Japanese prime minister Yasuo Fukuda.
Yesterday Japanese prime minister Yasuo Fukuda wrapped up his first visit to China since taking office in September. Chinese media hailed the trip as a perfect conclusion to the series of bilateral exchanges between the two countries during the past year. In the words of Fukuda and his Chinese counterpart, Wen Jiabao, the four-day visit heralded the "arrival of spring" to Sino-Japanese relations. In Beijing, Fukuda met with the top three Chinese leaders: president Hu Jintao, premier Wen Jiabao, and Wu Bangguo, chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress. On Saturday, at the gymnasium of the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse, Fukuda and Wen played catch. The carefully staged photo op showed Wen in the same baseball jersey that he wore this past April while playing ball with students of Kyoto's Ritsumeikan University during his visit to Japan. The back of the uniform bore the number 35, highlighting the fact that this year marks the 35th anniversary of the normalization of relations between the two countries. The trip also took the Japanese leader to the northeastern port city of Tianjin, a magnet for Japanese investment and a growth engine for north China. But what appealed to Chinese cultural pride most was Fukuda's visit to Qufu, a city in the eastern province of Shandong famed for being the birthplace of Confucius. Chinese media noted that the pilgrimage was initiated by the Japanese side, and credited it with giving "depth" to Fukuda's itinerary. Liberation Daily regarded it as a gesture by the Japanese leader to "show respect" and "to stress the common bond among East Asian civilizations." That Fukuda happens also to be well versed in The Analects of Confucius did not go unnoticed by Chinese media, which reported that the Japanese prime minister not only sprinkled his speeches with quotes from the Chinese sage, but that during his stay in Qufu he wielded a brush pen and demonstrated his calligraphic skills. It was noted in particular that Fukuda penned the phrase wengu chuangxin (creating things new through learning things old), a slight modification of the famous Confucian maxim wengu zhixin (gaining insights new through learning things old). People's Daily interpreted this to mean that the two countries are to "take a lesson from history while at the same time looking toward the future." While coverage given by Chinese media to Fukuda's visit was overwhelmingly favorable, a discordant note was sounded in an article titled "Japanese prime minister paying respects to Confucius; has Japan absorbed the essence of Confucianism?" The article has been circulating on the websites of various Chinese media outlets, including the Japanese edition of People's Daily.

First appearing on December 26 in World News Journal, a biweekly publication of China Radio International, it states:
Of the five essential Confucian attributes: benevolence, righteousness, good manners, wisdom and trustworthiness, the Japanese are best at displaying good manners. In the Tokyo subway station, no matter how crowded it may be, passengers respond by forming two lines and boarding the train in an orderly fashion…
The article goes on to say that the Japanese have only a "fragmented" understanding of the true spirit of Confucianism, which values, above all else, the concept of "benevolence." It notes that while male members of the Japanese imperial family are commonly given names containing the word hito, Japanese for "benevolence," the quality itself is woefully lacking in the Japanese ethical system. This, in turn, contributes to the "cold and apathetic human relations" in Japanese society. The piece concludes with what may be a not-so-subtle swipe:
On the issue of Sino-Japanese relations, what is needed is a step from "good manners" to "benevolence." While it is important that the two countries treat each other with "good manners," it is the realization of true "benevolence" based on mutual interests, understanding and cooperation that is, in the end, the appropriate objective for bilateral relations.
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