An Alternative Explanation for Anti-Japanese Sentiment in China: Shifting State-Society Interaction in China's Japan Policy

  • Zhou, Min
  • Published : 2012.10.31


The historical turbulence between China and Japan started from the First Sino-Japanese War in 1895, and culminated in Japan's invasion of China during World War Two (the Second Sino-Japanese War) between 1937 and 1945. A series of wars caused huge human and material losses in both countries, and both experienced comprehensive transformations during and after the wars. The impact of this historical turbulence is so long-lasting that it still influences both countries' social psyche. Moreover, it continues casting a long shadow upon the current Sino-Japanese relations. The recent turbulence in Sino-Japanese relations partly stems from the historical turbulence. It is much less violent but can also be emotional and worrisome. It started from the early 1980s (the Japanese history textbook controversy in 1982 and the 1985 anti-Japanese student protests in China), and culminated in the anti-Japanese mass demonstrations in multiple Chinese cities in 2005 (Bush 2010; Gries 2005; Reilly 2012; Stockmann 2010; Weiss 2008). In addition to dramatic demonstrations on streets, there are also other forms of movements, such as war reparations movements, in which Chinese war victims demand reparations from the Japanese state and companies (Rose 2005; Xu and Fine 2010; Xu and Pu 2010). Although the tension has existed for many years and surfaced from time to time, the eruption of the nationwide anti-Japanese movements in China in 2005 still shocked many outside observers. Many scholars have tried to explain the anti-Japanese sentiment within current Chinese society that underlies and drives these social movements. Through careful reexamination of the existing literature, this article proposes an explanation for the anti-Japanese sentiment from a perspective that stresses the shifting state-society interaction in China's Japan policy. Specifically, the totalitarian Chinese state's neglect and suppression of genuine social concerns regarding Japan in earlier years, followed by a relatively liberalized state that tolerates societal participation in Sino-Japanese relations, are an importance source of the anti-Japanese sentiment recently observed in China.



  1. Barme, Geremie. 1993. "History for the Masses." Pp. 260-86 In Using the Past to Serve the Present: Historiography and Politics in Contemporary China, edited by J. Unger. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe.
  2. Bassiouni, M. Cherif. 1996. "Searching for Peace and Achieving Justice: The Need for Accountability." Law and Contemporary Problems 59(4): 9-28.
  3. Benfell, Steven T. 2002. "Why Can't Japan Apologize? Institutions and War Memory since 1945." Harvard Asia Quarterly 6(2): 4-11.
  4. Berger, Thomas U. 2003. "The Construction of Antagonism: The History Problem in Japan's Foreign Relations." Pp. 63-90 in Reinventing the Alliance: US-Japan Security Partnership in an Era of Change, edited by G. J. Ikenberry and T. Inoguchi. New York: Palgrave.
  5. Berger, Thomas U. 2008. "Dealing with Difficult Pasts: Japan's 'History Problem' from a Theoretical and Comparative Perspective." Pp. 17-41 in East Asia's Haunted Present: Historical Memories and the Resurgence of Nationalism, edited by T. Hasegawa and K. Togo. Westport, CT: Praeger Security International.
  6. Brittingham, Michael A. 2007. "The 'Role' of Nationalism in Chinese Foreign Policy: A Reactive Model of Nationalism and Conflict." Journal of Chinese Political Science 2: 147-66.
  7. Bush, Richard C. 2010. The Perils of Proximity: China-Japan Security Relations. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.
  8. Calder, Kent E. 2006. "China and Japan's Simmering Rivalry." Foreign Affairs 85: 129-39.
  9. Callahan, William A. 2006. "History, Identity and Security: Producing and Consuming Nationalism in China." Critical Asian Studies 38 (2): 179-208.
  10. Cathcart, Adam and Patricia Nash. 2009. "To Serve Revenge for the Dead: Chinese Communist Responses to Japanese War Crimes in the PRC Foreign Ministry Archive, 1949-1956." The China Quarterly 200: 1053-69.
  11. Coble, Parks M. 2007. "China's 'New Remembering' of the Anti-Japanese War of Resistance, 1937-1945." The China Quarterly 190: 394-410.
  12. Cohen, Paul A. 2002. "Remembering and Forgetting: National Humiliation in Twentieth Century China." Twentieth Century China 27(2): 1-39.
  13. Crawford, Neta C. 2000. "The Passion of World Politics: Propositions on Emotion and Emotional Relationships." International Security 24(4): 116-56.
  14. Digeser, Peter E. 2001. Political Forgiveness. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
  15. Drifte, Reinhard. 2002. Japan's Security Relations with China since 1989: From Balancing to Bandwagoning? New York: Routledge.
  16. Emmott, Bill. 2008. Rivals: How the Power Struggle between China, India and Japan Will Shape Our Next Decade. Orlando, FL: Harcourt.
  17. Eykholt, Mark. 2000. "Aggression, Victimization, and Chinese Historiography of the Nanjing Massacre." Pp. 11-69 in The Nanjing Massacre in History and Historiography, edited by J. A. Fogel and C. S. Maier. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
  18. Glaser, Bonnie S. and Phillip C. Saunders. 2002. "Chinese Civilian Foreign Policy Research Institutes: Evolving Roles and Increasing Influences." The China Quarterly 171: 597-616.
  19. Gong, Gerrit W. (ed). 2001. Memory and History in East and Southeast Asia. Washington, DC: The CSIS Press.
  20. Gries, Peter H. 2004. China's New Nationalism: Pride, Politics, and Diplomacy. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
  21. Gries, Peter H. 2005. "Nationalism, Indignation and China's Japan Policy." SAIS Review 25(2): 105-14.
  22. He, Yinan. 2007. "History, Chinese Nationalism and the Emerging Sino-Japanese Conflict." Journal of Contemporary China 16 (50): 1-24.
  23. He Yinan. 2009. The Search for Reconciliation: Sino-Japanese and German-Polish Relations since World War II. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
  24. Hein, Patrick. 2010. "Patterns of War Reconciliation in Japan and Germany: A Comparison." East Asia 27(2): 145-64.
  25. Hughes, Christopher W. 2009. "Japan's Response to China's Rise: Regional Engagement, Global Containment, Dangers of Collision." International Affairs 85(4): 837-56.
  26. Ienaga, Saburo. 1993. "The Glorification of War in Japanese Education." International Security 18(3): 113-33.
  27. Jacobs, Justin. 2011. "Preparing the People for Mass Clemency: The 1956 Japanese War Crimes Trials in Shenyang and Taiyuan." The China Quarterly 205: 152-72.
  28. Jasper, James M. 2011. "Emotions and Social Movements: Twenty Years of Theory and Research." Annual Review of Sociology 37: 285-303.
  29. Kristof, Nicholas D. 1998. "The Problem of Memory." Foreign Affairs 77(6): 37-49.
  30. Lampton, David M. 2001. "China's Foreign and National Security Policy-Making Process: Is It Changing, and Does It Matter?" Pp. 1-16 in The Making of Chinese Foreign and Security Policy in the Era of Reform, edited by D. M. Lampton. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
  31. Lind, Jennifer. 2008. Sorry States: Apologies in International Politics. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
  32. Long, William J. and Peter Brecke. 2003. War and Reconciliation: Reason and Emotion in Conflict Resolution. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
  33. McCullough, Michael E., Everett L. Worthington, and Kenneth C. Rachal. 1997. "Interpersonal Forgiving in Close Relationships." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 73(2): 321-36.
  34. Mercer, Jonathan. 2005. "Rationality and Psychology in International Politics." International Organization 59: 77-106.
  35. Mertha, Andrew. 2009. "Fragmented Authoritarianism 2.0: Political Pluralization in Chinese Policy Process." The China Quarterly 2000: 995-1012.
  36. Minow, Martha. 1998. Between Vengeance and Forgiveness: Facing History after Genocide and Mass Violence. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.
  37. Mitter, Rana. 2000. "Behind the Scenes at the Museum: Nationalism, History and Memory in the Beijing War of Resistance Museum, 1987-1997." The China Quarterly 161: 279-93.
  38. Mitter, Rana. 2003. "Old Ghosts, New Memories: China's Changing War History in the Era of Post-Mao Politics." Journal of Contemporary History 38(1): 117-31.
  39. Nozaki, Yoshiko. 2005. "Japanese Politics and the History Textbook Controversy, 1945-2001." Pp. 275-306 in History Education and National Identity in East Asia, edited by E. Vickers and A. Jones. New York: Routledge.
  40. Orr, James J. 2001. The Victim as Hero: Ideologies of Peace and National Identity in Postwar Japan. Honolulu, HI: University of Hawaii Press.
  41. Penney, Matthew and Bryce Wakefield. 2008. "Right Angles: Examining Accounts of Japanese Neo-Nationalism." Pacific Affairs 81(4): 537-55.
  42. Pyle, Kenneth B. 2007. Japan Rising: The Resurgence of Japanese Power and Purpose. New York: Public Affairs.
  43. Reilly, James. 2012. Strong Society, Smart State: The Rise of Public Opinion in China's Japan Policy. New York: Columbia University Press.
  44. Rose, Caroline. 2005. Sino-Japanese Relations: Facing the Past, Looking to the Future? New York: Routledge.
  45. Rozman, Gilbert. 2004. Northeast Asia's Stunted Regionalism: Bilateral Distrust in the Shadow of Globalization. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
  46. Shambaugh, David. 2002. "China's International Relations Think Tanks: Evolving Structure and Process." The China Quarterly 171: 575-96.
  47. Sasaki, Tomonori. 2010. "China Eyes the Japanese Military: China's Threat Perception of Japan since the 1980s." The China Quarterly 203: 560-80.
  48. Shirk, Susan. 2007. China: Fragile Superpower. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
  49. Soderberg, Marie. 2002. Chinese-Japanese Relations in the Twenty-First Century: Complementarity and Conflict. New York: Routledge.
  50. Stockmann, Daniela. 2010. "Who Believes Propaganda? Media Effects during the Anti-Japanese Protests in Beijing." The China Quarter 202: 269-89.
  51. Tavuchis, Nicholas. 1991. Mea Culpa: A Sociology of Apology and Reconciliation. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
  52. Wakamiya, Yoshibumi. 1999. The Postwar Conservative View of Asia: How the Political Right Has Delayed Japan's Coming to Terms with Its History of Aggression in Asia. Tokyo, Japan: LTCB International Library Foundation.
  53. Walder, Andrew G. 2009. "Political Sociology and Social Movements." Annual Review of Sociology 35: 393-412.
  54. Wan, Ming. 2006. Sino-Japanese Relations: Interaction, Logic, and Transformation. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
  55. Wang, Zheng. 2008. "National Humiliation, History Education, and the Politics of Historical Memory: Patriotic Education Campaign in China." International Studies Quarterly 52: 783-806.
  56. Weiss, Jessica C. 2008. Powerful Patriots: Nationalism, Diplomacy, and the Strategic Logic of Anti-Foreign Protest in China. PhD Dissertation, University of California, San Diego.
  57. Worthington, Everett Jr. 2006. Forgiveness and Reconciliation: Theory and Application. New York: Routledge.
  58. Wu, Xu. 2007. Chinese Cyber Nationalism: Evolution, Characteristics, and Implications. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.
  59. Xu, Bin and Gary A. Fine. 2010. "Memory Movement and State-Society Relationship in Chinese World War II Victims' Reparations Movement against Japan." Pp.166-189 in Northeast Asia's Difficult Past: Essays in Collective Memory, edited by M. Kim and B. Schwartz. New York: Palgrave-McMillan.
  60. Xu, Bin and Xiaoyu Pu. 2010. "Dynamic Statism and Memory Politics: A Case Analysis of the Chinese War Reparations Movement." The China Quarterly 201: 156-75.
  61. Yang, Daqing. 1999. "Convergence or Divergence? Recent Historical Writings on the Rape of Nanjing." American Historical Review 104(3): 842-65.
  62. Yang, Guobing. 2009. The Power of the Internet in China: Citizen Activism Online. New York: Columbia University Press.
  63. Zhao, Suisheng. 2004. A Nation-State by Construction: Dynamics of Modern Chinese Nationalism. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
  64. Zhao, Suisheng. 2005. "China's Pragmatic Nationalism: Is It Manageable?" Washington Quarterly 29: 131-44.