Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Learning the lessons of defeat

By Liu Yazhou (China Daily) Updated: 2014-04-28 07:20

When the relatively small island state of Japan waged war against the Qing Dynasty, it was gambling its fate. It intended to permanently occupy China and so studied and copied the Qing Dynasty's experience of shattering people's will and faith when overthrowing the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). This tactic was further employed in its war of aggression against China in the 20th century, during which the Japanese military committed appalling atrocities across China, including the Nanjing Massacre, which, to a certain extent, was a copycat crime of the 10-day mass killings of residents in Yangzhou by the Qing troops as a punishment and warning after they conquered the city from forces loyal to the former regime.

People's faith, nevertheless, could not be destroyed overnight. The Chinese nation used to have a strong character with aspiration and innovation, at least during the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC), a period that encouraged diverse thinking and during which people held dear to the Confucian principles of xin, yi and ren, meaning integrity, righteousness and benevolence. While with the establishment of the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC), the first unified and centralized power structure in Chinese history, autocratic monarchy began to flourish with the promotion of enslaving education, which started with the burning of books and burying of dissenting scholars. With the pillar of faith eroded throughout the imperial past, the Chinese nation fell into a state of disunity, which opened door to foreign intrusion. Mass killings were simply employed by the Japanese invaders as a convenient means of punishing and warning against resistance.

Despite all that, the defeat of the Qing court in the First Sino-Japanese War had far-reaching effects on the Chinese nation. To be precise, it was the First Sino-Japanese War, not the Opium Wars, which marked the awakening and rebirth of the Chinese nation. It was also a direct cause of the 1911 revolution, which brought down the feudal autocratic monarchy with a history of more than 2,000 years.

While for Japan, it had its first taste of gambling success, which took the island kingdom further down the road of militarism. Depending on its risk-taking spirit and surprise attacks, Japan later attained victory over the Russian forces in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05), but the sneak attack on the Pearl Harbor proved to be an enormous failure. Just as South Korean critic Lee O-young pointed out, Japan's idea of sneak attacks was inspired by the stealth kills in Japanese Kendo and Sumo. However, the battlefield of the Pacific War was a much larger arena, where Japan was doomed to stumble in its attempt to duplicate a bonsai success.

The Chinese version of the article was carried in Reference News.

(China Daily 04/28/2014 page10)

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