Monday, October 26, 2015

The Chinese Difference

The Toujin Grave or Toujin Tombs is a very interesting site. It features a large monument which is unmistakably and almost guadily Chinese. There are always things through Okinawa and Japan that you can point to as being Chinese in origin or being part of Chinese influence, but often times Japanese chafe at such connections seeking to hide the history of contact or the genealogy of cultural evolution. But this monument is meant to absolutely be Chinese.

While for mainland Japan the signifier "China" is something to be wary of. For centuries it has evoked a gathering threat, just on the other side of the sea, a force to be reckoned with. Something that Japan draws much of its culture from but also resists admitting to because of the general feeling of antagonism. China was always a potential military threat, always looming and leering in a way that it could perhaps swallow up Japan. In World War II the Japanese got to act out a lot of their pent up national aggression or resentment for the Chinese, and treated them terribly when they invaded and occupied China. The Japanese were known to commit terrible atrocities across the Asia-Pacific region but they appeared to treat the Chinese the worst amongst all they conquered.

Today Japanese conservative, rightist and nationalist politics are all wrapped up with China at their center. China is still the enemy, the threat, and progressive or liberal groups that are pushing for peace or for breaking the US-Japan security alliance must be working for China or funded by China. As the Japanese government seeks to bend and break Article 9 of their constitution, and build the possibility for an offensive military and being able to intervene around the world the way other superpowers do, China is the reason most seem to offer and accept.

But China has a very different meaning in Okinawa and the Ryukyu Islands. You will find the same sort of anti-China sentiment in the islands as you do in Japan, but that is an imported idea, the historical relationship with China and these islands is somewhat different. Ryukyu had a closer trade relationship with China, the islands were the main route to get to China, even paid tribute to China and reflects in many ways a closer cultural tie to China. I used Ryukyu to refer to the islands even though that term came refer to them only for the past 600 years. Their history is much older than that of course. Later Japan came in, first via the Satsuma Clan in the 1600s and then annexed the islands outright into the 1800s. This brought them under increasingly formal control by the Japanese, but the Chinese connections remained in various ways. The idea of China is sometimes treated differently in these islands because there are faded memories of a less antagonistic connection.

Here in Ishigaki Island, which is south from the main island of Okinawa I visited a shrine that speaks to these Chinese connections. In the 19th century Chinese were being used as laborers in the Americas. This trade was filled with problems however, the Chinese workers were generally treated horribly with 10% of them dying on the way from China to either North or South America. According to one Chinese worker at the time,
“We proceeded to sea, we were confined in the hold below; some were … shut up in bamboo cages, or chained to iron posts, and a few were indiscriminately selected and flogged as a means of intimidating all others”.

In 1852 the ship the Robert Bowne was one such labor ship. It was carrying more than 400 Chinese laborers, who had signed up to travel and work in San Francisco. They were lied to however and were actually to be sent to the Guano Mines of the Chincha Islands off the coast of Peru. A miserable place where workers died at astonishing numbers because of the poisons and dangers involved. The Chinese, upon finding out about the deception and after watching 10 of their number dumped overboard because they were ill, revolted and killed the captain and some of the crew. The ship crashed into rocks off the coast of Ishigaki Island. The people of Ishigaki tried to hide the Chinese in the mountains and support them even as American and British ships came looking for them. 128 of the Chinese laborers were killed despite the efforts of the Ryukyu government and people to shelter them. Toujin grave or tomb (or Toujinbaka as it is know in Japanese) was erected in memory of those Chinese workers who died.

In addition to this memorial there is also another off to the side of the park area, which is dedicated to three American servicemen who during World War II were tortured and executed by the Japanese and the islanders. Here is the text from the memorial stone in English:

'On the morning of April 15, 1945, in the closing days of World War II, a Grumman TBF Avenger, assigned to the carrier USS Makassar Strait, was shot down off the costs of Ishigaki Island by the Imperial Japanese Navy. The three aviators parachuted in to the water near Ohama and swam to a coral reef where they were captured by Japanese sailors. After being interrogated and tortured they were executed during the night at the foot of Mount Banna, at the Imperial Navy Headquarters. The torture of prisoners of war was a violation of the Geneva Convention, the rules of war signed by the international community in 1929. Vernon L.Tebo and Robert Tuggle Jr. were beheaded. Warren H.Loyd was beaten and stabbed with bayonets by numerous numbers of sailors and soldiers. This incident was a tragedy which took place during war.

Lt.Vernon L.Tebo, 28, a Navy pilot of Illionois
Aviation Radioman 1st Class Warren H. Loyd, 24, of Kansas
Aviation Ordnance 1st Class Robert Tuggle.Jr.,20, of Texas

To console the spirits of the three fallen American service members and to honor their deaths, we jointly dedicate this monument in the hope that this memorial stone will contribute to the everlasting peace and friendship between Japan and the United States, and that this monument will serve as a cornerstone to convey to future generations our keen desire for eternal peace in the world and our determination to renounce war.

August 15 2001
The Joint Committe of Japanese and American Citizens to Honor the Three Fallen Servicemembers During World War II.'

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