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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

China press prejudices dashed


BEIJING — A number of Chinese journalists saw their long-held negative views about Japan and its people change completely after traveling to the Tohoku region to cover the aftermath of the March 11 disaster, according to their reports to a recent symposium with university students in Beijing.

Impressed by the orderly and patient behavior of disaster survivors and the relatively high transparency of information released, they said they developed a feeling of respect toward the Japanese.

Their reports were so full of positive aspects that some of the roughly 200 students in the audience questioned whether the journalists had come across anything negative while in Japan.

"The ability of the government to handle relief operations was not as high as that of the Chinese government," said Zhang Hongwei, 44, a reporter from the Chinese Business View newspaper based in Shaanxi Province.

Other than that, however, the journalists only cited favorable aspects about Japan.

Chen Jie, 38, a cameraman for Beijing News, was one of them. While admitting he had felt resentment and mistrust toward the Japanese for a long time, "the prejudice that I felt gradually disappeared while I was there, trying to cover the disaster damage," he said.

"In the 14 days I spent on the assignment, I learned much more than I would have done if I had read books for 10 years," he added.

Chen flew to Sendai on March 14 and covered disaster-hit areas, including Minamisanriku in Miyagi Prefecture and the city of Fukushima.

His strongest impression of the Japanese was "the cool and collected" manner demonstrated by the people in devastated areas, including the direct survivors of the disaster.

Chen said he was moved when he saw people patiently line up in front of shops amid shortages caused by the disrupted distribution channels.

He noted that shop owners didn't exploit the situation by indulging in price-gouging and even family members of those who had died tried to restrain themselves from crying openly during burials.

"I was surprised that I was given priority treatment at a gas station, as I had an emergency press pass," he said, showing slides of a large number of people waiting their turn to fill up.

Zhang of the Chinese Business View, who visited sites in Iwate and Miyagi prefectures, said he also had been "an anti-Japan person," but through his assignment he came to realize "the Japanese deserve respect."

Chen and Zhang were among more than 150 Chinese journalists sent to cover the Tohoku catastrophe. The unusually large number appears to have been partly because it was a natural disaster, not a political matter.

Reporter Qin Xuan of the Southern Weekly magazine in Guangdong Province said "it must have been the first time that so many journalists flew out to cover an overseas incident."

The magazine ran a special feature on the disaster with a headline saying "The nation of patience," mirroring straightforwardly the impressions that its reporters took from the stricken areas.

The story touched on how Self-Defense Forces personnel gave a salute to dead people before burying them, providing a new image of the SDF, which ordinary Chinese still tend to view in light of the wartime Imperial Japanese Army.

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