Japan from the inside out

Do the Chinese hate the Koreans more than they hate the Japanese?

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, October 14, 2010

DURING A VISIT to a large bookstore last weekend, I noticed a new and prominent display of non-fiction books about China. That’s not at all surprising considering recent events, and there are probably similar displays in bookstores throughout the country. Several books seemed to be worth reading, but the first one I came home with was Gaikokan ga Mita ‘Chugokujin no Tainichikan’ (The Chinese View of Japan as Seen by a Diplomat), by Michigami Hisashi, just published in August.

Mr. Michigami is a former Foreign Ministry official who specialized in Korean affairs. He studied the Korean language at the University of Seoul, served in the Political Section of the Japanese Embassy in South Korea, and was also stationed for two years in China (2007-2009).

One section of his book features dialogues he conducted with prominent Chinese scholars, media figures, public officials, and businesspeople, whom he identifies only with the collective Mr. A. One of those dialogues has the title, “Do the Chinese Hate the Koreans More Than They Hate the Japanese”? It captures in miniature some of the problems in East Asian relations. Here it is in English.


Michigami: Here’s something I noticed when I read several Chinese newspapers. Most of the articles about Japan had a positive tone, and there was a tendency to talk about improved political (relations). I was surprised by the articles about South Korea, however. There was a tendency for the emotions at the popular level of friction and mutual disparagement to frequently appear in the media, rather than criticism at the governmental level. One public opinion survey in China showed that the country the Chinese most disliked was South Korea, followed by Japan. Incidentally, the country best liked by the Chinese in the survey was Pakistan, followed by Russia in second place and Japan in third.

A: There are also articles about how the people in Seoul treat Chinese. While they are kind to Japanese and Westerners, their attitude gets worse when they find out their customers are Chinese. Signs display shops with “No Stealing” written in Chinese. The Chinese who visit South Korea come back with a bad impression.

There is the criticism that South Korean television programs stereotype Chinese as barbarians from a backward country. The Chinese are always depicted wearing shabby clothes, the airport employees demand bribes, gangster groups are kidnapping or killing South Koreans, and fat Chinese send out for prostitutes from their hotels.

Some articles in the print media also contain detailed criticisms of how South Korean historical dramas distort China. The complaint is that they sensationalize serious historical subjects and reduce them to the level of pure entertainment. For example, a poem by Mao Zedong was written on a folding screen in the background of a scene with Emperor Yang of the Sui Dynasty (in the early 7th century). Programs have also identified the four great inventions of ancient China as South Korean cultural legacies.

There are stories that Chinese Internet users were very angry when some heartless South Koreans wrote on the Net after the Szechuan Earthquake that they were glad to see a reduction in China’s population. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak was visiting China at the time of the earthquake, and he visited the stricken areas. South Korea also sent personnel to help with the relief efforts, but I’ve heard that the writings on the Net had more of an impact. South Koreans fluent in Chinese are very assertive on Internet sites and don’t hold anything back.

Michigami: That’s regrettable, even though South Korean television dramas and young singers are also very popular in China. The historical disputes over Goguryeo and Balhae were already causing emotional antagonism between the people of the two countries. There are several times, or even ten times, more South Korean businesspeople and students than their Japanese counterparts throughout China. That might also be a factor behind the many instances of trouble or friction.

A: In addition to the disturbances when the Olympic flame relay passed through Seoul before the Beijing Olympics (c.f., here and here), there was also excitement in both countries about the women’s archery competition. South Koreans complained that the Chinese spectators were so noisy it affected the archery competition, which requires a high level of concentration. The Chinese shot back that there were more South Korean fans than Chinese, and the competition in the finals was conducted fairly.

Michigami: The South Koreans were livid about the conditions that resulted from the Olympic flame relay in Seoul, and the newspapers were harsh in their criticism. One asked, what right do the Chinese have to gather in the middle of Seoul, the capital of another country, and conduct such violent acts. Another asserted that the Chinese behavior planted an image in South Korean minds that China is an undignified, immature country. This was a blow to the Chinese reputation. The articles about archery (in South Korea) were even bigger the year after the Olympics. During the Japan-South Korea match in the Beijing Olympics, the South Koreans were shocked that most of the booing was directed at them rather than the Japanese. Booing anyone bothers me, and I would like to avoid these internal rifts among East Asians.

(end translation)

* Who knew that Pakistan would be the country the Chinese liked the best?

* Comparisons are odious, as Shakespeare had it, but it is worth noting the differences in international attitudes toward flame wars fought by post-adolescent Internet cybertoughs with more time on their hands than computer games can kill. The Anglosphere went through a period about 15 to 20 years ago when people got carried away with the freedom that anonymous and unlimited discussions of controversial topics on-line provided, and entire sections of the medium sank below the least common denominator. Those around at the time will remember the ugly logorrheic stupidity, particularly from college guys logging in with free .edu accounts when Internet service was still expensive for some. (It became a running joke that posters with .edu accounts were the least likely participants to have anything intelligent to say.)

Most everyone else has realized what a waste of time all that is. Some semi-lucid boyos still loiter looking for trouble, showing up more frequently in the comment sections of newspapers rather than independent websites, but they’re usually either ignored or made sport of.

That doesn’t seem to be the case in East Asia. Everyone’s seen how tediously relentless some South Koreans (and South Korean emigrants to English-speaking countries) can be about certain issues on the Internet, but few in the Anglosphere waste their time on more than a sentence or two before hitting the Delete button.

This dialogue suggests that’s not the case in China, however. The Chinese seem to be dead serious about it all. Perhaps that’s to be expected given the lack of normal outlets for political expression, the limitations under which even Internet discussion is conducted, and the sharp gender imbalance in a country of more than 1.3 billion, which means there are an awful lot of edgy guys with an awful lot of bottled-up energy and no way to turn it loose. The Chinese eugenicists—yes, that’s exactly what they are—are now reaping what they’ve sown, which has created that much more unpleasantness for the rest of the world.

During the recent Senkakus flap, the Japanese media reported that China’s political leadership was very aware of, and playing to, popular sentiment as expressed through the Internet. American politicians, if my observations at a distance are correct, tend to discount the distorting factor of mass Internet bleating unless the dissatisfaction manifests itself through other channels as well.

Japanese Internet opinion seems to be just as distorted. For example, Ozawa Ichiro was the runaway winner in many on-line surveys and polls during the recent Democratic Party presidential campaign, but he lost the real election to Kan Naoto. Conventional opinion polls show the margin of public disapproval of Mr. Ozawa to have been even greater than Mr. Kan’s margin of victory.


I was going to leave the music out of this one today, but 21st Century Schizoid Man came up with the perfect choice:

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14 Responses to “Do the Chinese hate the Koreans more than they hate the Japanese?”

  1. kushibo said

    “Programs have also identified the four great inventions of ancient China as South Korean cultural legacies.” …

    “There are stories that Chinese Internet users were very angry when some heartless South Koreans wrote on the Net after the Szechuan Earthquake that they were glad to see a reduction in China’s population.”

    I have no doubt that Chinese netizens do read about such things on the Internet, but it’s an entirely different matter whether or not they’re true. Some of the Chinese reports apparently cite fictitious professors at real or fictitious universities, take extreme fringe Youtube videos and say they are on KBS or MBC, etc. It takes on a life of its own, especially when the government is encouraging it.

    South Korea (and Japan) make for good bogeymen, and if you don’t have nonsense coming from Seoul or Tokyo leadership to whip up the Chinese people’s anger, you need to make stuff up about the people.

    I have never heard anyone in Korea claiming, say, gunpowder was Korean. In fact, it wouldn’t be too hard for a Korean to learn that Choe Musŏn is credited with obtaining the “recipe” for it from China. These stories of the latest outrageous claim from Korea rarely ring true, but they do sound like what Chinese agitprop think Koreans might think about China.

    The part about a lot of Koreans thinking China is dirty is true, though. That’s because they’ve been to China and seen a lot of dirty places. By contrast, Koreans generally think Japan is very clean because, well, so many Koreans have been there and they see that most of Japan is like Korea’s cleanest neighborhoods.

    That said, no one deserves bad treatment based on their background, and I have no doubt there are some KoKo merchants or whoever who do in fact treat Chinese patrons badly. That kind of thing has to stop; it’s simply not acceptable. At the very least, I hope South Korean media picks up on that part of the equation.

    When I’m back in Seoul, I’ll try to pay more attention to Chinese-language signs and see if I can discern their meaning and if they’re any different from the signs you might find in English and Japanese (and Korean).
    K: Thanks for the note.

    It’s the net. One isolated instance is enough to get everything blown out of proportion. One crazy guy can get carried away with himself on a late-night discussion program talking about the ancient inventions, and there you go. Did DiCaprio really say something bad about Koreans, for example? That’s how things get carried to extremes.

    What interests me is that people don’t blow it off here like they seem to do in the West.

    – A.

  2. Edward said

    Simple answer? No.
    I guess you missed that part about the public opinion survey in the newspaper.

    – A.

  3. Governments propogate lies to foster internal cohesion.

    Not news. Is it accelerating? Diminishing?

    Having 25,000,000 men without realistic chance of female partners, unless they accept polyandry, does suggest a need for a war, successful or not. Again, not news.

    How do you feel about it? Does Japan’s media have an opinion? Have they suggested that Japan can assemble say 250 nuclear devices inside 24 hours? How often, how recently?

    I expect ramping up without warfare, over the next ten years as economic stresses accumulate? These are probably just escape valves, with Japan being more passive, as befits a 12 to 1, by then, discrepancy in population. Nuclear arms tend to equalise forces, however?

  4. Sorry, Ampotan, I neglected to answer, while chinding you!

    There is no such thing as the Chinese! Han? Chin? Tibetan? Uighur? Thirty others? Yes. But I doubt that any more than three hate any of their neighbours in foreign countries and that may pale compared to internal tensions between neighbouring provinces of an Imperial Dominion!

  5. Aceface said

    “Who knew that Pakistan would be the country the Chinese liked the best?”

    No big surprise.Pakistan is the only Chinese neighbor that the bilateral ties were not effected by the border dispute.However,China does hold certain amount of area in Kashimir of which Pakistan claims theirs.

  6. 21st Century Schizoid Man said

    Excellent! I almost used Everybody Needs Somebody to Love (Pickett live version), but passed. This is better and I added it as an update.

    – A.

  7. 21st Century Schizoid Man said

    I am flattered 🙂

  8. Harry said

    Here are two Chinese blogs translated by Searchina.



    China and South Korea disagree over North Korea. Most recently, Seoul is very unhappy with Beijing’s support of Pyongyang regarding the ROKS Cheonan sinking. Given the history of the Korean War, I find this trend deeply troubling. It seems to me that China is perpetuating the status quo, the divided peninsula, by condoning whatever North Korea does.

    China and Pakistan think that they confront the common rival, India. The Indians are very wary of this relationship and the Chinese posture on the Senkaku Islands. Ampontan, please read the following article on JBpress to better understand the Chinese view of Pakistan and Tibet as well as the Indian view of China and her neighbors, including Japan and Vietnam.

    インド人の見る尖閣問題 The Senkaku Affair: Indian Perspective

  9. Roual Deetlefs said


    The question is whether all these political shenanigans are in fact bread and circuses, or in fact sabre-rattling … the government and the populace … whose delusions is fueling whose ??? I guess I’ll never know.

    My father really loved the music of The Platters

  10. Roual Deetlefs said

    … but I always liked this one …

  11. Roual Deetlefs said


    Vir die weëmoediges … (for the melancholics)

  12. Magus said


    China IS supporting the status quo. China does not want North Korea to reunite for several reasons.

    1.) They helped them separate to begin with. I’m sure there are plenty of good ol’ boys hanging around the PRC and PLA’s upper ranks.

    2.) A united Korea means South Korea sharing a large land border with China. For China, this would be disastrous (well, it wouldn’t be disastrous, at all. But if your job as a military general / high-ranking CPC member in China is to inflate your country’s power to its highest limit for no reason other than to control everything, then it’d be a disaster). As it stands, North Korea gives China lots of bargaining chips. The US can’t unilaterally condemn China over things that it very much wants to condemn them for because then China can basically filibuster any North Korea nuclear talks or penalties. In addition to that, South Korea is a nationalistic country with lots of regional power aspirations and a US-backed military. If South Korea controlled all the way up to the border, it means South Korean and US troops way up there, too. It means border-situated radars penetrating thousands of miles into militarily-sensitive areas. In China’s eyes, rightfully so, a united Korea presents a significant militarily weak eastern front. It also destroys their access via North Korean ports to the Japan Sea that they have worked so hard to get. And especially as China eyes regional, if not global hegemony on the scale of the modern US with absolute resolve, they absolutely cannot afford to lose North Korea or let Taiwan declare official independence. Doing so would solidify the US’s “first island-chain,” close any hopeful openings on their eastern sea and land borders, and destroy most hope of their ~much~ coveted future blue water navy in the Pacific and further.

  13. RMilner said

    It is true there is no unified Chinese nation, how could there be when even a nation with a long shared history like the UK is riven with divisions between Scots, English, Welsh and Cornish?

    That said, the dominant tone on the internet seems to come from “elite” Han Chinese teenagers and students. Not that I read a lot of it, only the comments in English. The job of the Chinese government is to somehow prevent the multiple social stresses from blowing their hegemony apart. Vilifying someone else is a good place to start.

    South Korea itself has the image of being extremely xenophobic, again, based on the English-speaking blogosphere which no doubt gives a biased view. The Koreans I have met personally (by luck, mostly women) were individually nice and interesting people.

    Pakistan the most favourite nation? For God’s Sake, why? They are trying hard to build on a democratic, rule of law system imposed on them by the end of the British Raj, but it has not gone very well. Surely there are more successful places to admire.

    All such reports and opinions should be taken with a big pinch of salt. An independent media studies survey of newspaper activity in China would be a useful reference in judging such things.

  14. Thank you for this absolutely super post . Will now more daily . Greetings from Cologne

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