Virus fight brings China, Japan closer
Poetry, calligraphy showcase bonds as Tokyo reaches out to offer assistance
When American writer Patrick Rothfuss said, “Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts,” he might not have imagined that some words would be powerful enough, even after 1,000 years, to produce tears.
But that has happened recently as China fights the novel coronavirus.
Many sayings circulating recently on Chinese social media have one thing in common: They were written in Chinese and printed on packages donated to China by Japan.
Among them, one saying, written about 1,300 years ago by a Japanese prince, was sent to Wuhan, Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak, together with masks and infrared thermometers. It read: “Even though the landscapes are diverse, we share the wind and moon under the same sky.”
Chen Wan, who works in the international office of Huazhong Agricultural University in Wuhan, said, “Tears welled up in my eyes when I saw the words on the package.”
Chen, who regularly deals with the Japanese in the course of her work, said she is very grateful for Japan’s help.
“These words have greatly encouraged Wuhan’s people. China and Japan both have Confucian cultural origins, and some things that the Japanese have done have made me feel Wuhan is not alone in this fight, and that we will eventually conquer this epidemic because we are protected by love and friendship.”
Helping those facing hardship can come in many forms, something that Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the World Health Organization, might well have had in mind when he made a plea for global cooperation at a forum about the novel coronavirus in Geneva, Switzerland, on Tuesday.
The serious measures that China is taking in Wuhan and other cities against the virus call for countries to show solidarity with China, Tedros said.
“It’s a test of political solidarity－whether the world can come together to fight a common enemy that does not respect borders or ideologies,” he said. “It’s a test of financial solidarity－whether the world will invest now in fighting this outbreak, or pay more later to deal with its consequences. And it’s a test of scientific solidarity－will the world come together to find shared answers to shared problems?”
Universal love is a core concept of Confucianism, something that was evident when Toshihiro Nikai, the secretary-general and a heavyweight in Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, told the media on Monday that all members of his party in the Diet, which is Japan’s parliament, would each donate 5,000 yen ($45) to China.
“It’s natural to help a neighboring country if something happens there,” Nikai said.
On Friday, Nikai, 80, at a meeting with Kong Xuanyou, China’s ambassador to Japan, said: “A friend in need is a friend indeed. Japan will stand together with China and will mobilize the entire country to provide support and assistance to help fight the epidemic.”
At the same meeting, Tetsuo Saito, the secretary-general of Japan’s Komeito Party, said the enhanced collaboration between Japan and China would help prevent the spread of the virus and overcome it soon.
Long Xingchun, a professor at the School of Foreign Languages at China West Normal University in Nanchong, Sichuan province, said, “While facing the epidemic, the world has shown it is a community with a shared future.”
Long said he appreciated the fact that apart from sending medical materials, Japan used ancient poetry, the cultural connection between China and Japan, to get closer to the Chinese public and to strengthen its friendship with China.
Hirotake Ran, a professor of East Asian studies at Musashino University in Tokyo, said: “Cultural connections have shown their power in bringing people together in this common fight.…It makes people feel compassion and love for all, which is extremely important at a time like this.”
Beyond poetry, another cultural-connection between China and Japan is calligraphy.
In a video shot at his home, Tomiichi Murayama, 96, a former Japanese prime minister, wrote “Wuhan, jiayou (stay strong)” in Chinese characters and shouted out the message in solidarity with the Chinese.
Inspired by poetry, Yukio Hatoyama, another former Japanese prime minister, wrote the message to Wuhan containing the 1,300-year-old saying himself and said in a video expressing his support: “I want to send this message to my friends who are fighting the virus in Wuhan, in Hubei province, and all over China. We are in a community with a shared future for mankind, and I hope everybody can survive these difficult times.”
Rebecca Li, a cross-cultural etiquette expert in Beijing, said Japan is the closest country to China in terms of culture. While many countries have offered their support to China, Japan stands out, partly because of the cultural resonance between China and Japan.
“The Chinese feel particularly good when seeing the ancient poetry on the packages of the donations. These poems are all expressions of friendship and goodwill, making people feel that a better Sino-Japanese relationship is assured.”