Introspection and Empathy Among Reactions to Japan Quake

While Chinese cyberspace is generally not known for its empathy for the Japanese, the ugly nationalist celebration which flared up immediately after the disaster was far from the only response. It is certainly still present, in, for example, some reactions to billionaire Chen Guangbiao’s rescue mission, covered by China Real Time Report:

Mr. Chen’s sudden generosity towards a country that once occupied parts of China has some Chinese netizens up in arms. “Chen Guangbiao’s head must have been kicked by a donkey, he’s such a national scum,” one netizen writing under the name jznhys said on China’s microblogging site NetEase Weibo. “With that money, he could have donated to poor students in rural China. What’s the point of rushing to show off in Japan?”

Another netizen on NetEase wrote: “Chen Guangbiao, did you forget all about how the Japanese invaded our ancestors?You should really be sent to a mad house.”

(For more on Chen’s expedition, see this post.)

On Sina Weibo, however, most appear impressed by the Japanese, according to World of Chinese’s daily listing of trending topics. A guest post at the Jottings from the Granite Studio blog tells a similar story while examining the “complex feelings” of Chinese people toward Japan:

It seems that Chinese government has decided to put historic conflict and recent territorial disputes aside for a time, show its humanity, and return the favor of Japan’s help during the Wenchuan earthquake three years ago.

However, China’s public opinion doesn’t always match the government’s magnanimity, and there is a debate, online and off, about how China should react to the news of Japan’s disaster. There are those who say Japan got what it deserved and cite the atrocities committed against China in World War II, and saw the earthquake as something to be celebrated, but most people feel that at this moment of great tragedy, we should put history aside and reach out to the Japanese people.

Even though the anti-Japanese opinion often makes the loudest noise online and the best story (as in the demonstrations against Japan in 2005) I am glad to see most people taking a different and more compassionate view. But I am also not surprised that this debate occurs in China today, we have such complicated feelings and opinions regarding Japan.

(A companion post gives an account of the historical background to the two countries’ tense relationship.)

Much of the online reaction has been marked by introspection, a trend whose emergence was noted late last week by a Foreign Policy article featured in an earlier post on CDT. A collection of netizen reactions at Ministry of Tofu includes several comments focusing on the contrast between the aftermaths of the Sendai and Yunnan earthquakes:

Two pictures speak louder than words. One shows a rescue soldier in Yingjiang’s quake zone playing computer game on his laptop. The other shows rescue soldiers plant banners bearing names of government organs on rubble and pose for the photo. A net user commented, “It’s rescue effort with Chinese characteristics.”

A Chinese microblogger named “慕容嗷嗷”(Murong Aoao) wrote, “Yunnan people, please hold on. You gotta believe in yourselves. Japanese people, please hold on. You gotta believe in your country.”

Another who goes by the name “这货有意思”(Thestuffis_cool) wrote, “Weird. Why don’t Japanese media broadcast videos of cadres inspecting the scenes? Why don’t they invite experts to dismiss ‘rumors’? Why don’t anchors play the impassioning trick? Why don’t reporters at the scene grab the family of the victim and ask ‘who do you thank first now that you’ve survived?’”

Similar contrasts were marked in an article from Chinese Elections and Governance, translated by China Media Project:

It must be said that maintaining social order in the midst of such chaos is a miracle, but the conduct of the Japanese is enough to make one believe in miracles. In a piece called, “A First-Hand Experience of the Japan Quake,” written for FT Chinese, Zhang Lei (张磊), a special assistant to the CEO of China’s Hanwang Technology, wrote that just 10 seconds after the quake occurred: “There was no other programming on any of Japan’s television channels, everything was about the quake, and the scenes being broadcast were staggering. I wondered: Was Japan’s government not afraid that it would cause instability for them to report the quake on the TV without fear like this? But in the TV reports on the quake, you rarely saw pictures of high-level Japanese leaders ‘dealing with the disaster’, and there seemed to be no images of the Japanese Prime Minister directing the relief effort, spilling his tears over the disaster-stricken area.”

In the face of major disaster, what we have seen is that the Japanese people are well-trained, calm and deliberate. The country has not descended into chaos or alarm, but instead has, just as ever, shown the world a face of calm order, solidarity and mutual assistance.

Unfavourable comparisons have also been drawn between the resilience of Japan’s infrastructure and the fragility of buildings in Yunnan, which recalls the devastating collapse of poorly built schools during the Sichuan earthquake in 2008. Others have remarked the difference between reactions in each country to disasters in the other: as a Sina Weibo poster cited in the above-mentioned Foreign Policy article asked, “How many Japanese would write, ‘Congratulations on the Wenchuan earthquake?’” Still others marvel at photographs of Japanese calmly queueing to use public telephone booths, and bemoan the very different behaviour they would expect from their own countrymen. From chinaSMACK:

红肚铅笔:

In China, I bet [people] would have immediately broken into and looted the surrounding convenience stores/supermarkets.

午夜阳光888:

This kind of character, is worthy of people’s respect.

aaron1120:

In Japan, the cars yield to the people. In China, the cars can’t wait to run over your body, even if you have the green light and the car is making a turn.

sinki820:

Without bringing up anything else, on the character exhibited when fasting disaster, we really can’t compare.

Even when there is no disaster, for simply sitting in a seat or using the toilet, we’re capable of fighting and arguing over.

annetta: (responding to sbh09)

After another 50 years, [we] still wouldn’t have caught up.

专门注册马甲:

Nothing to be said~ It can only be said that this kind of moment only reveals their character even further~ This isn’t something that can be obtained through GDP alone~

(See also this earlier post on chinaSMACK)

At the same time, however, there has been plain sympathy. Videos have been posted online of residents of Sichuan, the scene of the devastating 2008 earthquake, offering encouragement for those affected in Japan, saying, “日本加油!” “Go Japan!”

Tibetan residents:

Middle School students in Wenchuan, Sichuan: