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Chinese collector hopes to make new kind of Japan-China historical war film

Collector and aspiring filmmaker Xu Yiping says that he has been able to understand the feelings of the Japanese and Chinese soldiers who fought in the Second Sino-Japanese War through collecting their belongings, in Xian, in China's western Shaanxi Province, on Sept. 21, 2018. (Mainichi/Keisuke Kawazu)

XIAN, China -- A private historian in city of Wuhan in the central province of Hubei has been collecting weapons and daily items used by soldiers on both sides of the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945) for the last 20 years.

Xu Yibing, 53, has devoted his own personal funds to put those artifacts on display at a memorial museum and elsewhere as "evidence" of history. He is now joined by Beijing-based filmmaker Liao Feiwen, 49, aiming to have the items he collected used in a movie.

"If you twist history and look down on your opponent, then it will come back on you," he said, the two warning of Chinese trends of turning the events of the war into "works of amusement."

Historical education in China is often "anti-Japan," and many films and television dramas depict Chinese resistance against Japan. However, extravagant anti-Japanese works began to appear roughly 10 years ago, depicting absurd scenes such as a Communist Red Army soldier downing a Japanese fighter jet mid-flight with a hand grenade alone. Along with fierce competition for high viewership, the ease of getting anti-Japanese films and shows touting the achievements of the Red Army through censorship by Chinese authorities is thought to have led to the mass production of the stories with warped facts.

However, viewer criticism heated up, and even the censorship authorities began to regulate the programs in 2015. Liao says, "In order to satisfy some warped ego, there are still some of these extravagant works that bend the truth. We would like to instead make a film that is not embarrassing both in our own view as well as that of the audience."

Xu is considering making his movie not about resistance against Japanese forces, but generally "anti-war" in a way that transcends national borders. What led Xu to make this decision was his first visit to Japan in 2007. The Japanese people that he drank with at his destination were polite and welcoming. "I came to feel the absurdity of war that changes these good Japanese fathers and sons through learning about the Japanese people," Xu says.

One person lending his support to Xu is Japanese actor Kenichi Miura, who has worked in Chinese cinema for close to 20 years. Miura, the majority of whose roles are in works about Chinese resistance during the war, also feels that "if exchange (between Japan and China) deepens, then it will have an impact on how we portray history."

Last year, 7.35 million Chinese nationals visited Japan, and that number is expected to grow this year. The results of a Japan-China joint public poll released on Oct. 11 showed that of Chinese citizens who answered that they had a "good" impression of Japan, those who had been to Japan before, 74.3 percent, greatly outnumbered those who had not at 34.9 percent. Overall, 42.2 percent of Chinese were positive about Japan, the highest percentage since the survey began in 2005.

In addition, 43.9 percent of Chinese people answered that "as Japan-China relations develop, historical issues will gradually be solved," up 10 percentage points from the previous year. Such responses show that negative feelings toward Japan appear to be shrinking. However, in contrast, Japanese people's evaluation of Chinese remains severe; highlighting that the gap in the way the two countries view one another is still an issue that requires work.

In October 1978, Deng Xiaoping, a top official in the Chinese government, came to Japan to exchange the ratification instruments of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between Japan and China. During his visit, Deng met with Emperor Hirohito, posthumously known as Emperor Showa. In the diary of then Grand Chamberlain Sukemasa Irie, it is written that Emperor Showa said, "I have caused you trouble." Deng's shocked expression at the honest words of the emperor is also detailed.

After those who experienced the war could meet face to face to speak of reconciliation, Japan and China enjoyed a good relationship that lasted until the mid-1990s. Now, 40 years have passed since the ratification of the bilateral friendship and peace treaty, and the burden of continuing to tell the story of the war is falling on the postwar generation.

With the exchange of an average of 20,000 Chinese nationals coming into Japan every day, is there some progress to be made toward coming to a mutual understanding and awareness of history?

Xu says, "It is precisely because we are members of a generation that do not know times of war that we must get rid of fictitious war dramas and should let the truth speak for itself instead."

(Japanese original by Keisuke Kawazu, China General Bureau)

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