My island! Mine!!


Two things occurred today: I finally pulled my finger out and re-enrolled in Mandarin lessons, and I actually bothered to try and find the Senkaku (also known as Diaoyu) Islands on Google Maps.

Why did I try and find those islands I hear you ask? Well I was curious to see just how substantial these little islands were that are currently causing so much friction between China and Japan. But regardless of the importance of these islands specifically, it’s not like Japan and China need much provocation before they’re at each other’s throats. There’s a long history of bad blood between these two neighbours, thanks largely to Japanese brutality. Though it’s not just Japan that has thoroughly stamped on Chinese pride, England and many others have done more than enough damage there over the years.

However, getting back to the Senkaku Island’s issues – in a nutshell, both China and Japan are claiming ownership of this tiny (and I mean TINY) cluster of unoccupied islands just slightly North of Taiwan. In a move that has China seeing all kinds of red, Japan has cooly announced that they will be finalising the purchase of said islands from the current Japanese private owner. So what’s the deal with these islands? Apparently there are large reserves of oil to be found close by, effectively giving whoever owns the islands dibs on all the black goodies.

Now these islands are mere specks on the map. If I was in the business of handing out islands, I would probably give them to Taiwan as they’re effectively off-shoots of the Taiwanese island itself. Then again, they are also very close in proximity to the island chains that lead all the way up to the Japanese mainland.

What gets me though is the passion expressed as part of these protests. One can’t help but wonder if the words Diaoyu and Senkaku aren’t merely becoming public excuses for one race to hate the other. How many of these protesters actually know anything about these islands, let alone the reasons they’re in dispute? I would suspect very little. Living in a country that has no natural rivals or real enemy histories (no I’m not really counting the Japanese bombing of Darwin – I’m sure we did much worse to them), I can’t imagine specifically what it feels like, but I can imagine it wouldn’t take much to incite a bit of patriotism. Unfortunately in this country, patriotism is just a bit too scary close to boganism.


In other news I re-enrolled into Mandarin. Don’t let anyone tell you that learning a foreign language is easy – it’s hard, really, really hard. In fact I don’t think it’s the language itself that’s difficult, rather the vast reserves of motivation required to get you to continue with it. I find that I retain most things that I learn (particularly if I spend time studying it), but new stuff? That’s where the pain comes in. There’s a weird feeling of helplessness when presented with a new grammatical concept or vocabulary. In particular, I find myself putting up weird road blocks around certain subjects. For example the word school, study and students – I can simply never remember them! The amount of times in China we had to ask to be taken to our school….I just never knew the word – and still don’t! Well I do – but I just can never recall it.

I kid myself that I would like to learn some basic Korean and Japanese also…right after I’m done with Mandarin. When will that be? Never I expect.


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7 Responses to “My island! Mine!!”

  1. Austin Guidry Says:

    Yeah, it’s getting a little ridiculous. There are Japanese shops that have been closed here, my friends/people that I know are talking sh*t about Japan, but it’s just hot air and blustering. Shops in Lanzhou (on my street) are saying “All profits from ____ to _____ go to buying out Tokyo.”

    They don’t actually know what’s going on, the reality of today’s political climate, alliances, and world politics and history in general. It’s just blind “MINE!” like you pointed out.

    I guess we’ll find out what happens

  2. Marcus Says:

    The problem in China is there’s a fairly dangerous mob mentality. It wouldn’t take a lot for these people to really turn on any Japanese citizen’s living there. But it’s exactly that – most have no idea what the deal is with these islands, or even where they are. They could be some hyper developed tropical resort paradise for all they know…not the three or so lumps of earth jutting out of the East China Sea.

    By the way – fire up Google Maps and try and find them – knowing they’re north of Taiwan – do it without putting in a name 🙂 Now go ask the good shopkeepers of Lanzhou to do the same! YOU MEAN ITS THIS LITTLE SPECK??

  3. Austin Guidry Says:

    Yeah, you’re definitely right – the mob mentality is responsible for a lot of terrible things in China’s history. Cultural Revolution, anyone?

    Haha yeah, some of those shopkeepers can’t even speak Mandarin or read well, let alone understand the subtleties of this issue

  4. lettersfromalaowai Says:

    Yeah, the outburst of patriotism is a little scary! I’ve seen signs around offering ten-percent discounts if you say that the Diaoyu islands belong to China. Not to mention all the Chinese flags that have suddenly appeared around my area.
    When I’ve talked to Chinese people about it, even the well-educated one’s completely explode and start shouting anti-Japanese abuse. It kinda took me by surprise actually!

  5. Austin Guidry Says:

    Yeah, I had a student ask me today in class about what I think about the controversy. I walked them through it, and told them that it’s way more complicated than they think. I told them about some history of the islands and about how they need to research and think for themselves……some students had the look of “ugh….”, but a lot of them seemed very open to what I had to say. I got a little glimmer of hope from my students 🙂

  6. Marcus Says:

    Just make sure there’s a semi pro-Chinese slant on your discussions Austin or you’ll be that infamous American lynched from the local bridge 🙂

  7. ordinary malaysian Says:

    To understand the Chinese, perhaps we may have to understand that China does not consider itself a nation state unlike most other countries, but a civilisational state. They Chinese, unlike others, also largely consider themselves to be all Hans, even if some of them aren’t really. From there we may be able to get an understanding of the heat the Chinese feel for others, esp those they feel have inflicted so much cruelty and direct pain on them. Just getting these ideas from a TED Talk though not on the subject of the disputed island. Have forgotten the you-tube link though.

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