China and the World

The fog of war

More evidence of Chinese consumers’ love-hate relationship with Japan


Set to be shunned over the Spring Festival: an APA Hotel in Tokyo

While the English-speaking world thinks of the years between 1939 and 1945 as being consumed by the Second World War, for the Chinese the period is the closing chapter of a slightly longer conflict with a much longer name: the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression and the Global War Against Fascism. Traditionally Chinese historians dated this as starting in 1937 and ending in 1945.

That is, until a fortnight ago when new Chinese history textbooks lengthened the war by six years, starting it in 1931. This was the year the Japanese invaded Manchuria in northeast China (a region known today as Dongbei and which incorporates the provinces of Liaoning, Jilin and Heilongjiang).

Some international analysts of Sino-Japanese ties in the modern-day say that the constant focus on the war years makes it difficult to improve relations today. That challenge will only get harder in the wake of claims from people like Montoya Toshio, the founder of the Japanese hotel chain APA. His hotels have been giving guests a book, penned under the founder’s nom de plume, which queries the history of the period, and denies the Rape of Nanking. Amid the many atrocities of the time this particularly barbaric episode saw Japanese troops murder thousands of Chinese civilians (estimates of the killing vary dramatically but in China 300,000 is the figure normally quoted, based on the findings of the 1947 Nanjing War Crimes Tribunal).

Unsurprisingly the Chinese haven’t taken kindly to Montoya’s efforts to expunge the atrocity from the historical records, and Bloomberg reports that travel sites such as Ctrip and Elong have stopped customers from booking stays at hotels in his group.

Meanwhile the Chinese Foreign Ministry warned that the book “once again shows that some forces in Japan are still reluctant to look squarely at history, and even try to deny and distort it”.

A statement from APA fired back that “Japan constitutionally guarantees freedom of speech, and no one-sided pressure can force any assertion that is made to be repealed”.

With the Chinese New Year an increasingly popular time for overseas travel, APA is set to miss out on its share of the windfall. (Last year 6.9 million Chinese visited Japan.)

Meanwhile other Japanese companies are getting much more considerate of their Chinese customers, including pharmaceutical firm Kobayashi. It manufactures a product called Dusmock, a herbal tonic intended to help treat chronic lung disease. According to Jiemian, a news portal, the tonic increases the production of mucus in the lungs, easing the discomfort of coughing and increasing the number of pathogens caught in the phlegm.

Recently Kobayashi began marketing Dusmock directly to Chinese customers, noticing that they accounted for 20% of sales last year. Advertising for the product is now displayed in Chinese, touting that Dusmock “counters PM2.5”, the air pollutant that bedevils so many cities.

Similar claims were previously made about local herbal remedies available on Taobao as early as 2015, including tea that was purported to have “anti-smog” qualities. The practice became so widespread that Liu Quanqing, president of the Beijing Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine, was compelled to announce on national television that such products were “unreliable”. So why is Kobayashi’s brew so popular? For one thing, the Chinese are generally quite sceptical of their own healthcare industry, and a series of national scandals involving food quality and health products has helped to solidify the distrust. However, many Chinese still value traditional medicine. Kobayashi’s Dusmock provides a TCM solution allied to a Japanese reputation for quality – reducing fears about slapdash Chinese production.

Kobayashi’s brand recognition was also bolstered last year when a list of “12 divine medicines” began circulating on WeChat. The list promoted 12 pharmaceutical products that Chinese tourists “must” buy when travelling in Japan, Nikkei Asian Review reports. Kobayashi made five of the products on the list.

The firm is now banking on the popularity of its “anti PM2.5” product. This year it will increase production of Dusmock by 30%, and over the next three years Kobayashi will invest ¥30 billion ($261 million) on buying similar anti-pollution remedies, including at least one Chinese brand, Reuters reports.

The purchase of a local firm might also help the company to establish a production chain inside China, Nikkei Asian Review claims. Once Kobayashi obtains a licence for production and marketing, it has announced it will “develop and sell medicines made in compliance with China’s pharmaceutical laws”.

Nor, as the China Daily, notes is Kobayashi the only Japanese firm to be profiting from the filthy air. Earlier this month it reported that online stocks of a face mask made by the Shigematsu Works company had been running low due to surging demand from health-conscious consumers. The newspaper says the Tokyo-based firm saw a spike in interest after a popular blog carried out experiments on various brands of face mask and concluded that Shigematsu’s “outperformed in terms of efficiency and comfort”. Taking advantage of shortages, some sellers on Taobao have been advertising the masks at 200 times their original price.

Xiao Xiao, a 35 year-old Beijing resident, said her family have tried seven brands of face masks, including those of 3M, Honeywell and Vogmask. But she selected Shigematsu after reading about its performance, says China Daily, adding that she was willing to spend Rmb50 to Rmb200 ($29.07) for each mask if it proved effective against the capital’s smog.

Ironic, then, that while many Chinese are railing against a Japanese hotelier for masking the truth about the awful events in Nanjing, their compatriots are turning to Japanese masks to protect them from their nation’s deadly pollution.

Meanwhile, the row over the contentious reading material at APA Hotels was spreading this week. South Korea’s Olympic committee says it has sent a letter to the organisers of the Asian Winter Games in Sapporo demanding the removal of the book from APA hotel rooms there. According to the committee, 170 of the 230 South Korean athletes and officials are booked at the hotel for the Games, which will be held next month in Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan’s main islands (Sapporo is its capital).

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