Japan from the inside out

Letter bombs (25): Chugoku or Shina?

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, December 13, 2012

Ishihara Shintaro (top) and Miishima Yukio in Tokyo, 1956

Ishihara Shintaro (top) and Miishima Yukio in Tokyo, 1956

READER Avery Morrow submitted a comment related to Chinese sinocentric culturalism with a link to an academic paper titled Shina as a toponym for China.

The Chinese call their nation 中国, or the country in the center (of the world), and also refer to China adjectivally as 中華, the flower in the center of the world. The standard name for the country in Japan is Chugoku, which is the Japanese reading of the characters that the Chinese use.

Some Japanese, however, prefer to use the term Shina. Avery quotes the paper:

The term Shina (支那) was originally popularized as an alternative to Chugoku 中国 because Japanese Rangaku scholars realized China was not actually the center of the world, but there are seven continents and over a hundred countries scattered around it.

The paper also points out that the term China was not standardized as the name for the country in English until the 20th century. The author adds:

As arguably China’s keenest observer and, on occasion, mercurial assessor, Japan had nothing to gain or lose — toponymically speaking — from which of the various names for China would carry on and which would be swept into the dustbin.

The Japanese who most often use Shina for China today are the sort of people that the self-anointed enlightened ones consider extreme right-wingers. The most well-known of these people is Ishihara Shintaro.

This upsets the Chinese, because it means that the upstart inferiors of Little Japan do not render them the proper deference due the flower in the center of creation.

Everyone, however, still refers to the East China Sea as the Higashi Shina Kai, and no one gets upset about that.

Last month, Hosono Goshi, the chairman of the Democratic Party of Japan’s Policy Research Committee and one of the party’s boy wonderfuls, complained about Mr. Ishihara’s word choice during an appearance on a television program. (The former Tokyo Metro District governor has published roughly 35 fiction and non-fiction books. Three have won awards, and his first novel, Season of the Sun, was the Novel of its Generation.)

Said Mr. Hosono:

It is a mistake for Ishihara Shintaro to call China Shina. China should also not call Japan “Little Japan”.

As if anyone in China cared what Mr. Hosono thinks. His statement was reported in China, and here are some of the Internet comments:

* That government official doesn’t seem to know that the use of the word Japan itself constitutes denigration. Big or little has nothing to do with it.

* I’ve never used little Japan. I’ve always used riben guizi or Japanese beasts myself. (Riben guizi is 日本鬼子, or very roughly, Japanese demon, but it packs a lot of history and negative associations.)

* How about if we use Little Japan Guizi?

* Let’s use Japanese devils.

* What’s the difference between Little Japan and Japan?

* What difference does it make? They’re just one of our provinces anyway.

No, Mr. Hosono is not ready for prime time, but then neither was his party.

Author and critic Kure Tomofusa explained the reason for the Japanese switch from Shina to Chugoku in the 19 November 2010 edition of the weekly Shukan Post. Here it is in English.

For more than 60 years after the war, Japan has associated with the country across the sea by muddling the examination of right and wrong. I write “the country across the sea”, and that country is known throughout the world as Shina or something of similar pronunciation. But only Japan and the countries on the Korean Peninsula have been compelled to call this country Chugoku. Both the government and the public have contributed to the muddling of right and wrong through this irrational control of speech.

I first pointed out this irrationality during the days of the Zenkyoto student protests. I insisted that the country should be called Shina. I have not wavered from that position even after becoming a commentator, though that position has been to my detriment several times. Right is right, and wrong is wrong.

Shina is derived from 秦 (Shin, or Manchu Dynasty), and it became the internationally accepted term for the country. In English it is China, and in France it is Chine, both of which are similar to the Japanese Shina.

This usage was prohibited in Japan in 1946 through a notification from a deputy foreign minister. At that time, Japan was occupied by the U.S. and the other Allied powers. News reports were submitted for screening prior to publication, and the publication of printed matter was suspended. With this as a backdrop, this unusual restriction on speech was issued requiring that the country be called Chugoku. The notification also included the frightening phrase that Shina was not to be used, “with no argument”.

Japan regained its sovereignty in 1952 with the peace treaty, yet both the mass media and educational institutions still use this unusual notification by a deputy minister. Have they not noticed that Chugoku was used through compulsion? Instead, many people believe in good conscience that Shina should naturally be prohibited because it is discriminatory and symbolic of the invasion.

Great Britain ended its invasion of China with the return of Hong Kong in 1997. Portugal ended its invasion of China with the return of Macau two years later in 1999. Both Great Britain and Portugal use the China/Shina terms, so where is the problem?

The meaning of Chugoku is “the country in the center of the world”. It is an arrogant word that denotes contempt for other countries. Shina is trying to force this on the surrounding countries that were once in its sphere of influence. The subject of discrimination is Japan. We must clearly differentiate right from wrong. Saying what should be said is the most basic of basics.


8 Responses to “Letter bombs (25): Chugoku or Shina?”

  1. While the Japanese are free to use whatever they like to call China, it can’t be denied that the reason that Ishihara and co are using the term “Shina” is because of the connotations surrounding it during the war. Btw I’m curious that you think that Ishihara is not an “extreme right-winger”. His statements regarding foreigners etc suggests that he is at that end of the political spectrum, or is he merely misunderstood?

  2. ACT said


    i found the comments on chinese web-blogs that you found to be both incredibly xenophobic, ethnocentric and amusing at the same time. i’m glad to know i was right about a research paper i did, which used roughly 37 pages of evidence from Hiromichi Moteki and his “Society for Historical Fact” the relevant document can be found here:, and contains basically everything you have outlined over the past two years. It also refutes the PRC claim completely, which–it turns out–is a blatant falsification of their own history. I’ve come to the conclusion that while the majority of the PRC’s citizenry couldn’t care less, a dedicated core of the population, as well as the CCP, have made their goal nothing less than the complete resurrection of the Chinese Empire, and–as a necessary step along the way–the total subjugation of Japan via the repaying ten-fold of what crimes the Kwantung army visited upon the Chinese in WWII. “Those with the eyes to see” indeed….

  3. @ACT

    That Society for Historical Fact is one that typically denies that Japan was an aggressor and Nanking was exaggerated/didn’t happen. While Chinese expansionism is a great concern, I’d take what is written there with a pinch of salt. I think particularly telling is their idea that there was some mass China-USSR-USA conspiracy against Japan.

  4. ACT said

    point taken. I tend to believe, however, that in this case they are correct; they certainly appear to have done their research.

  5. @ACT

    Then you might want to take a look at this It is pretty insightful as to what is China’s MO

  6. 1HcD said

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  7. […] Ampontan translates Tomofusa Kure saying: […]

  8. Mac said

    @ Hitokiri,

    Anyone who uses Japan Times as a reference immediately destroys their own credibility, unable as it is to publish an article without mentioning either Pearl Harbor or some rape or another.

    Brahma Chellaney comes across as a idiot for calling a ‘border dispute’ an “invasion”.

    Actually a study of history shows that Japan was not an aggressor. It was a victim of invasive Western Imperial ambitions and unequal treatment and did not strike back until it was laid down in a deathly stranglehold by those powers.

    Powers which had no right to be in or interfering with the region.

    It makes sense that if in English it is China and in French it is Chine, that in Japanese it should be Shina. “Chine, Shina …” what is the difference? Perhaps the Japanese could compromise adopt “Chine”? I agree they should did the ass kissing “Chugoku”.

    China is too much of a garbage producing, suppressive, despotic shitheap to claim to be the centre of anything right now … unless it is 中央公害?

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