26 December 2013

China: the mote and the beam

China is officially pissed at the Japanese prime minister's visit to the Yasukuni Shrine, as it is whenever a government official visits that Shinto memorial to the Japanese dead of World War II. Because Yaskuni memorializes the country's war leaders, including convicted war criminals, as well as ordinary soldiers, China and other Asian nations treat any visit to the shrine by a Japanese politician the way Americans would treat one of their own raising a Confederate flag. There's nothing new about this, except arguably for a more unrepentant stance from a Japanese government grown weary of an international code of political correctness and perhaps as defensive toward its "heritage" as some American southerners are. But for me, what made the day interesting is that China's leaders went on to celebrate the 120th birthday of Mao Zedong. Granted, no foreign country has as much cause to complain about China honoring Mao as some countries have when the Japanese honor, let's say, General Tojo. Unless one persists in thinking of Tibet as a separate country from China, Mao at least refrained from spreading his terror beyond his own borders. But if China complains about the commemorations at Yasukuni because the Japanese killed a lot of Chinese, some may argue that Mao killed more. He at least shares the blame for the dead of the civil war against Chiang Kai-shek, and gets it all when we count the victims of purges after his victory. Many want to blame him for the millions of deaths from famine resulting from his Great Leap Forward policies, while the Chinese government itself notes that his Cultural Revolution was a "serious mistake." The official Chinese statement on Mao's birthday distances the government and party from the old cult of personality while suggesting that he remains an indispensible historical figure without whom China's current power and prosperity would have been impossible. They cannot condemn Mao as much as some historians (or ideologues) would like, it seems, without discrediting the entire revolution and their current form of government. The rest of the world would have little difficulty characterizing Mao as a mass murderer; some might take offense at China's refusal to recognize him as such. When the Chinese take the trouble to explain why they refuse, they might think about being more indulgent when other countries behave similarly -- or else they might set a precedent for moral consistency worldwide by making no excuses for atrocities anywhere.

Meanwhile, South Korea also protested the Yasukuni visit. I've no problem with that, though the North Koreans might.

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