Thursday, February 27, 2014, 08:28
A racial slur that only our enemies will appreciate
By Yang Sheng

A bunch of radical local misfits put on a street farce called “Operation Locust Repellant” on Canton Road in Tsim Sha Tsui earlier this month, with some of them shouting “Shinajin go back to the mainland”, among other spiteful slogans. That was an extremely wrong and dangerous act. By using the term Shinajin (a reference to tourists from the mainland) in the manner they did, those troublemakers have presented themselves as shameless, if not ignorant and clueless to begin with.

Many Hong Kong residents of older generations are well aware of the fact that Shinajin was used by the Japanese military in referring to Chinese people during the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression (1937-45). That is why the derogatory term is also seen as a symbol of national humiliation that always brings back painful memories of tremendous suffering among Chinese communities around the world.

How Shina became a derogatory term in Japanese is by no means simple. In the Edo era, Japan experienced a resurgence of nationalism that discarded the nation’s utmost respect for China like a student does to a great teacher since Tang Dynasty and preferred to use the word Shina, with the excuse that China was neither the center of the world or a superior civilization. In the early days of the Meiji Restoration, Japan craved for everything European over anything Asian. After the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-95), Japan became dominant in East Asia while China went further downhill as a former regional power, allowing the word Shinajin to be accepted by Japanese public as a derogatory or even insulting label for ethnic Chinese people. Because of this twist, many patriotic Chinese intellectuals urged the government to demand that Japan cease using the terms “Shina” and “Shina Kyowagoku” (Republic of China). The Chinese rulers back then obliged but to no avail. How can a nation of weaklings make a much stronger aggressor submit anyway?

In Japanese, Shinajin refers to all people living in China and carries overtones of Japanese superiority over the Chinese, hence the derogatory connotation now widely noted in the academic world. Before and during the World War II, Japanese publications were full of terms such as “Japan-Shina relations”, the “Shina Incident” (the Marco Polo Bridge Incident of 1937) and “occupation troops in Shina”. Anyone proud of their Chinese lineage would feel deeply insulted and infuriated by such jarring words. After World War II, the Supreme Command of the Allied Forces concluded in an investigation in 1946 that the word Shina indeed carries derogatory overtones and pressured the Japanese government to ban it in all official, academic and print media writings, including history textbooks. The Japanese administration had to heed the call with a nationwide decree. Since then, the word Shina and all its derivatives have been replaced by “Chuko” (Zhongguo in Chinese ) in the documents listed above. Currently, only right-wingers, such as Shintaro Ishihara, former governor of Tokyo, still use it out of hatred for China and its people.

It is a shame that some ignorant and shameless individuals in Hong Kong went so far as to use the insulting word on compatriots from the mainland despite the fact that the Japanese themselves avoid using it for obvious reasons. It’s a blatant act of betrayal that only the nation’s enemies can appreciate. To this author’s knowledge, the first instance of locals using this racial slur on mainland visitors occurred in September 2012, more than half a century after it became a political taboo in Japan, when some ill-advised persons called visiting mainlanders Shinajin during protests by local residents in Sheung Shui against cross-boundary parallel traders, whose illegal activities had seriously inconvenienced local residents’ daily life. The so-called “Recover Sheung Shui Station” movement then took on a pop-culture sheen when some members of a local online community turned the Korean hit dance tune Gangnam Style into a Cantonese jibe at mainlanders called “Gross Shinajin”. The inflammatory post naturally triggered a fierce war of words between like-minded locals and mainland netizens.

No Hongkonger of Chinese descent was spared the humiliating reference of Shinajin for more than three years of Japanese occupation during the war, as the Japanese made no distinction between Hong Kong and mainland residents. Today, a person of Chinese descent has every reason to be proud because the nation is prosperous and powerful again.

Hong Kong sees itself as an inclusive and civilized cosmopolitan city. As such locals should understand that the difference between them and mainland residents is merely “Who was here first?” and perhaps lifestyles, which cannot erase the fact that we are all of the same ethnicity and physical characteristics. Those who somehow believe they can elevate their sense of superiority by calling mainland compatriots Shinajin are simply in pathetic denial.

The author is a current affairs commentator.