Youth look beyond painful memories

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 June, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 June, 2008, 12:00am

Bad memories of the Japanese military may linger among some of the older residents of Zhanjiang , but younger people, untouched by the atrocities of war, were openly excited about the historic visit of a Japanese warship to the mainland yesterday.

Academics and some locals suggested the city had been chosen to play host because it was one of the least-damaged mainland cities during the second world war, so authorities could expect less bitterness and resentment from the public.

And when it came down to it, few had heard about the port call anyway.

Lin Qiongfang , an 83-year-old shop owner near the coast, said she was surprised to hear that Japanese troops had returned to her home city.

'During the second world war, the mere word Japanese could cause panic. Whenever they came we fled thousands of miles to escape,' she said.

But, like many other elderly residents raised in the neighbourhood, she was not so scared any more. 'The world is different now. It's okay if they only come for friendship,' she said.

That sentiment was echoed by 82-year-old Ms Lai, who said her memories of the war had faded.

'Zhanjiang was relatively untouched during the war anyway. We didn't have the same horrible experiences as some of our northern comrades,' she said.

Qingdao University international relations analyst Li Guangmin said mainland authorities must have taken local feelings into account when they picked the city.

'Imagine what it would be like if the troops were set to visit big ports in Shanghai and Dalian , where hundreds of thousands of people were killed,' the professor said. 'The government must have struck a balance between its foreign affairs strategy and also the nation's feelings.'

Mainland media had suggested that Japan's defence ministry was not happy that the vessel had not been invited to a more important military port such as Shanghai or Dalian.

To the young people of Zhanjiang, imperial army atrocities were the stuff of bedtime stories told by their grandparents.

'My grandmother told me what the Japanese did during the second world war, but this is the 21st century now, and we need to ally with Japan to grow in strength,' said Peng Jianmin, a secondary school student visiting Zhanjiang with his girlfriend after last week's university entrance exams.

The young couple, who came to witness the historic moment, were left a little disappointed.

'This is an exciting and important event, and we thought there would be an official opening of some sort to the public, but in the end we could only watch the warship steaming into the harbour from a distance,' Mr Peng said.