News of the detention of four people who posed for photos next to the site of a famous 1930’s battle while wearing replica Japanese military uniforms of the era was widely welcomed online.
The photos of the four provocateurs have been widely shared online over the past two weeks. The snaps had been taken in front of the Joint Trust Warehouse, or Sihang Cangku, where dozens of Chinese soldiers died defending the city from Japanese invasion 80 years ago.
Unsurprisingly, the young men were condemned for insulting the soldiers who gave their lives.
A notice published Wednesday by Shanghai police on its official Sina Weibo says that three of the five provocateurs (including the one who took the photo) will be detained and two will be “educated.”
Many even called for them to be harshly punished, with some drawing a parallel with the two Chinese tourists who were recently arrested in Berlin for performing the Nazi salute and may face criminal charges. However, there is no law in China that specifically applies to such behavior.
To Da Zhigang, director of the Heilongjiang Provincial Academy of Social Sciences’ Institute of Northeast Asian Studies, such behavior shows some young people’s ignorance and lack of respect for history in general.
“Such things don’t happen by chance. It reveals problems in our young people’s view of history,” Da told the Global Times. “While criticizing these people, we should also reflect on how young people are educated about history.”
Challenging the bottom line
One of the posers said taking the shots was as exciting as stealing a manhole cover. “There are so many people around the Sihang Cangku in the evening. So taking a photo is like stealing a manhole cover – we finished it in several seconds,” the photo-taker wrote in their caption for the pictures.
Shangdizhiying_5zn, the netizen who first spotted and spread the images, wrote that he felt “a gust of undeniable anger shooting throughout his body” when he first saw them as they “touched his bottom line.” Then he quickly posted the pictures on Weibo, hoping the disrespect for the historical site would get the attention of the government.
In 1937, about 400 Chinese soldiers confronted tens of thousands of Japanese at the warehouse, and successfully held them off until the bulk of the Chinese forces were able to retreat. Now a museum, it is considered an important relic of the war.
“Now some people don’t feel grateful. Instead, they wear the enemy’s uniforms and take photos at the site where the martyrs shed their blood and write mocking captions. To me, such behavior is no different from peeing and pooing over the martyrs’ remains,” wrote Shangdizhiying_5zn.
“In Germany, giving a Nazi salute would land one in prison. How will [the relevant department] deal with people taking photos in Japanese military uniforms at a site where China fought against the Japanese army? A simple apology cannot settle the matter,” a netizen wrote.
The matter of respect towards the war often sparks anger. On Tuesday, several emojis featuring stills from the documentary 22, which features 22 Chinese women who were forced into sex slavery by the Japanese army durng World War Two sparked public outrage.
Also recently, two young men were detained for 10 days after dressing up in Japanese military uniforms in Binyang county, the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, which was occupied by Japanese forces in 1940. Photos of the incident showed that they made chopping and stabbing gestures with their bayonets. They were soon encircled by a mob of hundreds and would likely have been thrashed if the police hadn’t come to their rescue. Later, the pair said that they were trying to get online attention.
“The most terrible thing is they may not have realized that they are challenging people’s bottom line of respect for history,” noted Da.
These youngsters dressing in Japanese uniforms are often referred to as “jingri” online, which literally means “Japanese in spirit.”
There has been little research into the size, identity or motivations of this “reverse-nationalist” group. Some suspect online jingri are actually Japanese rightists pretending to be Chinese.
Netizens are labeled as jingri if people think they have sided with right-wing Japanese forces, insulted China or argued with more patriotic netizens.
One jingri netizen called Daribendiguo (literally Japanese Empire) wrote that Japan’s invasion was a good thing, arguing that aimed to liberate China from the dictatorial government of Republic of China leader Chiang Kai-shek.
Shangdizhiying_5zn told the Global Times that while he is not quite sure whether the four photo-takers had done any other inappropriate activity, information provided by other netizens seems to show that some of them previously visited the Yasukuni Shrine and even have connections with right-wingers in Japan.
After he published the post exposing the four photo-takers , he received threats online from people who he believed are jingri.
“Judging whether someone is jingri must be based on their remarks and behavior over a long period, not simply from their cosplay in Japanese military uniforms,” said Shangdizhiying_5zn, “The key is whether they can distinguish between right and wrong on major issues.”
Da said that these young people might have just been doing these things for fun, or to become famous online, but that they definitely “have incorrect views on history.”
“Historical nihilism, revisionism and exaggeration are all rampant and even self-hating views on history,” said Da. “All this, particularly in the information era, has affected young people’s view of history.”
“Games, cartoons and so on that randomly change history may have more influence on young people than history textbooks,” said Da, “In Japan, beautifying war and distorting history are carried out through cartoons, through which many learn about history.”
“Besides, in this Internet era, young people can easily learn how other countries interpret our history, including the history of the war against Japanese aggression, which would affect their view of history too,” said Da.
According to Da, many Chinese students who previously studied in Japan would use the name “Japanese-Sino war” to describe the war of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1931-45), which “blurs the nature of the war.”
“Now prejudice against Chinese students is eased in Japan, and many students feel Japanese society is appealing in many aspects, particularly against some problems in Chinese society,” said Da.
The other day, two Chinese tourists who performed Nazi salutes in Berlin were arrested by German police. Besides fines, they may face criminal prosecution also, according to Germany’s law on Nazi-related matters.
Their arrest was applauded by many Chinese netizens, who said that it would be a good lesson for those who do not respect history. Many hope that the Shanghai provocateurs, and others like them, will be equally punished.
While they have been detained by local police, some are calling for a specific law to be introduced to target this kind of behavior, following in Germany’s footsteps.
“There should be a limit regarding history. It is about time to put making a law on the agenda, as such things happen again and again,” said Da, “The law is to make people respect history, instead of making punishment its goal.”
“These people, now having alerted us, provide a good chance for us to ponder over how to deal with such problems and to reflect on our present education of history among the young,” said Da.
Da says that to combat the confusion of the information era, an authoritative version of history should be spread widely. “Education of the correct view of history and peace should be reinforced and a correct historical record should be carried forward to wake up people’s respect and awe for history,” he said.
“But education should not be rigid and emphasize cramming. It’s a better idea to create related products that are appealing to the young,” said Da.