ZHENG: A lesson in civility

I call my parents about once a week. My mom, always the practical one, goes to painstaking lengths to make sure that I am not overspending my money (difficult to do in New Haven), that I have been checking ticket prices for my flight back home (haven’t done that yet) and so on. Dad, a university professor, is more interested in the classes I’m taking, and he likes to discuss politics and social issues.

That is why I was a little surprised when it was my mom who brought up the ongoing dispute between Japan and China over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. Both countries assert sovereignty over the islands, and the issue has long been a focal point of nationalist antagonism, especially for the Chinese. The Japanese government’s decision last week to purchase the islands from a private Japanese owner have sparked mass demonstrations and riots across China.

My mom, being who she is, wasn’t exactly concerned about who the islands actually belonged to. She was much more worried about the safety of our car, a newly purchased Toyota Corolla. As the political tension escalated in the past week, reports of vandalism and rioting have become commonplace in Chinese cities. Japanese department stores, Japanese cars (most of which, ironically, are made in China) and anything with so much as a Japanese character on it have become the targets of nationalist hatred. Things are relatively calm in Shanghai, but, as my mom said, it doesn’t hurt to be careful.

She was especially thankful that I had already returned from my summer in Japan. Given the precarious situation Japanese nationals currently face in China, she said she would have been worried for my welfare if I were still there. She feared that Chinese citizens in Japan faced retaliatory action from locals and even the Japanese government. While I understand where she was coming from, based on my experiences in Japan this summer, I think her concerns are misplaced.

I spent this summer studying Japanese in Hakodate, a small tourist town off the southern coast of Hokkaido. Growing up in China, I had been conditioned to dislike Japan, through the thick sections recounting Japanese war atrocities in my history textbooks and the countless repetitive TV dramas and movies set during the war period.

During my time in Japan, however, I was struck most by how much I felt at home. Not only were the people of Hakodate extremely friendly and hospitable, but they impressed me deeply with their civility and sense of community.

I rode a bike to school every morning, and I was surprised by how courteously drivers would stop their cars at intersections, patiently waiting for cyclists and pedestrians to cross. Many times I had already stopped my bicycle, or the crossing signal had already expired, but people stopped their vehicles anyway and insisted that I pass first.

Has anyone been so nice to you that you felt almost embarrassed not to take up his or her offer? I found myself in such situations all the time in Japan. Once at the annual Summer Festival in Hakodate, I was trying to buy some food at a booth for 300 yen but found out that I didn’t have enough cash on me. I tried to explain to the shop owner that I didn’t have enough money, and a customer standing next to me immediately reached into his pocket and asked, “How much do you need? 100 yen? 200?”

It was during these moments, and when I was offered cheesecake and sushi by people I had just met while watching a parade, and when the participants came down to chat with the crowd because everybody knew everybody, and when the policemen kneeled down to play with the children, that I felt a genuine desire to be a member of this community, foreign yet somehow close to the heart.

The people of Hakodate taught me the power of civility and mutual respect in breaking down national and cultural boundaries. Conversely, the embarrassing events in China demonstrate precisely the lack of these qualities in contemporary Chinese society today.

Now is a difficult time to be proud to be Chinese. Chinese citizens must think deeply about how we must face and change a society in which frustration and hatred seem to have overshadowed reason and civic virtues in the name of patriotism.

I am happy to tell Chinese mothers that they needn’t worry about their children in Japan, but I am sorry to remind them that they still have to be careful with their cars.

Xiuyi Zheng is a junior in Davenport College. Contact him at xiuyi.zheng@yale.edu.


  • vrts800

    Xiuyi, you are what we would call a Hanjian (Chinese Traitor). Really? You are nitpicking the Chinese’s manners? Let me remind you a few things. Imagine Angela Merkel publicly worshiped Adolf Hitler? Imagine the German Government changed their textbooks to deny the Holocaust? What would the Israelis and the Jews worldwide react? Would they care about manners? But that is exactly what the Japanese are doing. Japanese politician worship class A war criminals with impunity. Now they are “buying” a group of Chinese Islands they took after its agression against China in 1895. Japan is a democratic country. It is the Japanese people who elected officials who did all these deeds. Who cares if they have civility inside Japan. During the Nanjing Massacre, I wonder if you would have applauded for their swordsmanship while they killed children, raped women, and chopped off the men’s heads. Shame on you! Really? Yale and Harvard are admitting losers like you and Bo Guagua?

    • inycepoo

      You need to tone down your rhetoric there, vrts800. Though Xiuyi’s points are without doubt contestable, especially to those in the Asian community, you are in no position and have absolutely no right to call him a ‘漢奸.’ What the Japanese admit to or deny is irrelevant to the issue at hand here. His point is merely that the Japanese, on some levels, at least, have more civility than the Chinese. Whether or not you yourself think that is the case is another story within itself. The fact that you responded so harshly to this piece only goes to prove Xiuyi’s point even further. Where’s your civility?

      Either way, you need to watch your mouth and get off your high horse. YDN is no place for you to attack others in this fashion, especially in the ‘OPINION’ pages.

      • vrts800

        I am an American. I guess you can complain about the civility of Americans.

        • inycepoo

          In fact, I will. Shame on you – both for using that insulting phrase in a situation that clearly did not call for it and for still being ignorant (as an American, no less) of just how offensive it was.

    • saispas

      vrts800, as a fellow Chinese, raised and born in China. I feel shame on you. A traitor is someone who actively sells his country in favor of his own good. Here, Xiuyi is merely making a point that we should pay more attention to the lack of civility, which is in fact a serious issue in China. However, you blatantly call him a 汉奸 and uses your fallible logic to attack him. Your manner is partially what causes the lack of civility in China right now, a lack of worldly view of history.

      I suggest you apologize to Xiuyi immediately as a fellow Yalie. You’re welcome to debate me, and I feel sincerely disappointed in your choice of wording in the comments above.

    • YTZ

      Before showing off your pathetic knowledge, work on your logic first, honey. When in the world is the state 4 decades ago equal to the people today? Anachronism and lack of common sense. and oh, you’re saying you take the responsibility for every disaster caused by our government in China, for nominally you elected them too? How generous of you. How patriotic of you. I guess all the rest of us are degraded to 漢奸 now.

  • SY

    Very good piece. Why now? It’s the South China Sea, not the islands. Does anyone live there? Is it about fishing, oil? Maybe an update later.

  • Quals

    Four words: Comfort women, Unit 731.

    • SY10

      But Unit 731 was so civilized. I mean, they performed controlled experiments and gathered data. It wasn’t like the Japanese ran around killing Chinese civilians randomly; it was done in a proper fashion according to scientific procedure. Except for that minor incident in Nanjing. But of course, as the very civilized mayor of Nagoya told us this February, nothing worthy of note happened in Nanjing in 1937.

      Also, though clearly the Chinese protests are out of hand in a variety of ways (destroying cars just because they’re made by Japanese companies is pretty ridiculous), is it really worse to have a culture where people will take to the streets to express their political opinions than one where they don’t? I thought protest was something we Americans considered important to our democracy. And yes, I know these protests are not exactly in opposition to the will of the Chinese state, but they seem to me to be tied to the same political culture that produced, for instance, the Wukan protests of last fall.

  • aruhi

    Yeah, Xiuyi, how dare you “nitpick the Chinese’s manners” like that.
    So what if your opinion is based on the situation of people vandalizing cars and throwing rocks at things that have a Japanese word on them?

    You and the Japanese should learn to be more like vrts800. That way you can call people “Traitor” and “loser”, condemn an entire nation for its actions before the birth of most of its current citizens, and then didactically say “Shame on you.”


    • vrts800

      Dude, war criminal worshipping and denying the Nanjing Massacre by public officials are going on TODAY. I was not talking about things in th epast.

  • jamesdakrn




    • CrazyBus

      Suddenly, your username makes sense

  • Anais

    Xiuyi, you know my standpoint on this sort of issues. As much as I admire the degree of civility of Japanese society, arguing about China’s loss of civility at this time is far off the point. Protests are protests; even the most civilized society can have large-scale vandalism and riots. In fact, all societies need violence at times as a catalyst for further social changes. The fact that riots happen is not the core of the issue we face, but why they happen – I believe much socio-economic analysis can be derived to deconstruct the roots for the nation-wide waves of protest in recent one or two years that doesn’t target the Japanese, which is obviously only a sham. x, cl

  • jamesdakrn

    China, Japan, Korea.

    All three have miles to go in terms of “civility”

    • xfxjuice

      And don’t get me started on the Middle East.

  • basho

    lol asia

  • vrts800

    Do you guys know that it is a crime to deny the Holocaust in Germany? Now that is a civilized society. Japan? Are you kidding me?

    • inycepoo

      You are confusing obeying the law and being civilized. The two are far from being the same. In any case, the people should not be applauded or disdained for the actions of their governments. Homogenizing the two is erroneous.

    • YTZ

      Right. Concealing the ’89 massacre then is not a crime at all. Yeah, how dare we “nitpick the Chinese’s manners”(sic.).

  • jamesdakrn

    Dude, Japanese have this weird thing called “wa”-Harmony. They insist on outward politeness, but because of it, you can’t take their word for its face value. Because of this, a lot of times they seem very insincere. Ofc, this is a generalization based on the culture, and so not all japanese are like this.

    Oh and their porn is the weirdest shit on the face of the earth. Not much civility there.

    • YTZ

      As if civility could be found in other coutries’ porns.

      • inycepoo

        As if jamesdakrn were actually serious with his porn quip.

  • sre2012

    While I condemn the Japanese atrocities in Manchuria and elsewhere in the first half of the 20th century, the fact of the matter is that the CCP has committed crimes against humanity that, measuring in sheer loss of human life, are far far worse.

    These protests are happening because they are beneficial for creating Chinese unity through hostility towards an outside enemy. They are happening because it politically expedient for the CCP to let them happen. If vrts800 really cared so much about history and his/her countrymen, he would be turning this critical tone on the government of China, not just the Japanese.

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