We have detected that you are using an older version of Internet Explorer and to have access to all the features on this site, you will need to update your browser to Internet Explorer 8. Alternatively, download Mozilla Firefox or Chrome.

Japanese racism towards the Chinese

LAURENCE REES: And isn’t there also a straightforward element of racism, which is that they believe the Chinese are completely inferior to them?

AKIRA IRIYE: I’m not so sure about that aspect of it. Compared to the Germans I don’t think the Japanese sense of racial superiority is that specific. There is a sense of Japan’s superiority politically speaking. I think the sense of Japan’s superiority fundamentally comes from the fact that Japan is a unique country because of its emperor system, it’s a divine country, that kind of thing. That is not because of the racial factor, it’s not that Japan is a unique country and superior country because of its race, because, after all, the Chinese and Koreans and Vietnamese are all the same ethnic group and Japanese people understand that. Even today you really can’t tell the difference when you encounter somebody walking in the street whether that person is Chinese or Korean or Vietnamese or Japanese and so I don’t think there is that.

LAURENCE REES: Many of the Japanese veterans I’ve met talked of how they were told to believe that the Chinese were like dogs…

AKIRA IRIYE: Yes, that may be right. It’s not so much racism as probably less civilised perhaps. And there’s a real contradiction there because they’re less civilised in the Japanese and Western ways, that is that they are not as strong militarily, economically and otherwise, and they are not as well educated, but there is that sense that they have to grudgingly admire the Chinese for continuing to put up their resistance, and so I think if there was any kind of racism it had to be less blatant than the Nazi racism. After all, the Japanese did have Taiwan, and the Taiwan people are Chinese, and they say that the rule by the Japanese tended to be more benign; there were not really many brutal incidents in Taiwan. And there were still a lot of Taiwanese and Koreans who were living in Japan and studying in Japan and there may have been some sense of discrimination against them as ethnic groups, and not so much in terms of their race.

LAURENCE REES: So the predominant reason you would say that there were these appalling atrocities committed by the Japanese in China was because of a lack of dscipline and a sense of frustration that the war was going badly.

AKIRA IRIYE: Yes, they lacked the discipline because of the prolongation of war and also their sense that they have been freed from any kind of constraint enforced on them by their sense of world opinion; they’d left the League of Nations and they have the sense that there are really no universal values any more and they were free to do whatever they wanted to do.