Sunday, September 06, 2015

Celebrating 70 Years since the End of the Japanese War of Aggression

Sitting at the gate to the airport expressway I chatted with my usual driver, Mark. Mark grew up near Beijing, but not in it. He was in the PLA for a number of years as was his father for 20 years. Mark is now mostly a driver, has a wife and kids, aspires to have his own business for running tours both in Chinese and English. We were sitting at the gate for near to 30 minutes. This is what happens when someone important comes to Beijing, the whole highway gets closed off to ordinary people so that the important person can have a smooth drive to the city center (which it otherwise would definitely not be). We talked about who it might be that was coming in, would it be Putin? In just a couple days time the parade celebrating the 70th anniversary of the end of the War of Japanese Aggression (WWII to the rest of the world) would be full on. The city had been practicing for weeks and Mark spent some of the time while we waited showing me footage captured on his phone of tanks and trucks passing intersections near where he lives downtown. The images were had to see as they were blocks away from where he was standing, guards were posted to keep people at a distance. The rest of the time we talked about the war, our families, and a bit about China. Mark said that to end the war in China it took America, Russia, and China in that order. Sounds about right to me. He also said that had not China been so large, the Japanese probably would have taken the country. Seems about right too. 
As we sat there at the gate, chatting, I kept looking at Mark and wondering how he couldn't be frustrated in the least that we spent 30 minutes not moving. I had hired him to pick me up, I had an errand I needed a car for, but his deal is that he charges by the hour and not when stuff like this happens. He was sitting there with me for free. Yet his face was calm, he didn't complain at all. I am often struck by this feature of Chinese people. First, that they remain calm in situations where many other nationalities would be blowing a gasket. Second, that they remain calm when their government does something that is clearly at their expense. 

The parade to commemorate the end of the war cost a lot of money to put on. Even more so, it cost people because of weeks of closed roads, closed business, travel restrictions, and even restrictions on residents in some places to stay in their homes. All of this so a parade could be put on that would be seen by a select few in person, while the rest of Beijing was standing at intersections watching the tanks roll by a few blocks away. I watched the parade on tv like the rest of Beijing, though I could see jets and helicopters buzzing downtown from my window. Whenever something flew over downtown I would check my tv to see what it was.
While I fully appreciate that China wants to celebrate the end of the war, I wonder if having a military parade with tanks and jets is the best way to celebrate a 70 peace. A few days later I went with a friend to the National History museum. They had an exhibit on the 70th anniversary of the war. It was a tasteful display with a number of interesting pieces of war time propaganda and photographs of Chinese troops.   

Many western leaders did not attend the ceremony and while the reasons are complex I did see a few statements about it being a military parade. Most notably Russia and S. Korea did attend, but Japan and the US along with other nations did not. It is understandable why Japan wouldn't want to attend. Many in Japan have felt the tension with China and Korea as both countries have ramped up nationalistic fervor in the past decade or two just as most Japanese have lost interest in apologizing for the war. I can't blame the Japanese of today for no longer wanting to apologize for a war they had no part in, but there have been a number of provocations as well on Japan's side, especially from their now prime minister, such as visiting the Yasakuni Shrine (a topic worthy of another blog) Interestingly, it was the emperor who said on this anniversary that Japan was remorseful, while prime minister Abe basically said nothing. Aya and I have had a few discussions about this and concluded that Japan should be remorseful, but isn't obligated to be anymore. Am I liable for the sins of my grandfather? I would say not, but confronted with them I would express remorse. 

Sitting at that highway gate with Mark I told him that one of my grandfathers had fought against Germany, then had his daughter marry a German and his grandson a Japanese. The other grandfather fought in Korea (against the Chinese no doubt). I said I was sorry if that was the case, but the world was different then. Mark said, "it doesn't matter, things change". Seems about right. 

NEH Rethinking the Gilded Age and Progressive Era

This summer I had the pleasure of attending the Rethinking the Gilded Age and Progressive Era set up by the NEH, Robert Johnston (among others), and the University of Illinois Chicago. It was a wonderful experience and I can't wait to apply for a third NEH program in the future. My first was Chinese Film and Society two years ago and that too was a great program. 

As with my first institute I learned many things both from the leaders of the program and the other teachers who were there. We took a number of tours around Chicago labor movement sites from the Pullman Factory grounds to Haymarket Square and the stockyards in S. Chicago. Though too many to list, we had a number of great speakers and readings which lead on to some very interesting discussions about the labor movement and progressive era in US history and which for me made a great connection to the second gilded age that we live in today. I have actually formed a lesson that I will try in the spring of this year in which I posit the place and responsibilities of community, employer, employee, and consumer to each other. It should be a fun lesson as China now has many factory cities which I can use as examples of the extremes employers go to both in their paternalism and in their desire to see a happy workforce as well as the fact that Chinese labor is not allowed to organize (without permission). 
I will be looking for the new postings for the summer of 2016, which should be coming some time around December of 2015.