It was perhaps inevitable that Su Lei's life would be linked with Japan. His grandfather studied post-doctoral courses there in the 1930s and was later in charge of a prison in Xian that housed Japanese prisoners of war. He turned the camp into a school and the prisoners into students. Su, who has studied and worked in Japan for 22 years and married a Japanese woman, is a psychotherapist based in Tokyo. His clinic has served more than 100,000 clients since it opened in 1994. However, Su, 42, says he has no plans to apply for Japanese citizenship; like many Chinese, he has strong views about Japan's wartime aggression.
Tell me about your grandfather's life and his connections with Japan?
My grandpa Wang Dajie was born in Shenyang in China's northeast. He attended universities in Japan. His best friends and his most respected teachers were all Japanese, but his post-doctoral studies on the history of Japan at Tokyo Imperial University were interrupted by the Marco Polo Bridge Incident when Japanese troops began the invasion of China. He returned to his motherland in 1937 and in the autumn of 1938 was appointed head of a prison in Xian that held Japanese captives. Due to his background in education, he made incredible efforts to transform that prison into a school and he named it the Datong Garden with the wish to promote harmony among the people of the world.
What courses were taught at the school?
Initially the Japanese captives refused to co-operate. They felt ashamed that they had been captured and many tried to commit suicide. My grandpa persuaded the authorities and managed to turn the prison into a school. The high walls were torn down. A basketball court and a swimming pool were built. A credit co-operative was established for students to deposit their savings. Teachers taught the history and culture of Japan and China and told stories about the battles between Germany and France that had brought huge damage to the lives of ordinary people. My grandpa even had a Japanese "comfort woman" take care of his one-year-old son, who was my father. The woman turned out to be a very kind babysitter. More and more students changed their mindset and joined anti-war activities. That's the experience my grandpa felt most proud about in his life. He hoped that people from the two nations could treat each other with friendship and avoid the tragedy of war.
How has your grandpa's story changed your life? Why did you go to Japan?
I grew up in Beijing with my ears filled with anti-Japanese songs. But I also got the chance to observe frequent visitors and friends from Japan who came to see my family during my childhood. The visitors all behaved calmly and respectfully, not only to our family, but seemingly to every small thing in our home, even to a tea cup. My feelings towards Japan were complicated from the very beginning. I went to a language school in Tokyo at the age of 20 before studying religious psychology at Chiba University. As a psychotherapist, I have combined meditation and many Chinese cultural elements, such as Zen and Taoism, in healing people.
What do Japanese people think about China?
Once I walked a long distance on a mountain practising meditation. I met a group of people at a temple celebrating the Buddha's birthday. An old lady's first reaction after finding out that I was Chinese was, "we shouldn't have war between our two nations". Many ordinary people in Japan, like her, hate war and they also fear war. But there are also some people who don't believe that Japan ever invaded its Asian neighbours. Neither do they know how many were killed by the Japanese in Nanjing during the brutal slaughter there. Textbooks in Japan did not teach the truth.
Were people willing to accept what you said about history?
The people I have met were willing to listen. They were scared after they were shown some pictures from the war. But conservative politicians and media in Japan have in recent years kept highlighting and exaggerating the dangers linked to the rise of the economic power of China and have blamed China for transferring its pollution and food safety problems to the rest of the world. As more and more old people who experienced the war have died in recent years, the voice of those with a better understanding of their history is growing fainter. Some groups of people also decline to talk about Japan's inheritance of ancient Chinese culture, such as the culture of tea and calligraphy. They feel a mixture of both superiority and inferiority towards China. People understand neighbouring countries only after they visit them on their own. My wife, who has lived in Beijing for five years, feels the same way. She wrote a letter to her sister and father in Japan last year when they were worried about her during heightened bilateral disputes over sovereignty. She reassured them about her safety.
Your wife and two children live in China but you stay in Japan?
As they are my children, I feel they are obliged to have an adequate knowledge of China. I want them to develop good enough "hardware" in their mind about China before they leave for other places. It's hard to say how long this will take. Of course, they have also been forming mental "hardware" about Japan through their mother every day.
How do you want your children to view Sino-Japanese issues?
I hope they can think beyond boundaries, putting the issues against the backdrop of the whole world. It's such a small world we live in. Why can't the two nations' people forgive each other? I have tried my best to tell my children about history objectively. We should avoid going to the extremes by separating things into black and white, or good and evil.
Do you believe your grandfather's dream of breaking down the barriers between the two nations is achievable today?
Honest communication is the only way and the simplest way to break down the barriers. The governments in China and Japan should encourage people to visit each other's country, carrying with them a respectful heart.