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FRONTLINE/World Rough Cut

Rough Cut: Japan and China: The Unforgotten War
Interview with Emily Taguchi and Lee Wang

The reporters talk about their personal connection to China and Japan and their parallel experiences making the Fellows story.

After last year's protests in China over the textbook there was a forum at the University of California-Berkeley School of Journalism to discuss the flaring of China/Japan tensions. Is this where the idea for your collaborative story was born?

Lee Wang

Lee Wang

Lee Wang: Emily and I were both thinking on parallel tracks and the forum was really what brought us together. What struck me about the forum was how dug in everyone was. It was attended mostly by visiting journalists from China and Japan, a group that is normally pretty mild-mannered. But the gloves were off at this discussion. And everyone seemed to have ten retorts for every argument they heard. I was particularly struck by how much the Chinese scholars seemed to know about the Japanese textbook approval process.

Emily Taguchi

Emily Taguchi

Emily Taguchi: I had wanted to cover the growing willingness to revise the Japanese constitution for some time. I was amazed to see every recent poll showing how people in their twenties -- people who were two generations removed from the war and only knew peace and prosperity -- were the most willing to walk away from the peace clause. Then in April the protests in China erupted over the textbooks. That was when Lee and I started talking about covering the story from both sides.

This is the first time that FRONTLINE/World has done a story told by two reporters in two different countries. How did you prepare for and divide the work?

Lee: Emily and I both wanted to focus on how twenty-something's were leading the new surge in nationalism. So we knew that we needed parallel characters. We lucked out with Chen and Kuroishi. We also had some parallels built into our itineraries. We were both anchored in the centers of power (Beijing and Tokyo) but made trips to cities that are emblematic of the war (Nanjing and Hiroshima).

Emily: In our pre-reporting, we had discussed the different elements and scenes we wanted to capture. One of the central ideas was to try to show how the lives of the young people in China and Japan are increasingly similar. With the economic growth in China over the last decade, the youth in both countries are surrounded by the same brands, the same busy lifestyle, and the same cosmopolitan environment. Yet they feel such antagonism for each other. Once we were in our respective countries, we kept in touch through e-mail and phone and discussed the people we met and the elements we thought would fit into the story.

The story is very cerebral in nature. What sort of obstacles did you face in trying to tell the story visually?

Emily: For me, it was a challenge to find the right central character. I had known through press reports and anecdotes about the willingness torevise the constitution and the growing feeling of resentment towards China, but those are opinions, and not something people wear on their sleeves. I also wanted to find someone who was intelligent and articulate, and couldn't be easily written off as belonging to the far right wing. After searching through student organizations across university campuses in Tokyo, I met Kentaro. He was very open to voicing his opinions on camera, and allowing us to follow him.

Do you think you could have reported the story as successfully if you didn't have family and history tied to each respective country?

Lee: My family ties really complicated the reporting for me. The bitterness towards Japan runs pretty deep in my family. My father grew up under Japanese occupation in Shanghai, so I grew up with a lot of horror stories. I always had to make sure to keep our Rottweiler away from my great-grandmother, who was petrified of dogs (the Japanese used dogs to terrify -- and sometimes mutilate -- Chinese civilians).

Given that background, I was mildly offended by some of the reporting done last spring that depicted protesters as being party drones. I think there's a lot more at work here than just angling for political advantage. There are decades of deep hurt motivating the nationalism in China. And on some level, I agree with Chen that this pain was "passed down to our generation."

But I found that I also had to check myself whenever I was interviewing people this summer -- because there's a thin line between the desire for historical vindication and boarish pride. And as China gets a taste of its new power, there's a real danger that its history of victimization could become the foundation for an ugly new sense of national identity.

Emily: I feel passionately about this story because it is about my country, and about an issue I care deeply about. I do think it would have been a challenge to report in Japan as an outsider, because relationships count so much there.

Lee has an interview with an older Chinese woman who remembers the war, yet understands that China must forgive the past. Emily, were you able to talk with any war vets at the Hiroshima memorial who had a similar understanding about why the U.S. dropped the atomic bombs on Japan? What did the vets think of China's uproar over the Nanjing Massacre in textbooks?

Emily: The war veterans we spoke to in Hiroshima view the use of nuclear weapons as something that should never be repeated. One had become an activist, speaking to schoolchildren about his experience. Another talked about why Article 9 (which renounces war and the maintenance of land, sea, and air forces) must be kept intact. They did also acknowledge the wrongfulness of Japanese acts during the war.

One of your web links points to an online exhibit of the Nanjing Massacre put together at Princeton, which includes the iconic photo of the baby crying on the train tracks. Are these photos that most Chinese and Japanese students have seen? Are they iconic in each respective country?

Lee: This photo was pretty ubiquitous this summer. I saw it in the museum in Nanjing and the museum in Beijing. It was also used in television commercials advertising specials on the war anniversary. So it's definitely a well-known image for Chinese students.

Emily: I think one of the unintended consequences of the textbook controversy is that it has, at least for the moment, brought the Nanjing Massacre to the forefront. The issue also resurfaces time and again; whenever Japanese government officials or politicians makes controversial statements, neighboring countries demand an apology for Japan's wartime actions. So I do think that Japanese students know about the killings, but I don't think the photograph itself is as well-known there.

Do you think knowledge of the massacre has literally been reduced to the sidebar it has been given in the new textbooks?

Emily: I don't think the Nanjing Massacre is something Japanese students learn of in full, unless individual teachers have a passion for teaching the subject. The textbook in question did reduce the subject to a small sidebar, but the textbooks put out by the other publishers don't dedicate much to the subject either. I believe part of the problem is that these history textbooks, which are rather thin, cover the entire history of Japan from ancient times to the present. The supplemental material we filmed, developed by scholars from China, Korea, and Japan, does give the subject a much fuller treatment.

The Japanese teacher who protested the new textbook and was suspended for not standing during the national anthem claims that current education is preparation for war, yet the university student says that the majority of Japanese education is anti-nationalistic saying, "We're taught we're a horrible country that triggered World War II." Lee, do you think Chinese have any knowledge of this part of Japanese education? And Emily, which of the two attitudes did you experience growing up in Japan?

Lee: I think it's assumed that most Japanese are educated in denial. Professor Wu, one of the collaborators on the joint history textbook, believes that the vast majority of Japanese scholarship leans far to the right. For him, the acceptance of Japan's militaristic past is a relatively new development. We actually spent most of our interview talking about how Japanese "peace" scholars are ostracized in Japan. At the same time, he pointed out that Japanese scholars have been responsible for uncovering many documents key to the history of the Nanjing massacre. So I think there's an acknowledgment that there are different forces at play.

Emily: I didn't go through the educational system in Japan, so my experience is not typical. But my parents were fond of documentaries, and they made me sit through historical films from a very young age. So I've been exposed both to films about the U.S. transgressions in Japan during the war, as well as about Japanese atrocities in China.

A female student in the Japan story implies that the protest in China was simply a convenient way for the regime to bolster its own one-party system. Did you meet any cynic in China that felt the same?

Lee: I met a lot of cynics, but none that were comfortable going on camera. I talked to quite a few students who thought that the protests were, at best, a trendy thing to do, and at worst, a product of government brainwashing. But I tend to take the middle ground on this. I think you can't underestimate the urge to just get out into the street and protest. There's got to be some kind of release valve, and for many students this was a rare opportunity to participate in a state-sanctioned scream. But letting a little steam out can be a dangerous thing. The party leadership is treading a dangerously thin line here. On the one hand, the protests provide them with enormous political leverage. But they can also threaten to get way beyond party control, and anything that is a force for instability is seen as a threat to the party.

Do you see potential China-Japan flare-ups occurring again?

Emily: I think competition for energy will be the issue the two countries will have to contend with. China has been developing natural gas resources in the East China Sea in an area which both countries claim to be their Exclusive Economic Zone. Japan argues the Chinese development may be depleting reserves in the Japanese area. As Chinese demand for energy continues to grow, this will be the battle zone.

China is demanding that Japan acknowledge its war atrocities, offer an official apology and provide compensation to survivors. Have any of these demands been met? Do you think they ever will be?

Emily: Successive Japanese Prime Ministers have offered statements of apology since the 1970s. But they tend to be seen as insincere, and never fully accepted. Some say an apology by the Prime Minister is personal in nature, and that only with legislation enacted by the Japanese parliament can an apology be seen as official and representing the people of Japan. I'm not sure this will ever happen, as I think Japanese people feel as though they can never satisfy the demands of neighboring countries.

Prime Minister Koizumi's visits to the Yasukuni shrine are a nod to the Shinto belief that the soul remains on land eternally after death. Do you think that Koizumi's visits are perhaps as much a reflection of his faith as his politics?

Emily: Unlike President George W. Bush, I've never heard Koizumi speak of turning to his faith for guidance. The Japanese do honor the spirits of their ancestors and we have holidays specifically about paying our respects. I think he has respect for people who built the country. But my sense is that his visits are more about an election promise than about his faith.

Is there any faith-based counterpart to this belief about the war dead in China, Lee?

Lee: World War II really gave birth to the party leadership. So its remembrances are draped in the flag. The mythology and legitimacy of the party is grounded in the stories of strength and self-sacrifice from the war. So believing the party's interpretation of the war is, in a sense, a form of faith in the party.

Do you agree with the Professor Obinata's theory that nationalism has flourished in the recent "lost decade"? Have you seen a rise in nationalism since your childhood?

Emily: I do agree with Professor Obinata's observation about the rise of nationalism during the so-called lost decade. With the bursting of the economic bubble, many important aspects of Japanese life changed. In particular, people used to be hired by companies they could expect to stay with throughout their professional career. It might not have been their calling, but companies provided them with a sense of stability. That system has been disintegrating, and a university degree no longer guarantees a job, much less one that lasts a lifetime. So people have felt less security in their personal lives, while in the same period, North Korea began testing missiles over the Sea of Japan and China increased their military spending. The most apparent manifestation of the nationalism is the discussion about revising the constitution, which has gone from in the closet to public debates.

Lee: China has been anything but lost over the past decade, so the nationalism is motivated by a different force. It's not a feeling of loss, but the triumph of being found that seems to drive this new sense of pride in China. There's a strong vein of vindication in this nationalism. The great Chinese civilization was cowed by the Opium War and partition and Japanese invasion. But now the country is rising again to assume its natural place in the world. So in a sense, this is restoration politics.

Do you see tensions developing between Chinese amd Japanese student groups abroad?

Lee: This reminds me of a rumor I heard in a lot of parts of Shanghai this summer. The rumor goes that the Shanghai protests last April all started with a brawl between Japanese exchange students and local Chinese at a restaurant off-campus. I don't know how much truth there is to that story, but I definitely think that campuses will be a reliable place to look for sparks. It should be said though that there are huge numbers of Japanese (and Korean) students studying in China. They've built little Japan and Korea towns for themselves around many of the larger campuses and they've been coming to study in China for well over a decade now.

What arguments do the Chinese give for Japan not deserving a seat on the UN Security Council?

Lee: The main argument against granting Japan a seat is implicitly tied to history. In the eyes of the Chinese government, Japan has not given a sincere apology for atrocities it committed during the war. Its failure to apologize and atone for the past is taken as a signal that Japan is not ready for the responsibility that comes along with having a permanent seat on the Security Council. On a political note, I think it's important to look at the power shift that would accompany Japan's entry to the Security Council. The US is already the defacto military superpower in the Pacific Rim and the Bush administration has only strengthened the US-Japan alliance. So allowing Japan onto the Security Council presents a major threat to the balance of power as China sees it.

What was the hardest part about reporting this story? The most surprising? Enjoyable?

Lee: The hardest part was probably the writing. I started out assuming that Emily and I really saw eye to eye on the history of World War II and the current conflict. And I think for the most part we do. But I was surprised to find out how much little things like word choice could stir up issues for me. For example, in our summary for the web page, I wasn't sure if it was appropriate to use the term "historical rivals" to describe China and Japan. Japan did, after all, invade China, and I was uncomfortable with the idea that a conquering nation could be described as a rival to the country that it occupied.

Emily: The most surprising part about reporting this story happened when I tried to find history teachers to speak to me. I wanted to understand how history education had changed over the years, and ask about the directive issued by the Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education requiring students to stand while the anthem was played at school ceremonies. I was surprised to find most teachers were not willing to speak to me about the issue; they were afraid of stirring things up, and possibly getting into trouble by saying how things had shifted.

The most enjoyable part of reporting this story was having the opportunity to attend the 60th anniversary of the bombing in Hiroshima. I had visited Hiroshima before, but because many of the survivors of the bombing are of advanced age, it's very likely that many will not be here for the 70th anniversary of the war. It was touching to watch them attend with their grandchildren, praying for continued peace. And the lanterns floating down the river was breathtaking.