News & opinion on Greater China and the even Greater Beyond: by Biff Cappuccino.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Part three of my never ending review of Inventing Japan, by Ian Buruma

In China, Chiang Kai-shek's army was moving north in an attempt to unify the nation under a nationalist government. The Chinese saw Manchuria as part of China; the Japanese, despite earlier treaties to that effect, did not. They preferred to see it as a kind of lawless no man's land, to which Japan would bring order. Since Manchuria had been part of the last Chinese empire, which lasted for almost three centuries, the Chinese had a legitimate claim. The fact that large parts of China were lawless did not give Japan a right to take them over. (Pages 88, 89)

Manchuria had been part of the last Chinese empire, that I can go with, but the last Chinese empire was not run by the Chinese but by the Manchus. The Manchus were not Chinese, despised the Chinese as cannibal scum, and established a caste system making the Chinese literally third-rate citizens of their own country. Chinese were banned from marrying Manchus on pain of death. Chinese were banned from moving into Manchuria until the last decade of the 19th century.

As to Japan not having the 'right' to take over parts of China, this presupposes that there is a body adjudicating and enforcing sovereignty. For otherwise, there's no point in talking about rights. Rights can not exist outside of enforcement. It would be like getting hot and bothered talking about your rights with a burglar pointing a crowbar at your brainpan. It's pointless unless there are cops around. Given that there was no body to adjudicate and enforce sovereignty, then talk of rights is futile. Whoever could take over the lawless territories did take over the lawless territories. End of story.

And Chiang Kai-shek was hardly a representative of China as he had yet to conquer the territory from the present legal owners, various warlords. What distinguishes his rights from theirs? Force. Might is right. At the end of the day, it always has been and always will be. (Democracy survives not because it is just, but because it produces the strongest economies and most powerful military force. In other words, democracy is an excellent example of how might is right in the political sphere.) Chang Kai-shek even as the unifier of China was not representative of the Chinese given the fact that he was not a democratic ruler. You might as well pretend that any of the emperors ever represented the Chinese people. (We’re back to people’s emperors again…haha…) The people were owned by their emperors. Chiang Kai-shek enjoyed the most promising run at becoming the new emperor at the time, vying with Mao the eventual usurper of the throne.

Had the Japanese taken over Manchuria and retained it, the present day occupants of Manchuria would be living under Japanese democracy and enjoying a very high standard of living indeed. It seems to me to be a prejudice arising from victor's justice to imagine that the colonization of Manchuria by the Chinese was somehow preferable to the colonization of Manchuria by the Japanese when clearly Manchuria was doing much better under Japanese rule prior to the second world war (it enjoyed the highest industrialization rate within 'China' and the highest standard of living, leading to a huge flood of immigrants (for lack of a better word)) and given that the situation would have no doubt continued that way had Manchuria either remained Japanese territory or somehow remained a province of the Republic of China. Unfortunately it is part of the People's Republic of China. I do not doubt Ian Buruma’s bona fides. But he appears inadvertently to believe that the present day Manchurian population is properly the property of the People's Republic of China, what he would probably call citizens of the PRC. After all, a democracy is owned by its citizens as opposed to authoritarian regimes which own their citizens. (You can imagine how well that last sentence went over when I presented it to a bunch of PRC forum participants a week or so ago...haha...)

Within six months, much of Manchuria was in Japanese hands. The Chinese complained to the League of Nations. And the Japanese duly cranked out propaganda at home about Japan being victimized by the rest of the world. (Page 90)

Isn't that a beauty? The Japanese propagandized the Japanese. This is the kind of slippery doublespeak that rightfully belongs to the oeuvre of my latest ethnic impersonating hero, the late Eddy Said. Who the hell are ‘the Japanese’? What on earth is ‘Japan’?

You probably think I’m nitpicking, but this is just the sort of prose hell from which so much sulfurous patriotic bologna emerges. Ex: We Chinese were humiliated by England. That’s a classic line of peacetime patriots with poor social skills and angry with the developed world because they have a McDonalds but not a girlfriend. Most of the Chinese population lived right through the Opium War without ever knowing it took place. They sure didn’t watch it on television. Most of the population consisted of illiterate peasants living in medieval boondocks. No newspapers. Nadda. And how can ‘we’ be humiliated by events that took place before ‘we’ were born? Etc, etc, etc…

Following the maddening quote above, the book continues with: The prime minister at the time of the Manchurian incident, Wakatsuji Reijiro, was still a party politician who favored a conciliatory policy toward China. He was in the state of panic. The Kwantung Army was pushing Japan toward war, and there was nothing he could do about it, since military affairs were beyond his brief. The Army and Navy ministers in his cabinet were answerable to the Emperor as the supreme commander of the armed forces, but not to a mere civilian prime minister. The foreign minister, Shidehara Kijuro, was also an internationalist who tried to maintain good relations with China and the West. He was now in the invidious position of having to defend a fait accompli in Manchuria, caused by military officers over whom the civilian government had no control. The Emperor was advised by nervous courtiers and chiefs of staff not to antagonize his armed forces, lest they rebel and create disturbances at home. In a complete abdication of responsibility, the opposition party, the Seiyukai, criticized the government for not being belligerent enough. Meanwhile, Japanese troops began to move into Manchuria from Korea. The prime minister resigned.

His successor, Inukai Tsuyoshi, was no more successful in disciplining the military in China. He tried in vain to withhold official recognition of Manchuria as an "independent" state… Inukai, like his predecessor, was a pathetic bystander in these events. He appealed to the Emperor to intervene, but nothing happened. After one more attempt to stop Japanese reinforcements from escalating violence in Shanghai, Inukai was gunned down by Navy fanatics in his own house.

This is the sort of irony which makes history so fascinating for me and so frustrating for peacetime patriots who want to pretend that Japan is a person which beat up on another person: an old lady called China.

…Many of Japan's problems were the result of weakness and divisions at the pinnacle of the system rather than strength. Far from being a united nation, Japan was ruled by factions, in the courts, the military, the bureaucracy, and the diet, which fought one another with almost as much zeal as they displayed toward external enemies. (Page 91)

And this appalling infighting is typical of authoritarian regimes. According to Victor Davis Hanson’s Carnage and Culture it’s one of the reasons why authoritarian regimes, despite their typical appearance of strength during peacetime, are usually fragile and quite inferior in battle against democratic regimes which tend to look weak during peacetime but which unite during war and become much stronger.

Ian Buruma frequently talks about the purity and sincerity that various young men, assassins usually, were obsessed with and how it was usually met with a very positive response from the public. I'm wondering whether purity and sincerity have to do with animism. Purity and sincerity are reminiscent of British and Amierican Puritanism, bluenoses and bluestockings. Such morons believe there is a right way to do everything. All other options are morally wrong, i.e. heretical, and their proponents heretics. That’s were the witch burnings and assassinations come in.

Animism and Christianity are both conspiracy theories positing imaginary armies of good against imaginary armies of evil. Buruma mentions that most of these morally pure assassins were from the countryside, thus it's understandable that they’d view simplicity of mind as a virtue as opposed to the modern view of simplicity as a weakness as a sign of a simpleton. In developed countries one aims not for purity, but for impurity by way of multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism. The goal is to become urbane (i.e. of the city). Not rustic. Quite the difference.

From page 105: An American chaplain in Tokyo's Sugamo prison, where Japanese war criminals were held after the war, concluded from his many interviews that they 'had the belief that any enemy of the Emperor could not be right, so the more brutally they treated their prisoners, the more loyal to the Emperor they were being.'

Anyway this book is a great read and if I keep stopping to comment on it I’m never going to finish reading it. So that’s it.

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