China and Japan

Today China is outpacing the neighboring Japan both economically and militarily; however, it has not always been this way. A century ago, Japan was stronger than China and used its muscle to humiliate the country whenever it deemed it necessary. Thus, during the First Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895, Japan stripped China of its vassal territories, thereby administering the coup de grace to the prestige of the Qing Dynasty. In 1931, when the fledgling Republic of China had not yet managed to recover from the previous treachery of Japan, the latter embarked on an aggressive expansionist policy. In December of 1937, in the grip of the Second Sino-Japanese War, the Imperial Japanese Army unleashed a terrible carnage against the peaceful citizens of Nanking (Taguchi & Wang, 2006). According to the estimates, around 40,000 people were slaughtered (MacDonald, 2005). The Japanese organized the so-called “comfort stations”, a euphemism for brothels, in the territory of China and forced Chinese women into prostitution. According to Beehner and Bhattacharji (2008), “these animosities surface in recurring cycles, often involving Chinese anger over Japan’s perceived lack of contrition for wartime crimes”. All attempts of the Chinese authorities to seek justice on the issue have dashed against a solid wall of resistance and revisionism on the part of the Japanese government, which adamantly refuses to acknowledge all its savage crimes against China. Yoshida (2006) argues that denial of the massacre had become a staple of Japanese nationalism. It is unlikely that the two countries will enjoy a constructive and meaningful relationship, unless Japan stops denying its complicity in the crimes against China and accepts full responsibility.

There is a saying that victors get to write the history (Sierp, 2014); the authorship of this expression is attributed to various individuals, ranging from William Wallace and Napoleon to Winston Churchill and George Orwell. Whoever its author is, the saying does not apply to the case of China and Japan. Japan may have expunged the wartime enormities of the Imperial Japanese Army from its own history textbooks, but the international community has a different point of view. Most historians are unanimous in their belief that Japan is actually responsible for the Nanking Massacre and other similar bestialities. As Koselleck put it, “even if history is written by the winners in the short-term, historical and political understanding comes from the defeated in the long run” (cited in Sierp, 2014). By and large, Koselleck’s rendition of the discussed expression is more appropriate in the case of China and Japan.

Today, when Japan does not have the capability to hurt China, the latter takes reprisals and other revanchist measures against its former conqueror. China’s pugnacious saber-rattling at the maritime borders with Japan and its aggressive policies in the East China Sea are direct outgrowths of Japan’s unwillingness to admit its responsibility for the genocide against the Chinese. As anger smolders and tensions soar, the bilateral business relations suffer. Whereas corporate leaders in Japan are ready to deal with their Chinese counterparts on a par, those in China are reluctant to do business with Japanese firms (Demetriou, 2014). Therefore, there are sufficient grounds to asset that the deep-seated rancor on the part of China’s corporate leaders is in fact an impediment to bilateral business relations. Apparently if Japan accepted responsibility for all war crimes against China and tried to make amends, the normalization of the Sino-Japanese business relations would ensue. However, as long as that remains a distant option, business interests from the both countries should keep searching for new vistas of cooperation. In fact, China and Japan are so economically interdependent that they cannot sacrifice their business relations simply because of the historical issues (Demetriou, 2014). Thus, even if there are any setbacks in the bilateral trade, they are temporary.

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