Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Smashing Preconceptions

An article in the Japan Times says more than 150 mainland Chinese reporters went to Sendai to report on the earthquake and tsunami on March 11 and the experience ended any prejudice they had towards the Japanese.
Many Chinese still hold grudges against the Japanese for what happened during the Sino-Japanese war and in particular the Nanking massacre in 1937. The Chinese government likes to trot out these anniversaries not only to fan the flames of patriotism, but also encourage the Chinese, particularly young people to hate the Japanese.
One of my ex-colleagues in Beijing who is in her late 30s, well traveled and educated, told me she specifically avoided buying a Japanese car after what the Japanese did to her family.
These prejudices are further enforced in textbooks and in schools, so the hatred towards the Japanese is fully ingrained by the time young Chinese become adults.
However, for this handful of young Chinese, their perceptions have been changed forever.
In the Japan Times story, the reporters were particularly impressed by the orderly and patient behaviour of the survivors and the relative transparency of the information that was given. In the end many said they felt greater respect towards the Japanese.
Thirty-eight-year-old Chen Jie, a cameraman from Beijing News admitted he originally felt distrust and resentment towards the Japanese for a long time. But "the prejudice that I felt gradually disappeared while I was there, trying to cover the disaster damage," he said. "In the 14 days I spent on the assignment, I learned much more than I would have done if I read books for 10 years," he added.
For Chen, his strongest impression of the Japanese was "the cool and collected" manner of the people in the devastated areas, including the direct survivors in the disaster. He was moved seeing the people wait patiently in line in front of shops and that shop owners didn't raise prices to gouge people, and even family members trying to restrain themselves from crying openly during burials.
"I was surprised that I was given priority treatment at a gas station, as I had an emergency pass," he added. Other Chinese reporters made similar observations.
The dramatic change in the reporters' long-held beliefs reveals how outdated young Chinese people's perceptions are of Japan and how manipulated they are into believing the Japanese are still their enemy.
It is understandable for their parents and grandparents to continue to harbour resentment towards the Japanese for the unspeakable acts that happened to them over 60 years ago, but for today's generation who are living a better life, what right do they have to continue to have such prejudices? Can they not see for themselves what the world is really like?
Giving Chinese reporters opportunities to see the world as it really is only makes them realize what kind of country they are living in...

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