Shanghai View: A Historical Breeze from Japan

Posted: March 15, 2011 in Whose World Order?
Tags: , , , , , ,

A new piece for Whose World Order?, this time exploring the events in Japan as seen from Shanghai. Overall, people seem unsure what to do, but are basically sympathetic to the unfortunate Japanese. One friend, however, pointed out a Chinese twitter post he had seen which was glad about the fact that a US ship had been completely written off by a radiation cloud (this story), my friend responded that this was pretty mean, and the person said well, what were they doing there anyway. Some interesting responses overall from the Sino-blogosphere. Further, in a postscript subsequent to the post, the BBC published this story.

Shanghai View: A historical breeze from Japan

Date: 15th March 2011  |  Author: Raffaello Pantucci,

Categories: China,
Tags: ChinaEarthquakeNuclearTsunamiJapan

The message to my phone read: “BBC FLASHNEWS: Japan gvt confirms radiation leak at Fukushima nuclear plants. Asian countries should take necessary precautions. If rain comes, remain indoors first 24hrs. Close doors & windows. Swab neck skin with betadine where thyroid area is, radiation hits thyroid first. Take extra precautions. Radiation may hit Phil [Philippines] at starting 4pm today. Pls send to your loved ones.”

These sorts of messages are quite common after major events, though usually they do not arrive in English (in Xinjiang I was told that during the 2009 riots, grim pictures showing disemboweled Han Chinese in Goya-esque poses were being circulated via text). Usually it is rumour-mongering in Chinese, accompanying the normal paranoia that sweeps through any large population after a major disaster.

One rumour to reach me this time was that I should avoid sushi from Japan since it was likely to have been dosed with radiation, another friend forwarded me an email that had a map with a large red cloud spreading out as far as China emanating from a nuclear symbol over Japan. The accompanying message spoke of “northern compatriots” having to avoid going out without masks on for the next two or three months and to avoid water and seafood.

But beyond this, the reaction in Shanghai at least to the disaster in Japan has been strangely muted. CCTV has been dedicating a lot of time to the disaster and the news organisations have all dispatched large teams to cover it, but thus far I get the sense that people are unsure what to make of it all or how to feel. Some have pointed out that there has been a strange gloating in some places online – China and Japan have a long and contentious history after all – but from what I have seen, this has been kept under control (either by the net-nannies or by self-restraint). Some still slip through saying that this is some sort of divine intervention against Japan, but I get the impression they are a minority. Nevertheless, there is a strange sense of ambiguity, and Adam in Shanghai has done an interesting piece on this.

I found it a bit depressing, until I had a conversation that gave me some confidence for the future. Having just finished a morning of discussion on US-China and differences in how the EU and US interact with China, I went to lunch with one of the young scholars. Over lunch he told me of his hope and belief that it was possible that in the wake of the disaster, there was a perfect moment for rapprochement between China and Japan. In every cloud a silver lining. Having seen the grim memorials in Nanjing that are the root of much anti-Japanese feeling in China, and the bombastic memorial in Tokyo celebrating war criminals that stimulates further tension, I can only hope that he is right and finally the two can find some way to us this moment to try to finally shed the toxic burden of history.

A final note on the text message, having scoured online, I can find no evidence that it actually came from the BBC.


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