateful, Da said.

"July 7th Incident" and "National Memorial Day for the Nanjing Massacre Victims" are unforgettable days of suffering for the Chinese people and the Chinese nation, and this suffering was imposed on the Chinese people by Japanese imperialism. Through commercial activities, Sony is tantamount to "whitewashing" these horrible crimes committed by Japan. Da also stressed that such behavior is a disregard for historical facts and contempt for the feelings of the Chinese people.

On the one hand, Sony is making money from Chinese people, and on the other, it sprinkles salt on the wounds of the Chinese people. Regarding Sony's behavior, Chinese people will follow their own judgment and will not buy it, analysts pointed out.