Many countries have a general disposition toward other countries. For example, how does your country feel about Canada? Or Mexico? Russia? Rwanda? France? Whether or not you agree with your countrymen’s general opinions on each of these, it’s easy to see how history and culture influence the way we think about people from other places.
Growing up in the US, I had mixed feelings about China. It seemed big, ancient, strange, and beautiful. I couldn’t fathom the number of people living there, nor what the rest of the world would look like as that population grew. “Made in China” labels might have suggested inferior quality, but enabled my trips to the local Dollar Store. Despite this generally positive impression, I didn’t have any special draw to learn more. Its neighbor, Japan, caught my interest. Anime led me to J-Pop, which gave me an appreciation of the language and drew me into its culture.
At age 20 I moved to Japan to live for 3 years. This exposed me to a whole new national feeling about China. It was dark. China and Japan do not get along. Ever since World War II, when Japan decided to team up with Germany to take over the world, they got on the bad side of a lot of countries. They’ve since made a great reputational comeback, but haven’t quite gotten on good terms with China and the Koreas. It might have something to do with publicly denying the atrocities of Nanking and withholding apology to the women forced to “comfort” Japanese soldiers. Even now there is a great disagreement over the ownership of some islands (to name them is to choose a side) in the Japan Sea. With that kind of historical and political climate, it’s no wonder there are some bad feelings being passed around.
I noticed the biggest prejudice against the Chinese from older Japanese people. They had a lot to say on the topic, especially in regards to the Chinese government.The younger generation seemed more willing to draw conclusions based off of their own experiences with individual Chinese or from visiting the country. Both young and old, however, often agreed that the Chinese approach to manners did not fit well in Japanese society. Even the newspapers were heavily prejudiced. Every article about China was something negative. During a particularly smoggy stretch of the winter, the newspaper declared on the front page that this was due to Chinese pollution drifting over. Some weeks later they squeezed an editorial in the back explaining that it had actually been from a volcano eruption in southern Japan. On another occasion there was a news article about a guidebook that the Chinese government had written for its citizens traveling abroad. One of the points in it recommends that you not pee in swimming pools abroad. Sure, it’s interesting news, but this was the article that my Japanese teacher chose to discuss in our Active Communication class.
Steeped in this environment, I became inoculated with a kind of prejudice against China. All of my experiences with individual Chinese had been good, yet that didn’t stop me from cringing when someone mentioned the country. This was wrong and I knew it. When I was looking at flights from Japan to New Zealand, I chose the one with a long layover in Guangzhou, China. It was time to form my own opinions.