Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Japan and China - a culture clash waiting to happen


Now that I've been back in the UK for a while, I feel I can finally start to reflect properly on my year living and working in Japan. Obviously, having first lived in mainland China and Taiwan, it is perhaps natural that I should compare Japanese culture to that of China. Whilst the two are, for obvious reasons, similar in many respects, and there is still much in the way of cultural cross-pollination, I think that even without the historical factors it is not surprising that the two cultures do not always get on.

Whilst Japanese seem, on average,to prefer the quiet seclusion of the shuttered rooms of the Izakaya, Chinese people seem to prefer the cheerful chaos of the Huo Guo. The intense privacy of the Japanese household, the fears that Japanese people often express about crime in their neighbourhoods despite the extremely low levels of crime found in Japan, the extreme sensitivity to danger, all show a culture in which fear of the outside or unusual are deeply ingrained and only ones closest associates and family are trusted. Next to Japan, China is a country of flamboyant risk-takers.

Japanese people are, in the main, formal and deferential to authority in the extreme - anyone who has stood in a Tokyo side-street and watched people waiting at a pedestrian crossing for the light to turn green when there is not a car in sight and the street itself is only a couple of yards across will know this. Chinese people, on the other hand, despite (or, perhaps, because of) coming from a culture dominated for centuries by centralised, authoritarian rulers, are much less deferential, much more willing to criticise authority - so long as such criticism will not reach the wrong ears.

You sense that, at least in comparison to Japanese society, the characterisation of Chinese culture as being essentially democratic may have some truth in it despite the misfortune that the Chinese have had in their dictatorial leaders. The flip-side to this is that the description seen on Chinese nationalist websites of Japan as an essentially feudal society may have a glimmer of truth in it despite the fact of Japan's democratic political system. On this basis, it is not surprising that Taiwanese democracy has delivered two changes of power in the last fourteen years, but that Japanese has only seen one real handover in almost 60 years - and that only last year and driven by a two-decade-long economic crisis.

26 comments:

Anonymous said...

You are right on only one point.
That is the character of Japanese and Chinese is different.
It is partially originated from each religious back ground, Confucianism and Shintoism.
But it is mainly from each history.
Chinese dynasties rose and had been massacred one by one Japanese dynasty has continued about 2000 years.
A Chinese professor said, "The Japanese trust others at first, trust even once are betrayed and when getting to rach conclusion that the man is distrustful, distrust the man. The Chinese distrust others at first, distrust even if been kindly treated and when getting to reach conclusion that the man is trsutful, trust the man."
So, Chinese is more democratic? No way! Democracy is based on liberal people, not selfish people.

FOARP said...

@Anonymous - Don't you think that it is necessary for people to know what their own interests are, and to express what those interests are and how they are not being met, before others can know how to serve those interests? If this is not the case, then a country can be ruled "democratically" by a wise elite who know what is in the interests of others without being told.

Furthermore, I do not believe that the mere act of requesting what is in your own interest is necessarily "selfish". Such a thing can only be "selfish" if it unnecessarily and disproportionately inconveniences others.

Trust and distrust - this is an interesting point. Do Japanese people trust everyone? In my experience they are more fearful of strangers than the average Chinese person. Chinese people often, for example, strike up conversations on trains or buses with complete strangers (not only foreigners like me, but with other Chinese people also). True, some may say that this is motivated by a desire to start a profitable relationship, but it does not show distrust. However, this could just be my experience.

Finally, there is the question of whether, even when acting in the interest of the entire country rather than a particular sub-set of the electorate, Japanese governments have been successful in pursuing the public interest. From the 50's until the 80's (let's forget about the first half of the 20th century) the answer is obviously "yes". However, the last two decades would seem to show the opposite.

By contrast, elections in China-influenced Taiwan deliver politicians representing a clearly defined section of the population, who pursue the interests of the people who elect them. At least in terms of GDP growth over the last 20 years, Taiwanese "selfishness" has trumped Japanese "liberalism".

said...

I try to write in english by web translation.

Change of government is not democracy. It was occured in Japan before 1945.Do you want to say that before WW2 ,Japan is more democratic nation than now ?

Denying of long-term political power by a democratic procedure is Denying of democracy.

The Japan Liberal Democratic Party is not best.but there is not the choice.Japan Socialist Party?Bullshit.

By the way,Change of government at 2009 is third time after 1945.

jhiojp_10 said...

China should stop the information control that you should use to the people if there is money to use in the war expenditures that had better notice one's country randomly

Anonymous said...

>Chinese people often, for example, strike up conversations on trains or buses with complete strangers (not only foreigners like me, but with other Chinese people also).

What a happy person you are!
You had better live in both countries, or at least do business with both people.

Btw, as another guy said, 2008 ruling party change is not the 1st one in Japan.
You should study the history correctly if you criticize other country's situation in public.

FOARP said...

@真 - Thank you for your reply.

Firstly, I am aware of the 1993 election, that is why I used the phrase "real handover".

Secondly, yes, you are right that more is required than mere changes in government for a system to be democratic. It should also be said that more is required than elections for a system to be democratic.

If people are not sufficiently interested in politics, or vote for the same party every time even if that party performs badly, then those people are not acting in the spirit of democracy. We see this in many countries, but I think it is particularly strong in Japan.

However, you do have a point about the relative lack of alternatives. The JSP was perhaps not a great alternative to the LDP. On the other hand, neither was the old (pre-Tony Blair) British Labour Party, but they won more than one election.

@Anonymous - I have worked in both countries, and done business with bother people.

Please don't get the idea that I think Japanese people are unfriendly - I don't, but I do think they are less out-going than Chinese people.

As for your other points, I think I answered them in my response to 真.

Anonymous said...

A Korean professor who is naturalized in Japan said, "In
first year, the Japanese seem very friendly. As a few years passes, they seem contradictory. Many foreigners leave here with this mysterious feeling. If you can bear this depayse situation for 5 years, you will understand real Japanese spirit."
>I have worked in both countries, and done business with bother people.

How many years?

>Please don't get the idea that I think Japanese people are unfriendly - I don't, but I do think they are less out-going than Chinese people.

I never said you thought the Japanese were unfriendly and what you said is the Chinese are more democratic than the Japanese.
Besides, I do not think the Japanese want to be thought friendly by China-interested person.

FOARP said...

@Anonymous - Is there something wrong with being a "China-interested person"? Since I presume you arrived here via Searchina, are you not also a "China-interested person"?

At any rate, I lived and worked in Osaka for a year, and for a bit more time in Tokyo. I also lived and worked in Taiwan for a year, and in mainland China for about five years. True, this does not make five years in Japan, so I have to make up my own mind based on my own experiences. If you are not happy with the result I would be glad to read your analysis.

said...

You say

Clone Tojo ,who is the leader of Japan Patriot Party ,was elected as the prime minister of japan (but parallel world) in 1990 ."Real handover ! ! !" "Viva Democracy ! ! !"

........at 1991,WW3 was started.

________________________________________________

It is democracy,indeed. But If C.Tojo is not elected ,it is not democracy ?

The necessary thing is choices.The change is a result of the choice, and the Not change is a result of the choice too.

Political apathy of Japan is a problem. but it is wrong that You demand an answer from national traits.

Your knowledge does not have the history before WW2.I think the first handover by election ouccerd at 1924.In the first place ,many anti-government people were chosen in the first election ,at 1890.

FOARP said...

@真 -

"Clone Tojo ,who is the leader of Japan Patriot Party ,was elected as the prime minister of japan (but parallel world) in 1990 ."Real handover ! ! !" "Viva Democracy ! ! !"

........at 1991,WW3 was started."


Ha! I think this would make an awesome movie - you should write a script and send it to Toho studios!

"It is democracy,indeed. But If C.Tojo is not elected ,it is not democracy ?

The necessary thing is choices.The change is a result of the choice, and the Not change is a result of the choice too."


True.

"Political apathy of Japan is a problem. but it is wrong that You demand an answer from national traits."

I do not think that Japanese culture is the only reason for Japan's political gridlock, but I do think it is a factor. Or do you think that the relative level of deference to authority has had no effect on Japanese politics?

"Your knowledge does not have the history before WW2.I think the first handover by election ouccerd at 1924.In the first place ,many anti-government people were chosen in the first election ,at 1890."

It is true that I am not an expert on Taisho-era Japanese history. That said, I do not think the record of one more democratic transfer of power between 1890 and the pre-war fall of democratic rule in Japan more than forty years later disproves my point.

Anonymous said...

>Is there something wrong with being a "China-interested person"?

Not at all.

>Since I presume you arrived here via Searchina, are you not also a "China-interested person"?

Yes but with opposite direction of yours.
I am observing China skeptically to wake up those who have illusions about China like you.
I think China is the evil ringleader of not only politics but also economics of the world.

>If you are not happy with the result I would be glad to read your analysis.

I am neither happy nor unhappy.

FOARP said...

@Anonymous - I too have extreme doubts about China. Particularly, I do not believe that China's present government can last, and I am afraid that if a peaceful transfer to democracy is not acheived, then at some point in the future war will be the result.

In the economic area, however, I cannot see China as being much worse than any of the other major economies. Certainly China has been accused of currency manipulation and dumping cheap products on the market, but many other countries have also.

Anonymous said...

>I cannot see China as being much worse than any of the other major economies. Certainly China has been accused of currency manipulation and dumping cheap products on the market, but many other countries have also.

China's GDP of 2009 is 92 times larger than that of 1978.
China's money supply of 2009 is 705times larger than that of 1978.
This means China has been printing 8 times more paper moner than the economy growth during corresponding period.
There has been no such country in history of the earth.

A-hao said...

I'm not sure to what extent Taiwan's democratisation can be taken as evidence for some kind of 'democratic' impulse inherent to Chinese culture (and the lack thereof in Japan). While the current KMT president used his new year (and Republic of China 100th anniversary) speech to take credit for the democratic transformation that he personally opposed at the time, the cultural roots of democratic politics in Taiwan are more complicated than that, and hard to simply label 'Chinese' in any meaningful way.

Having lived in Taiwan, you would be aware of the strong (and to many non-Taiwanese, puzzling) current of nostalgia amongst many Hoklo, Hakka and indigenous Taiwanese (i.e. 'benshengren') for the period of Japanese rule, which is 'remembered' by later generations as a gestational period for a unique Taiwanese identity separate from and in many senses opposed to 'China' (or more accurately opposed to the monotone version of 'Chineseness' promoted by KMT apparatchiks from the 50s to the 70s). The poems you linked to recently made this point about Taiwanese identity better than I can.

Of course the relationship between Taiwanese nationalism and the Taiwan democracy movement is complicated, but in terms of people, campaigns and goals there is a strong overlap. And when seeking the long-term roots of the democratisation movement, Taiwanese are, in my experience, just as likely to point to 1920s campaigns for a Taiwanese parliament and self-rule (i.e. Taiwanese autonomy within the Japanese empire) that were by and large inspired by liberal Japanese political activists rather than any distinctly 'Chinese' cultural impulse.

There is a whole can of worms that could be opened about how such historical arguments relate to the cultural politics of contemporary Taiwan, but I won't go into that. I just thought it should be acknowledged that the very people who you are using as evidence for your theory might find reason to disagree with you.

That said, I do think you are perceptive in saying that Chinese culture is a lot more egalitarian than it gets credit for (both in terms of western media depictions and implicitly in the CCP party-state's dismissal of dissent regarding the status quo from non-Chinese as a 'failure to understand Chinese society/culture/conditions/etc.'). It is for this reason that it is so important for Chinese activists and historians to counter this self-serving image of China needing a hegemonic despot by tracing an alternative story of democratic thought and action, in the manner that the Taiwanese mentioned above have done for their own society.

Sorry to post such a long comment but it is an interesting post.

said...

>script

The conception is yours.I only gave him a name.

>but I do think it is a factor.

Disregard of a bigger factor (Lack of the choices) is wrong.

>It is true that I am not an expert on Taisho-era Japanese history.

So ,first you should learn humbly and Systematically.

>the relative level of deference to authority

Too watching TV (Mito-Komon).I am disappointed in your understanding of Japan.

at 1947 JSP win. Why you don't recognize as real handover.it occured by fair democratic procedure.

You cut the history(selecting convenient events) and stick it on your opinion.It is not a right way .

at 2009 , the voting percentage is about 70% .It is bigger than USA(2008) and UK (2010).

Anonymous said...

Correction: 705times -> 705 times
moner -> money

Incidentally a few additions.
>Do Japanese people trust everyone?
If you know Japanese mind, to answer this question is not needed.
The Taiwanese are not equal to the Chinese.
Moreover, there is no genuine Han race because they have been slaughtered and mixed for thousands years and merely those who speak Chinese are called the Chinese.

FOARP said...

"Disregard of a bigger factor (Lack of the choices) is wrong."

If the point of this article were not cultural differences between China and Japan, you would have a stronger point here. However, culture is the point of this article, so concentrating on culture is correct in my opinion.

"Too watching TV (Mito-Komon).I am disappointed in your understanding of Japan."

I only wish I had had more opportunities to watch TV in Japan. Unfortunately for me, just like every other OL and salary-man I spent a lot of time in the office. Most of my opinions about Japanese culture come either from my friends in Japan or from my colleagues at work.

"at 1947 JSP win. Why you don't recognize as real handover.it occured by fair democratic procedure.

You cut the history(selecting convenient events) and stick it on your opinion.It is not a right way."


Since I was talking about the 1955 system, I do not think I was being too unfair.

"at 2009 , the voting percentage is about 70% .It is bigger than USA(2008) and UK (2010)."

Japanese people in general have a commendable sense of civic duty, and this is what I would ascribe these turnout statistics to. However, there seems to be little interest in policy per se.

@Anonymous - "The Taiwanese are not equal to the Chinese."

No. However, they are very closely related. In fact, Taiwan is much closer in culture and blood-relations to most of mainland China than Jiangsu is to Tibet, or Heilongjiang is to Xinjiang, or Yunnan is to Guangdong.

"Moreover, there is no genuine Han race because they have been slaughtered and mixed for thousands years and merely those who speak Chinese are called the Chinese."

This is only true to the same extent that there are no genuine English, Arab or Japanese races, since all of these are the results of mixing.

FOARP said...

@A-hao - Yeah. Nostalgia for the colonial period amongst the 本省人 (but not the real native Taiwanese, the 高山族) is more than a bit ridiculous. In geeky comic-book terms, it's like they Retcon-ed their entire history to make what was not exactly a great period for the Taiwanese into some kind of period of national foundation - something that anyone living in Taiwan at the time would probably have found laughable.

My point was not that Taiwan democratised due to its Chinese inheritance. Instead I only address the point that it has helped, rather than hinder, the development of democracy in Taiwan.

Anonymous said...

>This is only true to the same extent that there are no genuine English, Arab or Japanese races, since all of these are the results of mixing.

Are you making fun of others with mathematical demonstration?
Or Can't you argue with common understanding?

said...

>However, culture is the point of this article, so concentrating on culture is correct in my opinion.

I said that You are wrong in interpretation of Fact_A.

Fact_A occured by B.
Fact_A is almost unaffected by C.

You can talk about B (Fact_A,as an example)
You can't talk about C (Fact_A,as an example)

>Most of my opinions about Japanese culture come either from my friends in Japan or from my colleagues at work.

Do you know the japanese Humility,Pretense of evil,and Masochism (like this "handover in almost 60 years")

Did you count 60 ? When started? at 1948? at 1933?

i think you didn't count.

You just quoted what Someone said or wrote to fit your prejudice.

>Since I was talking about the 1955 system

so , please talk about 1947. Isn't that "handover " ? they (who are over 20 years old at 1947) support 1955system.

>there seems to be little interest in policy per se.

the word "Manifesto" imported from UK,is used as Election promise in Japan. there is no day i don't hear the the word.

>do you think that the relative level of deference to authority has had no effect on Japanese politics?

I declare"No".

i hope you don't pick up a piece of the fact to fit your prejudice.
you should make your opinion from all facts.

if you don't refer japanese history of 100years democracy,i don't want you to reply.

Anonymous said...

Dear Webmaster

Please do not bother to attempt logical dscourse with any J-nationalists posting on your site, it is pointless.

It is pure culture clash, nothing can be done to change minds.

The advice you got "you should study humbly and systematically" is typical of someone from one culture trying to boss around someone from another. Ditto this concept of "selfishness", ie. the poster -who I think is Japanese-is saying that you should not even request because it goes against the group.
Culture clash again.

Finally, "if you don't refer japanese history of 100years democracy,i don't want you to reply." is the final and most ridiculous thing I ve heard.

So Tojo was a democrat was he? He was HITLER's FRIEND.

Japan, Taiwan, south Korea are all post fascist countries and are making various progress to democratize, but the war against fascism only ended 65 years ago. Thats not even a lifetime, and nothing in historical terms.

Finally, this was very true:
A Korean professor who is naturalized in Japan said, "In
first year, the Japanese seem very friendly. As a few years passes, they seem contradictory. Many foreigners leave here with this mysterious feeling."

The only place I have been to where certain people got less friendly as time went by. Perhaps I wasn't humble or self sacrificing to the group enough!

FOARP said...

Yeah, the whole "If you don't say X then don't reply" thing is where I stop trying to debate. The only thing I will say for Japanese nationalists is that they seem a (relatively) polite bunch compared to the kind of crazed fascists you see on Chinese nationalist websites like Hidden Harmonies.

Anonymous said...

"The only place I have been to where certain people got less friendly as time went by. Perhaps I wasn't humble or self sacrificing to the group enough!"

No. You do not seem to have read out what I would like to say.
The reason why you felt so is that you could not bear the depayse situation and could not understand true Japanese kindness.

Anonymous said...

>The only place I have been to where certain people got less friendly as time went by. Perhaps I wasn't humble or self sacrificing to the group enough!

I have read her the Korean professor's book.
Her conclusion is that those who could not bear the depays situation would often criticize Japan.

Anonymous said...

shin

After three months, I find

two cowards who are speaking ill without logical Opinion

3.11 earthquake in northeastern Japan

Change of government at 2009 was wrong undoubtedly.

However, if the LDP wins at 2009, two cowards must say that there is not democracy in japan. Because they pick up pieces of fact to fit their prejudice.

FOARP said...

I really hope you are not trying to say that I am a coward on this.

Once again, I'm not saying that Japan is not democratic. I'm merely saying that, in as much as culture has an effect, Chinese culture is in some way more democratic.