There is a group of people in China who, despite their unquestionable Chinese national and ethnic heritage, identify themselves and want to be seen as Japanese. They have been around long enough to earn a specific name — jingri (精日 jīngrì), meaning spiritually Japanese. Yet their existence didn’t ignite much of a stir in public discourse until a string of negative news against them came out lately, which caused China’s foreign minister Wang Yi 王毅, in a press conference during the ongoing “Two Sessions,” to disparagingly call them “scums among Chinese people.”
The whole controversy started on February 21, when photos of two Chinese men posing in front of a memorial site on Zijin Mountain in Nanjing — where a striking number of Chinese civilians were murdered by the intruding Imperial Japanese Army in 1937 — went viral on the Chinese internet. In the photos, the pair — dressed in Japanese military uniforms during wartime — make goofy postures together while carrying a rifle and a Japanese sword. After these photos created buzz on social media, with many internet users criticizing them for showing no respect for the massacred, Nanjing police announced on February 23 that the two men, aged 22 and 25, had been sentenced to a 15-day detention for “severely hurting national feelings and making an adverse impact on society.”
About two week later, a 35-year-old man surnamed Meng found himself at the center of controversy after he released a video of himself, standing in front of the Memorial Hall for the Victims of the Nanjing Massacre by Japanese Invaders, making abusive remarks about victims of the Nanjing massacre and the netizens who object to his pro-Japan position. Meng was later found to be a Shanghai native who had already been detained by the Shanghai police for five days in February for regularly posting offensive content about the tragedy in WeChat groups. “Japanese soldiers should have killed more. 300,000 are not enough,” he said on the messaging platform on one occasion.
The recent cases also invoked the public’s memory of some old news about jingri. Last year, a series of images showing four young men posing at the Continental Bank Warehouse in Shanghai — a critical location where Chinese troops defeated Japanese enemies during the Sino-Japanese War in 1937 — gathered much attention on Chinese social media.
According to an article by the Global Times (in Chinese), there seems to be a fairly small yet closely connected community of jingri across China and they don’t easily accept new members into their group. “Some military fans like to dress in uniforms because they appreciate this type of clothing, but people in the jingri community obtain pleasure from cosplaying Japanese soldiers as invaders. They actually agree with the Japanese invasion of China,” an internet user who has been studying the culture behind jingri for years told the newspaper.
The rise of such cases also became a topic during the Two Sessions, leading a crowd of delegates to consider a law that would legally punish those who “make fun of national misfortunes.” “A law would deter them from challenging. They would know that they have to pay a higher price if they cross the line,” said Xiong Sidong 熊思东, president of Suzhou University. When asked about his view of jingri on his way out of a press conference, Wang Yi 王毅, China’s foreign minister, paused and replied, “They are scums among Chinese people.”