“How many Japanese would write, ‘Congratulations on the Wenchuan earthquake?’”
China’s government, often at odds with Tokyo, offered support to Japan after Friday’s powerful earthquake, with Premier Wen Jiabao expressing “deep sympathy and solicitude to the Japanese government and the people” and telling his counterpart, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, that China is willing to offer whatever aid is necessary.
Chen Jianmin, director of the China Earthquake Administration, said its International Rescue Team has put its members, equipment, materials and medicines in place and ready to depart for Japan, after the 8.9-magnitude earthquake struck off the Japanese coast, triggering a major tsunami and leaving dozens dead and displaced tens of thousands of people. “We are highly concerned about the earthquake in Japan and its consequences such as fires and building damages,” the state-run Xinhua news agency quoted Mr. Chen as saying ….
An earthquake has been an occasion for China and Japan to set aside their differences before. After the 2008 earthquake that crippled China’s southwestern Sichuan Province and killed at least 68,000 people, Japan’s Self Defense Forces–as the country’s military is known–was the first foreign aid and rescue team allowed into China. Japanese corporations donated to aid efforts as well. Appliance-maker Panasonic, for example, contributed more than 10 million yuan to relief efforts in the aftermath of Sichuan quake, Xinhua reported at the time.
Among chinaSMACK’s collection of translated Weibo posts is a second-hand account of the Japanese response in 2008:
@ PhoenixTV’s chief reporter Li Miao in Japan: During the Wenchuan Earthwuake [Sichuan Earthquake], many Japanese ordinary common people organized donations on the streets, while restaurants, 24-hour convenience stories, and many other places all had donation boxes. Japanese rescue teams deployed at the earliest time possible (waiting for the “yes” from the Chinese side), waiting an entire night for orders at Narita Airport; Apart from the government, various political parties also did what they could, the Liberal Democratic Party chartered planes to deliver supplies to Chengdu, and as the only Chinese journalist in the same industry, I can confirm this.
While some “netizen reactions”, inevitably, have been gleeful—there are examples on chinaSMACK for those with strong stomachs—celebration has been by no means the universal mood. At Foreign Policy, Adam Minter describes another current that he saw gradually emerging online:
In part, it’s a reaction against the nakedly inappropriate nationalism that marked some of the earliest reactions to the tragedy; but buried in that nationalist critique is an unflattering national critique as well. Take, for example, a message that was lifted to Weibo’s front page late in the day (similar to Twitter’s front page of popular tweets), that read, in part: “How many Japanese would write, ‘Congratulations on the Wenchuan earthquake?’” It’s an uncomfortable question that was, in a sense, revised and extended onto Twitter by a Chinese user who, tacitly invoking the crumbled buildings in the aftermath of the Wenchuan quake, pointed out, late in the day: “The casualties from an 8.9 event in China would be hundreds of times higher than in Japan.” That kind of comment, most likely, wouldn’t last long on China-based Sina Weibo, which is heavily “managed.” Indeed, as some began to point out on local and international microblogging platforms late in the day, natural disasters — whether in China or elsewhere — are politically sensitive events from the perspective of the leadership. This one, like Wenchuan, is increasingly becoming so.
Meanwhile, back at Starbucks, two young Chinese women in their twenties, one with iPhone, and the other gadget-less, overhearing my English-language conversation, brashly reached out to me. “We Chinese people feel very badly for Japan,” one said, while declining to give me her name. “We know that Japan cared very much for China after our earthquake. So we will want to help them.” When I asked if either one would consider donating to the Red Cross, just as Chinese had done in droves after the Wenchuan quake, they looked at each other, then back at me. “Why not?,” answered the one who already done all of the talking. “China is becoming a great nation these days. We should.”