My friend is writing an article about anti-Japanese protests that may be taking place in China on September 18, the anniversary of the Mukden Incident of 1931 (called 九一八 in Chinese). This event marked the start of Japanese aggression into China's northeast, and six years later, full-scale war would break out.
[UPDATE 9/18/2010: The protests did happen.]
Such "protesting" behavior actually puzzles me. The illegal act by the Japanese was certainly wrong; it is wholly inappropriate to invade another country to grab territory and resources. Thus, it makes sense to condemn this action and recall its consequences.
Indeed, the issue of Japan's war crimes has not yet been put to rest. Many victims throughout Asia remain upset that, to this day, the Japanese government has not fully admitted its wrong-doings. Commentators have observed that the Japanese government has not unequivocally acknowledged and apologized for its illegal actions and the subsequent atrocities. Even in the cases where statements have been issued, the "official apologies are widely viewed as inadequate or only a symbolic exchange by many of the survivors of such crimes or the families of dead victims." (Wiki) Historians and historical memory groups continue to press for the Japanese government to release all information related to this period, to allow for a full accounting of events, and to prevent (elected) right-wing politicians in Japan from issuing denials.
So this begs the question: if we are mad about this white-washing of history, then what about other tragedies experienced in Modern China? Don't they warrant the same treatment: transparency, academic study and open discussion; assumption of responsibility by those who gave orders to kill; public apology and contrition from the perpetrators; recognition and remembrance by all people? Where are the demonstrations and protests about these events? Where are the calls for proper treatment of the innocent victims and a full historical accounting?
FYI the people who perpetrated 九一八 are out of power. (So maybe we should call it '旧尾巴' instead.) We kind of kicked their a** during WWII. And yet we are still protesting about it. Meanwhile, the people responsible for certain other "incidents" remain in power and continue to benefit from their positions -- but we don't say anything about them?! Doesn't that seem a little cowardly?
These so-called hyper-nationalists in China don't seem to care about their own people -- friends, neighbors and fellow citizens who were mowed down. So tell me please, what are they defending? Where is the moral basis for their action? On whose behalf are they protesting? Narrow-minded nationalism can be pretty ugly, and often descends into ethnic chauvinism. (Isn't that chauvinism the story behind Japan's war crimes in World War II? How do you think they justified their invasion and colonization of Asia? Because they saw themselves as a superior race. Race-thinking, so prevalent in those days.)
For a cause to resonate, it must appeal to universal principles. Protests are most powerful when they unite peoples and transcend race -- when they educate and warn against the common danger of inhumanity. We don't criticize the Japanese simply because they are Japanese and we are otherwise. We criticize them for their actions -- because the cruelty and violence carried out by the leaders and rank-and-file soldiers were abhorrent and wrong! Such actions violated fundamental tenets of human decency, and all people of good conscience would oppose them. Yet these "hyper-nationalists" who protest in China today are conspicuously silent when it comes to decrying the oppression visited upon their fellow human beings in more recent times.
If our real goal is to prevent these human tragedies from happening again, instead of scoring cheap political points, we must see with clear eyes. We should memorialize the victims, examine the conditions that led to acts of such cruelty, and share with future generations the lessons we have learned, in order to inoculate them from further hatred and prevent more suffering.
It should not be about nationalism, but about humanity. Yet even today, we see people grabbing that old tail of 旧尾巴 and waving it like a cudgel. But one day, perhaps we will also begin to gather the traces of history that remain with us -- maybe we can call these '留丝', strands of the past that still merit our attention -- and weave a better future.