China Says Japan Must Face History After Yasukuni Visits

Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe offered his country’s “maximum support” to China following a 6.6Mw earthquake in Sichuan on Saturday that killed at least 186 people and injured over 11,000. Beijing replied that no foreign assistance was currently required, even as state media reported the imminent arrival of nearly 200 Russian rescue workers. [Update at 16:35 PST, April 22: the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has denied that any foreign rescue workers are in Sichuan [zh, via Patrick Boehler]. The original title of this post, ‘China Refuses Quake Help from Japan After Yasukuni Visits’, has been changed to reflect this.] The apparent snub followed private visits to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine by several Japanese ministers over the weekend. From Martin Fackler at The New York Times:

The separate visits by at least four cabinet members, including the deputy prime minister, Taro Aso, were the first to the Yasukuni Shrine by members of the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, an outspoken nationalist who took power in December. The large shrine of Japan’s native Shinto religion honors the nation’s war dead, including several who were executed as war criminals after World War II. This has made it a target of condemnation in China and South Korea, both of which suffered greatly as a result of Japan’s empire-building efforts in the early 20th century.

The Japanese news media said that while Mr. Abe refrained from visiting the shrine to avoid provoking China and South Korea, he did send a ritual offering of the branch of a cypress tree, used in traditional Shinto ceremonies. Sunday was the start of a three-day spring festival at the shrine when conservative politicians frequently visit and offer prayers.

[…] Before Mr. Abe took office, there had been widespread concern that he might say or do something to outrage victims of Japanese wartime aggression. But Mr. Abe has so far acted with restraint, apparently eager to avoid isolating Japan in the region. He has responded calmly to almost daily intrusions by Chinese ships into waters claimed by Japan around disputed islands in the East China Sea.

In response, South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se cancelled what would have been the two countries’ first ministerial meetings under their new governments, while Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunying said that Japan must face its history and respect its neighbors’ feelings. Her comments echoed those of ministry spokesman Hong Lei, who said last month in anticipation of a possible shrine visit by Abe himself that “only when Japan faces up to the past can it embrace the future.”

At Bloomberg last week, author Pankaj Mishra grappled with Japan’s “extreme case of forgetfulness, ignorance and self-absorption,” while acknowledging the “absurdity” and “hypocrisy” of the Allies’ post-war Tokyo Trials.

[…] Yushukan [the museum at the Yasukuni Shrine] takes too many liberties with historical accuracy. It presents the invasion of Manchuria in 1931, which inaugurated a particularly deranged phase of Japanese militarism, as an act of “legitimate self-defense.” The Rape of Nanjing in 1937 is referred to as the Nanjing Incident in which “Chinese soldiers in civilian clothes” were “severely prosecuted.”

[…] Nothing undermines this litany of half-truths, omissions, suppressions and outright falsehoods than the simple failure to acknowledge that Japan’s pan-Asianist crusade, which claimed more than 10 million lives in China alone, came as a calamity to most Asians.

But it is a bit unfair to expect Japan’s conservative rulers today to periodically denounce their country’s short-lived empire and produce apologies on demand to its former enemies while British Tories propose to celebrate their imperial past in revised history textbooks.

[…] As Japan searches, still confusedly, for a new identity within Asia, it may come to appreciate, as Jeff Kingston, a close observer of contemporary Japan, writes, “the potential benefits of reassuring past enemies.” But how will the effort at reconciliation with victims of Japanese aggression shape official memories of Japan’s war in Asia?

A Hefei restaurateur named Xu recently confronted Japan’s war history in his own way by naming his restaurant’s toilets ‘Yasukuni Shrine’. From Amy Li at South China Morning Post:

A diner who recently ate at the restaurant ended up taking photos of the newly named restroom and posting them on Weibo, where they went viral and triggered mixed reactions.

“All restrooms in China should adopt this name,” wrote a blogger.

Some others deemed the “patriotic” act too extreme.

Wang Kaiyu, a researcher at Anhui’s Academy of Social Sciences, said Xu’s actions were understandable, but not “appropriate.”