Asia's Giants Don't See Eye to Eye

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DONALD MACINTYRE TokyoHiromichi Sugiura wanted to bring young Japanese face-to-face with one of their country's worst wartime atrocities in China. So he took a group of students to see the remains of a camp in Manchuria where a notorious Japanese army unit conducted barbaric experiments on Chinese prisoners. A nearby museum shows how Unit 731 researchers froze men alive and infected them with plague. The students didn't get the point. One called the displays a fabrication of China's Communist Party. I was so surprised to see how arrogant they were, says Sugiura, acting general secretary of the non-profit Asia Fellowship Society. I was very disappointed.That's a small but eloquent window on the troubled relationship between Japan and China, more than half a century after the end of World War II. The gulf of mistrust and misunderstanding between Asia's two giants hasn't shrunk and may even be widening. The bitter memory of Japanese wartime excesses still colors the Chinese view of Japan. China's President Jiang Zemin expects Japan to issue another apology over the war when he arrives in Tokyo this week. Japan, for its part, admires China's ancient culture--the source of most of its own traditions. But many Japanese are indifferent to modern China or view it with a mix of condescension and suspicion.Japanese attitudes have changed considerably from the pre-war period, when Japan despised China as a sleeping hog that let the West kick it around. But misconceptions still abound. Young Japanese are far more familiar with U.S. pop culture and English than with the language and modern culture of their closest neighbor. Many do not even know that kimonos and soy sauce originally came from China. At school, they learn little about what Japan did to China during the war, when millions of Chinese died. For many, media reports about gangsters and illegal immigrants provide the main images of China today. The Japanese say 'friendship, friendship', says Kazuo Haruna, former chairman of trading house Marubeni Corp. But without a real understanding of China, we can't build a real relationship.They are few in number, but individuals in both countries are trying to bridge the gulf. Citizens groups in Japan are helping elderly Chinese seek compensation from Tokyo for wartime suffering. And groups like Sugiura's are supporting Chinese who come to Japan to study. Chinese artist Shuai Minfen feels China has to reach out as well. When he first came to Tokyo in 1983, Shuai's image of Japan was war, good electric appliances and cars. He encountered discrimination but also came to admire Japan's appreciation of traditional crafts, including China's. Now he is trying to set up a library of Japanese books in his home town of Guilin, in Guangxi province. It won't be easy. Laments Shuai: Townspeople said to me, 'Have you forgotten the war?' You can't speak well of Japan openly.With reporting by Hiroko Tashiro/Tokyo