Kimchi, sushi, and dumplings. K-pop, J-pop, and C-pop. Many Andover students seem to view Korea, Japan, and China as fundamentally similar countries with only small, trivial distinctions. The majority of our community is unaware that these nations actually have major historical, social, and cultural differences, and are frequently in conflict with one another.
Diplomatic tensions between China, South Korea, and Japan have reached an alarming high this past decade. Japan faces territorial disputes with both China and Korea, with the Diaoyu or Senkaku Islands and the Dokdo or Takeshima Islands respectively. Japan and Korea are still debating the matter of “comfort women,” who were forced into prostitution by the Japanese army before and during World War II after Korea called on Japan to review their 2015 settlement on the issue. Relations between China and Korea became strained earlier this year over the Thaad missile defense system. Only the nuclear threat of North Korea has diverted the three countries’ attentions from these and many other disputes.
The animosity between these three countries is also expressed on an interpersonal level. The views of Chinese, Japanese, and South Korean citizens towards each other are more distasteful than most Americans expect. I have experienced this personally when I was the only Japanese student studying at a junior boarding school in the United States. An older Korean girl, whom I had never met before, randomly asked for my opinion on the Sea of Japan naming dispute — the argument over whether the body of water bordered by Japan and Korea should be named the Sea of Japan or the East Sea — and laughed when I responded that I didn’t know. Many older Chinese and Korean students have also jokingly criticized Japan in front of my face. This hostility goes both ways: I’ve heard my Japanese grandparents express dislike towards China and Korea when watching the news, and I have also come across many stereotypes of China and Korea from Japanese Internet users.
Given that China, Japan, and Korea have such severe problems with each other, it is even more worrisome that many people assume that they are culturally and politically homogeneous. Four weeks ago, on Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Day, poet and professor Claudia Rankine spoke to the school about white supremacy. She discussed the consequences of racism and microaggressions, and how we, as citizens, can overcome these issues. When showing a Chinese laundry detergent commercial as an example of Afrophobia in Asia, however, Rankine wrongly labelled it a Japanese advertisement. When the news of her error spread across campus, many students shrugged it off without carefully considering its consequences. Incidents like this one cause students to group the three countries into a singular bubble, ignoring the political strife be
tween them. Living in close quarters
with Chinese and Korean students has taught me to understand their perspectives and befriend them, transcending the conflicts that exist between our countries. However, these problems still persist in the outside world and are relevant to Andover as well, but they are not acknowledged by our campus. As a school where over a thousand students from across the globe gather and study, Andover has a responsibility to examine political tensions between China, Korea, and Japan, especially when many of the school’s international students are from these countries.
Andover must draw attention towards these disputes in the classroom, in extracurriculars, and in school-wide events such as MLK Day. We
must promote awareness and discuss how the three countries can resolve conflict. Most importantly, the Andover community must express political and cultural sensitivity towards China, Korea, and Japan. By doing so, we can foster a more inclusive environment for students from these countries and give them a chance to reflect on problems back home, not only issues within the United States. Hopefully, examining these three nations will lead us to think critically about other regions as well, giving us a better understanding of the world in an era of complex global affairs.