When I came to China, I really didn't understand the complexity of the relationship between Japan and China. Even now, I think I can only scratch the surface. As a Japanese-American, I never knew why there was tension between the two countries. I realized that some Chinese people hated all the Japanese. I've heard of cab drivers who abandoned passengers in the middle of nowhere when they realized they were Japanese. Also, that some landlords here would not lease to a family if they had a Japanese surname, even if Disney was paying the expenses. In the US, I was so bliss-fully unaware. I mean, I was Japanese, AKA the "good" Asians. If others had stereotypes of us, they were "positive" stereotypes. We were clean, paid our bills, were good at school, quiet. I must admit, many Japanese quietly felt that somehow, they were "superior" to other Asians. But that was a long time ago.
The current controversy is over which country has claim to a small island in the Pacific - called Diaoyu Island to the Chinese and Senkaku Island to the Japanese. Which country has mineral rights, etc. Now, this is the tiniest of tiny islands, and up till now has been owned by a Japanese man, who sold it to the Japanese government. Seems simple, right? But he would not consider selling to the Chinese, even thought the Chinese have been fishing on this island for generations. Right-wing politicians on both sides became involved, fanning the Nationalistic pride. There were some protests here in China, and some violence and vandalism toward Japanese owned businesses. I was told by the US Consulate if anyone should ask, I should tell them that I am a US Citizen and nothing more.
I am aware that some Asian countries still hold hostilities because of long ago wars. In the early part of the 1900's, Japan tried to take over most of Asia. I had always thought this was more "arrogance" by the military and the Emperor, but never considered the actual violence that had been inflicted by soldiers during wars.
Then I read the accounts of the "Rape of Nanking", this is the occupation of the city of Nanking, then the capital of China, after the fall of Shanghai to Japan in 1937. I won't go into details, but it is beyond horrific. The Japanese and Chinese numbers conflict, but somewhere between 200,000 to 300,000 people were massacred, many in the most brutal ways. Many stories were recorded by US and European missionaries, and blurry black and white photos were taken. Honestly, it made my skin crawl. The son of the Emperor supposedly gave the order to kill everyone, and no POWs would be taken. What was done to the people is as bad or worse than what was done to the Jews in Poland under Hitler. Many people were tortured before they were killed.
The reason that the massacre in Nanking still resonates, is the Japanese government has until recently refused to acknowledge it even took place. It's like if Germany said the Holocaust never happened. Now, the Japanese government condemns Nanking as the doings of a small group of soldiers, or as an unfortunate war-time occurrence. They try to downplay how bad it was. I think the politicians feel their country cannot admit to this "losing of face", that their soldiers did these horrible things. But by doing this, the other Asian countries especially China and S. Korea, feel Japan is minimizing the incident.
I've read articles by Japanese scholars that encourage the government to admit to the horrors, and then move on. Germany has owned up to it's own history, and has since taught tolerance in their schools. This might be the way to move away from the past.
During the recent earthquake in Sichuan, the Japanese government offered assistance, but the aid was refused. The on-line postings went both ways. Some felt that because there were military bases near the earthquake site, it was unwise to let the Japanese too close. On the other hand, many felt that since Japan suffers many earthquakes, they have lots of equipment, expertise and building techniques to share. And that the Chinese government should put the immediate needs of the victims above old politics.
Many Chinese have a "love/hate" relationship with Japan. They love Japanese TV, pop culture, movies and food. There are many products that people will only buy if they are imported from Japan (milk, eggs, baby food, cosmetics). But most of the TV villains are Japanese - like in the US all the villains for a while were Middle Eastern. Very subtle, but widely accepted.
How do I feel? I was sad and ashamed when I learned what the Japanese soldiers did in Nanking. Not only because I am Japanese, but because I am a human person. I know that many men actually become something other than human in war situations. That does not excuse anything. In Iraq, in Haditha, the murder of a village by US troops is beyond understanding as well. But of course one incident, no matter how brutal, does not define an entire group of people. All we can do is try to understand, and accept the past. And teach our kids that relationships between countries are only as good as between people.