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The Place of Historical Memory in Perception of China by Japanese Society

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Despite the strong economic gravity between Japan and China, there are still many social factors that pull the countries apart. One of such factors is the negative image of the partner, which is largely related to the memory of World War II. The perception of China in Japanese society has been changing over the post-war decades. After Japan’s surrender and occupation of the country by the Allied Powers, political, economic, and cultural distance between the two countries grew. This led to a “lapse of memory” related to China among the post-war generation of the Japanese. Interest towards China in Japan started growing noticeably after some time had passed since the normalization of Sino-Japanese relations (1972) - from the late 1980s-early 1990s, as the contacts between the countries on different levels became increasingly active. The image of China in Japan deteriorated dramatically for the first time after the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, which demonstrated that China was an unsafe country with a repressive state machine. The attitude of Japanese society to China has been worsening since then for various reasons. Starting from the 1990s, as the Sino-Japanese relations were developing and becoming increasingly complex, new problems shaping the negative image of China emerged, including the struggle for geopolitical influence, global competition, negative influence of China on the environmental situation in the region, insufficient quality of Chinese products, problems of communication with Chinese business partners, the growing number of Chinese tourists in Japan, etc. As Sino-Japanese relations became more complicated, the problem of historical memory was felt more and more acutely. This problem fits into the whole picture of controversies accumulated in the Sino-Japanese relations and intensifies some of them. Despite the unfavorable perception of China by Japanese society, signs of improvement can be seen in the last few years. In particular, many young Japanese view China and the prospects of developing the bilateral relations positively. Contacts with China give them ample opportunity to understand that country better, and closer economic ties make the influence of political factors less pronounced.

About the Author

P. V. Kul’Neva
Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences
Russian Federation


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For citations:

Kul’Neva P.V. The Place of Historical Memory in Perception of China by Japanese Society. Russian Japanology Review. 2020;3(1):42-64. (In Russ.)

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