11 August 2004

Football/Soccer Hooliganism in East Asia

The new, multilingual East Asian International Affairs group blog has a long post by Muninn's KMLawson on Reading the Asian Cup in greater historical and geographical context. It's a long post, worth reading in its entirety, but I'll just quote the last three paragraphs.
Survey results from an annual study done by Mitsubishi's Research Institute's China Handbook show that Japanese feelings of "intimacy" towards the Chinese people has been dropping almost every year since the 1978 signing of the Peace and Friendship Treaty, with a small boost around 1997 (the latest results I saw were from 2000, let me know if you have newer results). It is difficult to gauge exactly how important such data is, but it casts some doubt on the idea that Japan is the warm and fuzzy partner in the relationship. In the aftermath of the Asia Cup, when the Japanese media pointed to the anti-Japanese postings on the many online bulletin boards, the Japanese graduate student Iida Takeshi (飯田健) studying political science at the University of Texas wrote on his blog's 8/9 entry, "Japan is just the same. If you go to Japanese bulletin boards, you'll find plenty of postings that are discriminatory towards Koreans and Chinese." Sean Curtin in an Asia Times article on the final game quotes a Yomiuri article as saying that "Chinese society condones insulting Japan." This is again not much different in Japan, where those who insult China [or the U.S.] seem to have little difficulty in getting elected governor of Tokyo.

If we accept the idea that fans the world over generally believe that a soccer stadium is, as one Japanese graduate student I spoke to put it, "A place for us to make a ruckus" (我々が騒ぐ場所) and we don't assume that Chinese soccer fans and hooligans represent the "character of the Chinese people," then there is plenty of reason to believe that the future of Sino-Japanese relations is bright. In addition to a growing trade relationship and growing interaction between Japanese and Chinese as tourists, students, etc., there are two other developments. The Chinese government has significantly shifted its approach in diplomacy with Japan, and while this is still in a period of adjustment, it has already caught the attention of many scholars in China and Japan. Secondly, fewer Chinese believe it worth storming the Japanese embassy every time its Prime Minister decides to pay homage to war criminals, and the crowds have shrunk in size during recent visits. China's foreign minister lodges a protest, as he did today in response to Koizumi's pledge to continue his visits to Yasukuni. This is not to say that Chinese people or government have suddenly come to accept Japan's misbehavior and the continued strength of nationalist right wing narratives of Japan’s last century. Instead, it is an indication that many Chinese believe there are more effective ways to address these issues.

The official responses to the Asia Cup crisis have wrapped up quietly. The Japanese government protested, and the Chinese ambassador responded with an expression of regret that some Chinese fans behaved irresponsibly. As many articles have pointed out, however, there are a number of issues that remain. Unfortunately, I suspect that the dominant trend in the Japanese media will be to continue highlighting Chinese anti-Japanese sentiment and any domestic crime committed by Chinese migrants, even as the Chinese media will continue to suggest that the Japanese government has never apologized for wartime atrocities, that Japanese textbooks all deny the country's past aggression, and dangerously portray the outlandish historical claims of some Japanese as representative of the opinions of the people in Japan as a whole. Much of the tension in Sino-Japanese relations traces to the question of history, that is, how the past is portrayed. We should also note, however, that the gap in perceptions are not limited to the understanding of a war long past--but also for soccer games still only a hangover away.

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