Tag Archives: Nationalism

What kind of 'hawk' is Japan's Shinzo Abe? Probably not the kind you think

Shinzo Abe

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, photographed in 2012, from Wikimedia.

Shinzo Abe became prime minister of Japan in December, more than six years after he first took the job, succeeding long-serving Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in September 2006. In the U.S. press especially, Abe is often termed a “nationalist” or “hawk” for supporting expanded military activities and a potential revision of the Japanese constitution.

Crystal Pryor, a Japan Studies Visiting Fellow at the East-West Center and a Ph.D. student in political science at University of Washington (and my former office-mate), released a very useful brief pushing back on U.S. coverage of the new prime minister in Japan.

To keep things in perspective, it’s worth reviewing the actual text of Article 9 of the constitution, which I will render verbatim but in outline form. And it’s worth remembering that advocates of change are pushing for revision, not repeal.

Article 9.
Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce
• war as a sovereign right of the nation and
• the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.
In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph,
• land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained.
• The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.

Pryor writes:

As the Japanese constitution is currently interpreted, Japan cannot take military action if an ally, the United States, is attacked because Japan does not have the constitutional authority to engage in collective self-defense. Even activities such as sending the Japanese Self-Defense Forces on UN PKOs in the 1990s or on refueling missions in the Indian Ocean after 9/11 in support of the US-led operation in Afghanistan faced major domestic hurdles. Japanese politicians calling for Japan to shoulder its half of the security alliance or to send troops on PKO missions can hardly be considered “hawkish” by American standards.

On the constitutional question, one can immediately see that revision of Article 9 need not completely erase restrictions on warmaking in order to carve out the right for Japan to “pull its weight” in the U.S.–Japan alliance or in U.N. peacekeeping operations.

Pryor also argues that Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) did not beat the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) because of its “nationalist” character. On this point, few would disagree: Analysts almost universally characterized the LDP electoral victory as a rebuke of the flagging DPJ leadership and economic policies. Pryor also notes that low youth voter turnout undermined the DPJ.

Shinzo Abe and George W. Bush in 2007. We were all younger then.

Shinzo Abe and George W. Bush in 2007. We were all younger then.

So what of the emphasis on nationalism and hawkishness? Five years ago, the connection between Abe’s name and the word “nationalist” was already a point of discussion. In the midst of a conversation between the blogger Ampontan (who recently passed away, and whose voice is missed despite differences of opinion) and Tobias Harris at Observing Japan, I compared Abe’s reputed nationalism to that of Junichiro Koizumi, whose repeated visits to the Yasukuni Shrine drew loud opposition from leaders in China and South Korea:

As we know, Koizumi spent much more time and international political capital than Abe has in paying tribute to Japan’s late 19th—early 20th century nationalism. But Abe has spent more energy on a more contemporary and more instrumental form of nationalism, the revision of Article 9. The rhetoric behind constitutional revision—especially among the people usually called “nationalists”—often invokes the desire for Japan to become a “normal state.”

Indeed, for all the fear about a potential Japanese remilitarization, Abe has not been a particularly extreme voice in Japan. Though it may not repair perceptions of his orientation among others in the region, Abe is not the biggest “hawk” in the Japanese political sphere.

As Pryor notes, some real hawkishness comes with the emergence of a “third force” in Japanese party politics.  “[Shintaro] Ishihara, who gave up his position as governor of Tokyo for this election, is a hawk even by American standards. Most recently, he played a central role in reigniting the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands dispute by declaring that Tokyo would purchase and develop the islands. Ishihara has also called for Japan to revise its current constitution and develop nuclear weapons.” It was Ishihara’s provocation that led the Japanese national government to take legal control of the islands. Though that move was blasted by many in China, the islands likely would be even more of a sticking point if Ishihara controlled them.

So Japan’s political stage is, unsurprisingly, more complicated than portrayals in U.S. news stories. But the perception of an agressive, nationalist, or unrepentant Japan is real among some in China. Every day in Beijing, I still see bumper stickers declaring “钓鱼岛 中国的” (“The Diaoyu Islands are China’s”)—or, more aggressively, “打倒小日本!” (roughly, “Take Down Little Japan!”). The Wall Street Journal writes from Tokyo that “while [Abe] seeks a more assertive Japanese presence in the region, he isn’t about to provoke China or risk worsening already strained relations between Tokyo and Beijing.” I’m just not sure Chinese media and official voices, let alone those mobilized in the 2012 anti-Japan protests, are on the same page.

Han supremacism online and nationalisms

In The China Quarterly, James Leibold offers an article on a provocative topic: a community of Chinese who write online in support of Han ethnic pride or in disgust in perceived slights to the majority ethnicity in China’s codified ethnicity system.

He argues that some angry people are claiming the mantle of the Han ethnonym to challenge PRC ethnic policies that include affirmative action-like preferences for members of ethnic minorities in some areas of life. The Han category, he implies, is similar to whiteness in the United States: “Like the category of whiteness in the United States, Han is historically contingent: constructed, performed and institutionalized within the specific cultural framework of ethnic difference in Chinese tradition.” The implication, of course, is that “Han supremacism” and “white supremacism” are analogous concepts.

The article is worth a read. There are a few points I would make from the perspective of a social scientist and in the context of studying the Internet, however.

First, the article bases its assessment of Han chauvinism online on a case study that sticks out as unusual—specifically, the 2008 incident in which a respected historian who writes about Manchus was slapped at a book signing by a man who saw the scholar as a Han traitor (汉奸). This is not the sort of thing that happens every day, though it was an important incident. I’m just not sure what this outlier case tells us about Han identity, except to note that even a large number of those who might be considered pro-Han condemned the violence.

Second, the article makes a case for a phenomenon through reading a stack of BBSs, but oscillates between calling “Han supremacists” a “small but increasingly vocal segment of Chinese youth” and condemning their “hate-speak … as a vulgar, aberrant and potentially malignant expression of mainstream Chinese pride and patriotism” (emphasis added, p. 541). It also notes that there exist “over 40 Chinese and English language websites dedicated to the discussion of Han or Huaxia culture and identity.” With the numbers involved in China, the Han ethnicity, and the Chinese Internet population, that seems small, but it’s presented as if it’s large. I would love to see better measures of the size of this community.

Third, I wonder what the more hegemonic narratives on Han ethnicity or ethnicity in general are saying in the increased openness of online discourse. Leibold summarizes a lot of work on ethnicity, including his own work from Reconfiguring Chinese Nationalism and Mark Elliott’s argument that the modern usage of the Han ethnonym emerged through interaction among northern and central plains peoples in the late Yuan and Ming.* He puts the current Han chauvinist outliers in the context of other discussions on nationalism, drawing heavily on Peter Hays Gries’ book. In this field of disputed meanings, what are the other competitors?

Overall, however, the article is an interesting read. In the end, it proposes that Hanness is both a sub-nationalist identity (if “nation” is to be congruent with China and not an ethnicity; just let that be for now) and a “boundary spanner,” which I take to mean a relatively open category that can create unity, rather than a category defined by a non-Chinese Other.

All this by way of saying, it’s an interesting paper and I’m not quite sure what to make of it yet.

*Leibold cites a conference paper Elliott gave at a Stanford conference on Han studies. My (possibly mangled) account here is from my memory of an in-class lecture in 2008. If I’m not mistaken, this argument has yet to be published.

When the U.S. Wants to Criticize 'Chinese Art'

In The New Republic, Jed Perl exercises no economy of words in lambasting art from China and its growing global following. Based on a reading of “Chinese art” that does not apparently leave the island of Manhattan, Perl makes several questionable statements, often abetted by lack of knowledge, and Alan Baumler at Frog in a Well has already taken some of them to task.

I find some solace in Perl’s admission that: “This is not to say that there is nothing of value going on in China today: I do not know all there is to know about art in China. What I do know is that the work that is being promoted around the world as the cutting edge of new Chinese art is overblown and meretricious.” Fine, but this comes only after hundreds of words of under-informed negativity and no apparent experience with Chinese art that hasn’t arrived in New York or Venice.

Missing from Perl’s account is the pervasive sense of unease among many in Beijing’s art scene, both Chinese and foreign, as they have watched the transformation of spaces such as the 798 Art District into pedestrian mall commercial centers, and as they have watched some of the artists Perl criticizes grow their bank accounts with manufactured art.

That’s one of the things Angie Baecker and I tried to capture with our article in the current issue (No. 59) of Art Asia Pacific. We examined the plans and sentiments of some major art spaces and figures in Beijing leading up to the Olympics. And we found a mixture of excitement and trepidation, sometimes with both sentiments coming from the same person.

Totally unexamined by Perl, for instance, are the artists whose work rarely if ever engages political and nationalist issues. And others who openly criticize the government and the country’s history, even if with a certain care to avoid publicity that could threaten their livelihood. Then there’s Ai Weiwei, both involved with and vocally opposed to the Olympics. In the classic media formulation, his contributions to the design of the Olympic stadium are tempered by his criticism of the government. (“The Olympics are an opportunity to redefine the country, but the message is always wrong,” Ai says in our article.)

I would not discount the possibility that some of Ai’s repeated statements have been motivated by a desire for publicity. But for those who make their commentaries in private and whose art-with-message works face government scrutiny, the spotlight is neither welcomed nor sought.

Criticizing a country’s art without engaging even well-reported examples that don’t support one’s criticism is an art world example of the basic structure of [insert country]-bashing: Find some well-accepted tropes about the target country that are well-reported but unconfirmed by the critic, and then use them as the basis of an argument that makes no effort to engage the actual thoughts or facts of life of those involved.

Could it be that a critic writing in a derivative way in the milieu of China-bashing is just as guilty as artists who profit from market-friendly, easily digestible political messages?

Demonstrations in Tokyo During Hu Visit: Could Be Worse

From Reuters:

But even as Hu spoke, about 200 protesters waved signs outside the university gate saying “Free Tibet” and “No Pandas, No Poison Dumplings,” the latter referring to Hu’s offer to lend two pandas to a Tokyo zoo and a row over Chinese-made dumplings laced with pesticide that made several Japanese people ill.

When I was in Japan recently, the contaminated jiaozi/gyoza scandal was one of the first things most Japanese friends asked me about on learning I now live in Beijing. It seems like a bit of progress if anti-China demonstrators (who weren’t particularly numerous) are complaining about human rights and food safety rather than history-related issues. Anti-U.S. slogans were not as substantial when I happened upon a much larger demonstration on Sept. 11, 2004, at Tokyo’s Omotesando.

“I just want to say ‘Free Tibet’. I want to say ‘No’ to China‘s oppression of human rights,” said 29-year-old Atsushi Hanazawa, who carried a guitar along with a Tibetan flag.

Again, this makes Japanese protesters in a similar position as many around the world. No comment on who’s well informed.

Some Waseda students were more concerned about getting to class. “I can’t get through the gate. It’s a pain,” said 18-year-old Takuhiro Waki of the protest.

About two dozen right-wing activists yelled anti-Chinese slogans such as “Hu Jintao, Go Back to China.” Earlier, some right-wing Waseda alumni protested against Hu’s speech in a blog.

There’s the nationalism. But two dozen? Pretty weak from people who get crowds twice that size in front of sound trucks on anonymous Tuesdays near busy train stations and somewhat regularly clog the streets near the Chinese embassy.

Nearby around 50 Chinese students held their own rally, yelling “Go, China” in Chinese, “Sino-Japanese Friendship” in Japanese, and “Yes, We Can” in English.

“When I hear the anti-Chinese slogans, I feel that the Chinese people’s character has been maligned,” said 28-year-old Chinese graduate student Cao Shunrui.

There’s a little more nationalism, perhaps, from the other side. I’m not sure what to make of that, but the “Sino-Japanese friendship” message is considerably more helpful than some of the vitriol on both sides in U.S. campuses, from Grace Wang’s experience at Duke to a few dozen other reported rallies.

Hu later shed his suit jacket to play ping-pong at Waseda with popular players from both countries, but Fukuda, 71, declined to pick up a paddle.

“I’m glad I didn’t play ping-pong with him,” Fukuda told reporters. “He’s very strategic. I thought you can’t be too careful.”

I wouldn’t play him either. If he’s playing with popular players, he’d kick my ass. Unless Prime Minister Fukuda has been training, it’s probably wise to save the embarrassment and watch a friendly match.

How to 'Pressure' 'the Chinese' on Human Rights

At Foreign Policy, former Amnesty International Executive Director William F. Schultz considers how to “pressure Beijing.” Aside from taking a little too literally Chinese government statements about “the Chinese” and their supposed hurt feelings, Schultz, who is now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress (disclosure: my former employer), makes an interesting suggestion:

What is the appropriate tack to take? The most successful human rights engagement with China—such as that of John Kamm, a former head of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong who has intervened on behalf of hundreds of political prisoners—is characterized by what one might call respectful tenaciousness. Trying to crack Chinese Internet censorship or highlighting the cases of those mistreated for seeking to advance the rule of law or exercise free speech, for instance, is always appropriate. But so is applauding China’s attempts to control corruption or experiment with local elections.

Effective human rights work requires two things. First, it requires a tragic sense of history—a recognition that, no matter what we do, we will never be able to save everyone from misery or suffering. Sometimes, for example, despite its immense power and resources, the U. S. government’s own ability to influence human rights is limited, and its willingness to do so in a bold way is compromised by competing interests. We who care about human rights would do well to recognize that and shape our recommendations to the U.S. government accordingly. Otherwise, we risk even greater marginalization than we already experience.

But secondly, good human rights work requires persistence and a long view, the recognition that human rights have become the lingua franca for much of the world and a ticket of admission to widely honored membership in the international community. The United States with its plummeting approval ratings around the globe has learned that the hard way. China too will learn eventually that the best way to avert hurt feelings is to avoid prompting criticism in the first place.

The whole construct of “pressure” feels problematic, but I think what Schultz proposes is a significantly more sensitive tack for advocacy and diplomacy. It’s an open question, though, whether a government that stakes much of its domestic persona on a national sense of pride will really change behaviour for the sake of avoiding criticism.