Media  Global Economy  2021.08.26

Active Japanese university students address Japan-China relations beyond mass media ~Passionate yet calm views of Japanese youths who lead the next generation on China~

The article was originally posted on JBpress on July 19, 2021


1. University students work for Japan-China exchanges on their own initiative

The other day, the author had the opportunity of participating in discussions by Japanese university students who worked for student exchanges between Japan and China.

The theme of the discussion for the day was “Under the present circumstances under which only a few in the mass media report facts about China correctly, what can I currently do as a university student to deepen mutual understanding between Japan and China? And what do I want to do as a future goal?”

Ten-odd university students took part in the discussions. Divided into several small groups, they discussed this theme, and a representative of each group presented what had been discussed in the group to other participants.

All the participating students were not pro-Chinese but shared the attitude of thinking seriously about how Japan-China relations should be and what they should do to improve them in their own way.

Since their calm perspectives, keen awareness of the problems involved, and high aspirations provided the basis for discussions, each and every one of their opinions was well-organized and worth listening to.

The following section presents the opinions to which the author paid particular attention.

Reasons negative views of China are formed

The first part of the theme was that Japanese generally had a strong tendency to hold a negative view of China, what the reasons for forming such a view were, and what measures should be taken to correct it. The major points of students’ opinions are as listed below.

  • The China-related information provided by news programs and other sources in Japan consists mainly of the so-called “shocking images” such as traffic accidents and civil cases, and I feel that this gives a bad impression of China.

  • I think that the general impression of China in Japan is “dirty,” “strong anti-Japanese sentiments,” and “scary.”

These are impressions of China usually held by people who do not know much about the country.

Among the young generation, progress is being made to a certain extent in promoting mutual understanding between Japan and China through day-to-day cultural exchanges such as those made by popular young entertainers and cosmetics. One possible way is to promote a deeper understanding of China through the sharing of such familiar lifestyles and culture.

  • I lived in Shanghai for several years from my elementary to junior high school days. Before I lived there, I had a bad impression of China mainly through the Japanese media.

But when I actually lived there, I found Shanghai people kind-hearted. At that time, some Chinese engaged in anti-Japanese campaigns in the city, but Chinese around me gently encouraged me as I felt uneasy.

Living in China and having such experiences changed my impression of China.

However, such positive aspects of Chinese, including their gentle, warm attitude, go almost totally unreported in Japan, and many misunderstand China even today.

I want to strive to eliminate prejudices against China by communicating information through what I can do in my position.

  • Since I have never been to China, my only source of information is media reports in Japan. To tell the truth, I do not have a favorable image of China even today.

Nonetheless, I recognize that Japan’s relations with China are important.

That's why I wanted to see and hear the truth with my own eyes and ears, and I decided to join the Japan-China student exchange organization.

  • In order to understand China, it is best to go to China and come into direct contact with Chinese people, but it is currently difficult to do so owing to the effects of COVID-19.

The second-best way is for university students to open an SNS account to communicate information on the cultural aspects of China for further information sharing. I think that this is one idea on of how to better understand China.

  • Since SNSs in Japan and China use different basic applications, information that can be shared is different, and this causes gaps in understanding. Efforts to overcome this are needed.

3. Reasons mass media emphasize the negative aspects of China

The second part of the theme concerned why Japanese mass media reports only negative news about China. The following section also presents the students’ opinions.

  • I heard that the reason mass media emphasizes the negative aspects of China was that doing so enables them to achieve a high audience rating.

In general, many Japanese viewers tend to take pleasure in hearing negative news about China, and this affects the mass media’s attitude toward reporting.

  • Many Japanese think that they do not want to lose to China.

When Japanese watch news that conveys the negative aspects of China, they feel that Japan is more peaceful and comfortable to live in and that Japanese society is better, and this is why such media reports are favored.

This sentiment applies to South Korea as well as China.

  • Formerly, Mr. John Foster Dulles, who served as secretary of state in the Eisenhower administration, voiced his opinion to the effect that Japanese wished Westerners to treat them like white elite as they harbored a desire to be treated as the best of all Asian peoples.

Doesn’t this mean that the Japanese mentality has not changed to the present day?

What university students can do to promote mutual understanding between Japan and China

Based on the issues listed above, the third part of the theme was what university students could and should do. Opinions on this are as shown below.

  • Sentiment should be separated from reason when thinking about this issue. Recently, many Japanese have criticized China, feeling resentful of remarks by Chinese government officials or similar about human rights and other problems.

In doing so, it is important to keep in mind the viewpoint that the opinions of the Chinese government do not necessarily correspond with those of individual Chinese people.

A country looks like one if seen from outside, but in actuality, different people have different opinions, and one should understand this fact when approaching issues between Japan and China.

  • In order to promote mutual understanding, it is important for students in Japan and China to make exchanges with each other on a one-to-one basis.

If we are students, there are many cases in which we can tolerate each other’s opinions through frank communication even if at first there is more or less misunderstanding due to lack of full understanding. Such a position as can only be allowed for students should be utilized.

  • One of the things that a university student can do is to increase his or her knowledge of China and study Chinese.

Learning the language of a country is an indication of an attitude to strive to understand the country. In order to promote mutual understanding, the attitude of understanding each other’s country when talking with its people is important.

Expectations for people who lead the next generation

The foregoing covered the issues that deeply impressed the author during the discussions on the day. What he thought based on these points is as set forth below.

First, the author was deeply moved by the keen awareness of students who participated in the discussion as those involved in the theme. The degree of relationship with China varied from one student to another, ranging from those who had lived in China to those who had no experience of direct exchanges with Chinese people.

But all students had doubts from their own perspectives about what had recently happened between Japan and China, strove to understand the background of the issues concerned, and attempted to act on their own initiative in an effort to contribute to improving problematic points.

This keen awareness and high sense of responsibility were shared by all of the students.

They consider what is happening around them as their own problems rather than pretend not to see them and work proactively to solve them unselfishly, and this attitude is the starting point of all social contribution activities.

This is expressed as “gewu” in the Chinese classic Daxue (The Great Learning), which preaches that there lies the fundamental attitude of leaders who contribute to their organization or society.

Unfortunately, however, only a few people can put this principle into practice in the real world.

The frank opinion the author had during the recent discussions was that he met students who had an awareness of the issues involved and what they should do as a leader and firmly made it a principle to do so and that he wanted to leave the future of Japan to them.

Secondly, university students participating in Japan-China student exchanges are highly interested in China and can gather information on China by engaging directly with Chinese university students and other people while refining their ability to speak Chinese.

This enables them to understand China based on facts from an objective and neutral point of view without being misled by biased, negative information on China that abounds in mass media and on the Internet in general. In particular, their generation in both Japan and China has become accustomed to and embraced SNSs since their childhood and communicated with each other across national boundaries without hesitation.

If they build joint information-sharing platforms between Japan and China and contact each other on a daily basis, they are expected to further enhance the ability to communicate relevant information. The author sincerely hopes that they will realize such an idea.

Thirdly, media reports emphasize the negative aspects of China, and as far as this problem is concerned, it is difficult to correct the mass media’s attitude drastically as long as their need to ensure profitability as a business cannot be disregarded.

Therefore, one realistic solution is to urge recipients to understand the problem when utilizing information provided by mass media outlets.

If, even from their own standpoint, university students draw public attention to the problem continuously in the long run through SNSs and other media, Japanese people’s negative views of China are likely to be corrected to a certain extent.

Particularly in discussions among them, it can fully be expected that efforts of students in the same generation to communicate correct information will bear fruit.

What is important is to continue such efforts by taxing their ingenuity repeatedly without giving up even if results are not obtained in the short run.

The author offers all his full support in the hope that students who work for student exchanges between Japan and China will play an active role in improving Japan-China relations in the future.