Bridging the Gap/ Speaking up for Chinese expats in Japan
BY TOSHIO JO, STAFF WRITER
This is part of a series of interviews in which people with wide cross-cultural experience in Japan and China discuss their work, problems and hopes for the future.
Duan Yue Zhong was working as a senior editor at one of China's most influential newspapers when he gave it up to join his wife in Japan.
That was 15 years ago, and now Duan runs a publishing business in Tokyo's Ikebukuro district. In the time he has lived here, he has seen the relationship between Japan and China become more tense than it has been in decades.
Duan, 48, puts out a newsletter covering activities by Chinese expatriates and has published more than 130 books. He has also become something of an unofficial spokesman for the Chinese community of Japan.
"There are so many accumulated exchanges between our two countries over the last 30 years, but the problem is that they have not directly translated into better mutual understanding," Duan said. "I want to help Japanese people know what's happening in the Chinese community.
"Take my neighborhood, the Ikebukuro district, for example. I have done some research on Chinese who graduated from [the area's] Rikkyo University, and I've found out some of them now hold senior government posts in China.
"Ikebukuro has good Chinese bookstores, many Chinese-language publications, Chinese-run Internet cafes and restaurants, so this should be promoted in an organized way."
Duan currently is preparing to set up a study group to promote the concept of an Ikebukuro Chinatown. He has gotten some officials of Rikkyo University on board along with local politicians, shop owners and community members, Duan said.
Duan, who worked for the state-run China Youth Daily before coming to Japan 15 years ago, made a name for himself here in the late 1990s when he published the "Data Book of Chinese." The publication, the first of its kind in Japan, listed about 10,000 Chinese in Japan, including business people, academics and journalists. It also has 50,000 entries about business here. The book was the product of six years collecting information from newspapers, magazines and other published material.
His small publishing house, Nihon Kyohosha (The Duan Press), specializes in books on Japan-China relations. Many of the books are by Chinese authors and have been translated into Japanese. Duan decided to set up the company in 1999 as an extension of a monthly magazine on Chinese expatriates he had started as a graduate student in Niigata Prefecture.
He also puts out a weekly e-mail magazine about Chinese expatriates in Japan, and updates his Web site duan.exblog.jp/> nearly every day. The blog covers a wide range of events related to bilateral affairs.
It is in Japan, the journalist and publisher says, that he enjoys the greatest freedom to publish.
"I would not be allowed to publish books freely on delicate subjects related to bilateral ties [in China] because there is not yet much freedom of speech in China," said the Hunan province native.
The business doesn't always pay enough to support his wife and two children, and Duan occasionally puts in stints teaching Chinese language at universities to supplement his income.
"Distribution is a major headache because major distributors do not deal with a small company like mine," Duan said. "The Internet is now a major sales tool."
Duan was 33 with no knowledge of Japanese when he first came here in 1991.
"Since my Chinese wife was studying at a Japanese university, she asked me to come to live in Japan for one year, which was my original plan," he said. His bosses at the China Youth Daily granted him a year's leave from work.
"Since I was a journalist, my interest naturally turned to the Chinese-language media in Japan, which then helped me get interested in activities by Chinese residents in Japan," Duan said.
In the end, he decided to stay in Japan to earn a doctorate at Niigata University, writing his thesis on the history of contemporary Chinese who studied in Japan.
As a key exchange project, he is promoting a Japanese-language essay contest for Chinese and a Chinese-language version for Japanese, both of which are now in their second year.
In March, he made a set of proposals to promote mutual understanding between the two countries.
One of them is to create a new discussion forum for politicians from both countries who have experience studying in each other's country. He is personally contacting individual politicians and organizations involved in Japan-China exchanges to seek support for the idea. "I am getting some positive feedback and I am hopeful we will be able to establish the forum next year."
But his personal campaign for better mutual understanding sometimes looks like a drop in the bucket. Hostilities between Japan and China have flared in recent years over issues such as Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visits to Yasukuni Shrine, where war criminals are honored along with the rest of Japan's war dead, and over textbooks criticized by China as whitewashing Japan's militarist past.
"The worse the situation becomes, the more effort I should make," Duan said. "I am sure the more people understand the history of the relationship, the more we can understand each other."(IHT/Asahi: May 15,2006)