Sino-Japanese Relations…in an alternative universe (Code Geass pt2)

It’s been a while since the last post on Code Geass, and I’m sorry that I’m not as prolific. My MA degree is really piling work on me. I somewhat got the thesis proposal out of the way, so…forging ahead. (numbers in square brackets denote explanatory footnotes, letters in square brackets denote original Chinese forum posts)

(Also, I have a tendency to give a lot of background and am slow to get to the point. If you just want to get to the point scroll to where the “*****” is.)

In the last post on Code Geass, I briefly touched on Japanese nationalism contributing to the anime’s popularity, as part of its larger preoccupation with politics, albeit the politics of fictional countries. And Code Geass mentions/involves many other nations in international politics (especially in the second season, Code Geass R2). In the second season, the Euro Universe is conquered by Prince Schneizel, and Indian military engineers chip in to help the Black Knights (though as Diethard says in R2, Ep. 10, India doesn’t seem to be unified in its support). The Chinese Federation also throws in their lot, after 3-way political and military sing and dance with Britannia, ending in a botched wedding, coup d’etat, and a lot of shooting. The question is whether the international politics inCode Geass reveals anything about international politics in real life, even though the countries in this anime don’t literally exist.

It’s difficult not to read (or watch, I guess) Britannia as an incarnation of the United States. And I’m sure even the the most dense anime fan will notice the number of titles dealing with (post-)apocalyptic scenarios in Japan, from Akira to CLAMP’s X, and Code Geass as well. I’m not the only one to posit that this proliferation of apocalyptic themes in anime has to do with WWII and the bombs dropped by the US on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Code Geass character Nina, who has the last name
Einstein, is no accident. And while some may object to confuddling fiction and real life (throughout this post, I will be translating comments left by Chinese viewers on video hosting sites, and many comments even starting to approach Code Geass as somehow reflecting reality are spammed by other posts telling everyone to just lighten up and enjoy the show), fiction is a product of the consciousness former by real life events. Accepting this, I want to look at how China, or the “Chinese Federation,” is portrayed in Code Geass, taking into account the East side of WWII. (I’m sidestepping the Britannia/US binary because I don’t have the historical background to take on US-Japan relations, though anyone who wants to take this on, go for it, and I challenge all those political science-incline out there to watch Code Geass and write me a response!)

For those as poor in historical background as me, the Sino-Japanese War in real life stemmed from Japan industrializing after receiving Commodore Perry and along with him, US influence, and using the results of that industrialization to expand and counter the threats of neighbouring states, before the 1900s. Korea was then somewhat allied/under the rule of the Qing dynasty in China. China lost the tussle with Japan over Korea mostly due to internal unrest, and Japan subsequently sought to expand into China-controlled territory even further. Japan invaded Manchuria in WWII, and a long and torturous engagement followed. Japan withdrew from the combined pressure of Chinese Communist and Nationalist troops, Russian troops, and the newly provoked (by Pearl Harbour) US dropping bombs.

China, Korea, and other southeast Asian countries never forgave Japan, especially since members of the Japanese government today try to censor their role in WWII from official documents, textbooks, etc. As a person of Chinese descent, I was brought up to be quite anti-Japanese, and even my peers in China, such as my cousins, are rather anti-everything-Japanese now. However, as a Canadian, I am a little startled to see that Chinese comics for children show the Japanese in almost the same way as WWII-era American comics show the Japanese, considering the Canadian government treated Japanese Canadian citizens in WWII like the Nazis treated Jews. These opposite sensibilities made me prick up my ears at the mention that Code Geass will show not only Chinese characters (which many animes do[1]) but China as a nation, which motivated me to watch Season 2. This is even more interesting in the context of a number of recent Chinese television shows featuring a WWII setting and Japanese villains.[2] To what extend is the hate and denigration mutual? Has a media battle of sorts replaced the actual war?

I. General Overview, Season 1
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R1 - 20.10

As an overview, Code Geass seems to present China in two lights. In the first season, characters remark on China rather snidely in passing[3], with one minor military involvement; in the second season, China is nationally involved and characters constitute strong military allies. It seems from the comments online that Chinese audiences have received this anime quite positively, I think because it speaks to rebellious impulses regardless of nationality. However, there are some objections from Chinese viewers.

One point of dissatisfaction is Episode 20 of season 1. In this episode, the Sawasaki and the pre-Britannian Japanese government, who have escaped to the Chinese Federation, obtains help from the General Chan in the Chinese government to “take back” Japan from Britannia. As a Japan-based Britannian newscaster describes it, China joined in for “humanitarian” reasons. The Black Knights help Britannia defend Kyushu against them. Suzaku, the Japanese character in Britannian service, rejects Sawasaki’s proposed Japan, saying he shouldn’t have run to China and should have stayed behind. Sawasaki and his Chinese allies are defeated, with Sawasaki being taken by Britannia and the Chinese Federation bailing out and laying the blame on General Chan’s independent actions.

On the[4] page for Episode 20 of Code Geass Season 1, there is a heated back-and-forth about Japan and its relationship to China in both the anime and real life. One viewer egged the Chinese Federation on for trying to incorporate Japan into its borders. Another viewer cursed Japan (ie the anime producers) for being out of their mind for the depiction of General Chan, saying that of course the Chinese military doesn’t dress like it did during the Qing dynasty.

Most notably, one viewer stated, “If you guys don’t like Japan, then don’t watch anime! Use your pig brains and think about it -do you think China can defeat Japan?” This triggered several angry responses, mostly insisting that if China and Japan came to blows China could be victorious, that this viewer should be beaten or bitch-slapped by his parents for being unpatriotic, etc. One respondent does note that although (in WWII) China seemed like a rooster and Japan like a worm, the worm in this case chewed up the rooster. Then there were a couple of responses saying that we shouldn’t bring up the painful past and that conflating fiction and real life gets us nowhere.

Of the episode itself, I feel that Sawasaki, the ex-Japanese official, shoulders most of the viewers’ contempt. General Chan does look like someone out of a costume drama, but Season 2 reveals that the Chinese Federation still exists as an imperial dynastic order, so I shall pardon the producers (partly, and for the moment) for General Chan’s Fu Manchu moustache. From a military and political point of view, Suzaku is probably correct in rejecting Sawasaki, because he is likely being used as a puppet by the Chinese. The quip about China entering for humanitarian reasons notwithstanding (I think viewers are meant to question whether China does anything for humanitarian reasons), the question, then, is whether hurray for the Japanese producers to show Chinese encroaching on Japan instead of the other way around, or damn the Japanese producers to hyping up the Chinese threat, albeit in a fictional setting, and then having Chinese forces soundly defeated by the combined powers of a Japanese wonder soldier and a Japanese-sympathizing American. I will return to this after looking at the second season. But, as one viewer states on Youku (similar to, “Since Lulu is the hero of them little Japs, I’ll take it upon myself to defeat him and Japan – hahahaha.”

II. Season 2 – Diplomatic China and Asian Stereotypes

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In the second season of Code Geass, the arena expands out of Japan, and China is the first destination. It seems that Lelouch moves his operations to China partly because the Geass Order could be situated there, and also because in the initial rescue of the Black Knights facing execution, the character of Li Xingke proved to be an ally. Also, Kaguya Sumeragi, a leader of a secret anti-Britannian society, has made “friends” with the Empress of China.

At the beginning of R2, Lelouch’s rescue operations for his followers coincides with ambassadors from the Chinese Federation coming to the Britannian government in Japan. It seems that Britannia and the Chinese Federation have a non-aggression pact that isn’t completely friendly, being two of the three worldly superpowers. The meeting is supposed to bring the two powers to more friendly terms. On the Chinese Federation side is the Grand Eunuch Gao Hai and the military officer Li Xingke, who seem to be at odds with each other regarding their nation and how to conduct foreign relations. Gao Hai is set up to be a corrupt official (as the anime progresses, it is revealed that all of the Grand Eunuchs have been using the Empress of China as a puppet), and his position with Li’s dissenting party is worsened by the fact that Lelouch puts him under the Geass power[5]. Gao Hai is compelled by the Geass to recognize the Black Knights and Japan as a nation, based in the Chinese Embassy, on behalf of the Chinese Federation. This displeases Li, who makes his own deal with the Black Knights, in that the Black Knights can use the Embassy as a separate “country” in their rescue skirmish with Britannia, only if Li gets to kill Gao Hai and put his own plans for China into action. The power dynamics among the characters are complex, not to mention national implications. One comment that nicely sums up the ambiguity ran thus: “How come the Chinese Federation ended up supporting Lelouch…? *Speechless*…Is Japan hinting that China is Japan’s supporter, behind-the-scenes [“建国的幕后黑手,” hard to translate]…? Or is it trying to pull in Chinese viewers…? *speechless*…or, maybe…never mind…I’ll keep watching to see what happens later…” (shirleymiyu)

Gao Hai and Li Xingke form an interesting duo in diplomacy, fictional or not. On one hand, Gao Hai is a desexualized, desk-bound, simpering bureaucrat, and on the other hand, Li Xingke is a masculine, martial, and disciplined idealist. They are the faces of the Chinese to Britannia and the Black Knights, and also to the Japanese, American, and whatnot viewers. Which one is China? It seems that Gao Hai and Li Xingke present two prongs of the stereotype against Asian males from a Caucasian point of view – either they are calculating bureaucrats and thinkers and at the expense of their masculine bodies in the tradition of the Math nerd, or they are cool martial artists in the tradition of Bruce Lee. Japanese have slightly different stereotypes born from the image of the samurai, added to the influx of Japanese media into the West, which I argue has made Japanese stereotypes somewhat different from Chinese stereotypes. Other Asians, sadly, still seem somewhat absent from media representation (Maybe I should talk about Harold and Kumar later).

The fact that anime is an Asian medium and still has these stereotypes is a little alarming. Those who have deigned to scroll down to footnote [1] can see the list of Chinese anime characters. What I want to point to is that although the Japanese characters in anime are often not held to Japanese racial likeness (hair and eye colours abound), Chinese characters in anime almost always look Asian. And although Japan is not a country lacking in its own martial tradition, Chinese anime characters seem to be proficient in martial arts as a indelible trait even when the the anime isn’t a martial arts anime. It seems that in popular Japanese culture, at least, China and the Chinese are stereotyped, whether positively (Li Xingke) or negatively (Gao Hai).

However, despite being rather stereotypical, Li Xingke’s first impression upon viewers is quite positive. There was numerous comments on Youku (similar to in favour of how handsome he is. However, the reception of the Chinese Federation was somewhat mixed. Some loved the portrayal of the Chinese Federation,[a] with one viewer saying he/she would like to see the Chinese Federation take over the world. However, many comments question why the Chinese Federation appeared to look like a medieval society[b], with one person attributing this portrayal to Japanese people unable to see that China has developed since the Qing dynasty[c].

Then there’s the question of the embassy. A country’s embassy on foreign soil is seen as a piece of land belonging to the embassy’s home country; that is why Lelouch can count on Li Xingke blocking Britannian entry into the embassy, because military forces in the embassy would almost be like Britannia invading the Chinese Federation. However, a part of the deal with Li is that the Black Knights re-declare the United States of Japan in a room of the embassy grounds. Although it isn’t technically an invasion, since Li made this deal out of his own free will and not under the Geass like Gao Hai, instead of Britannians invading the Chinese Federation (which they don’t – the Knightmare frame soldiers listen to Li and turn back), the Chinese Federation has ceded a part of its territory (a room) to Japan. Although viewers on Youku were generally happy that something Chinese-related got anime airtime, there were some negative comments – that although “the Japs” manage to create really good anime, they still have to denigrate China and make it look bad. Many comments ran along the lines of “Is Japan and China actually working together? *sweatdrop*”

III. Season 2 – Territory and Post-raciality

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Onto the Chinese Federation itself. It subsumes all of Asia (except for Japan), meaning countries such as India, Laos, and Pakistan are under its rule. It is described as being wrecked by disasters and famine, with the Eunuchs controlling power and production. A reel of black and white montage in Episode 9 shows the average folk in utter destitution. After Lelouch moves the Black Knights out of the Chinese Federation Embassy, the Grand Eunuchs in the Chinese Federation grants the Black Knights and artificial island in the south. But Britannia, not wanting to lose their edge, buys the Eunuchs with Britannian titles to arrange a wedding between the Empress and the eldest Britannian prince. Li Xingke and other members of the military loyal to the Empress is apalled by this prospect. He crashes the wedding and stages a coup, only to have Lelouch take advantage of the general confusion and take the Empress hostage and depart with the rest of the Black Knights.

These movements and the ensuing melee make for exciting action sequences. Before getting into the battle and the depiction of Chinese military mentality therein, the background merits discussion. In real life, eunuchs were used as servants for the Imperial family in the Qing dynasty, because sexually active males would threaten the Emperor’s reproductive right over his wives and concubines. While the eunuchs historically rarely held official positions, because they were servants and sometimes confidants for those who were, they could be said to have wielded a certain degree of power from the shadows. This is perhaps what Code Geass is tapping into. Also, having denigrated Gao Hai as a negative Asian stereotype, I do have to say that in Chinese historical dramas, eunuchs are mostly oily and manipulative characters who suck up to those with power and spurn those without. So, before disparaging the Grand Eunuchs of Code Geass as Japan’s view of Chinese government, it is a view that Chinese media partly endorses. Aside from the Grand Eunuchs, some viewers question why Japanese anime always makes the political leader of China female. I’m not aware of this tendency, but if it is true, it might play into feminization of China as a country (along with genderless eunuchs).

However, Chinese media usually present even the most base Chinese character as patriotic.[6] This means that even if eunuchs are oily and unpleasant in a Chinese work of fiction, they usually wouldn’t sell their country to gain personal status. Importantly, they are conceding territory, which to Chinese people is the ultimate blow to national pride (think of the happiness that greeted Hong Kong’s return to China, and the continuing contestation over Taiwan). I find it too extreme an act even for these Granch Eunuchs. It is of note that in the case of Code Geass, the Grand Eunuchs are not selling out to the equivalent of Japan but the equivalent of America. Ponder this because I don’t have a resolution. Added to being depicted as selling out for personal gain, the state of the country is an extremely negative one. While poverty and a lack of resources are problems in China today, it would be reductionist to say that the country is defined by these problems. Along with this, I need to bring up again the quip in Season 1 that China was backing Sawasaki for “humanitarian” reasons. The Chinese Federation seems to be a two-faced beast. Before I get too negative, there is also Lee’s cabal trying to free the Chinese Federation from foreign political influence. I rather like Li’s wedding crashing speech: “Where, in this marriage, is the will of the Chinese Federation?” – implying that the Chinese Federation should not be equated with the Grand Eunuchs necessarily, but everybody else.

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Now to the exciting part – the battle over the Empress by 3 different nations. I am going to give a very detailed account of this battle, which takes place over 2 episodes, so if you already know what occurs, scroll down to *. Lelouch captures the Empress and flees with the Black Knights (incidentally, in the back of a large delivery truck with a panda logo). Britannia chases them to secure the Empress, but Toudou holds Suzaku back. The truck is forced to stop because the Chinese Federation’s defense unit destroyed the bridge along their route. This turns out to be Lelouch’s plan, as he has hidden other members of the Black Knights in the gorge that the bridge passes over. While they fight, he takes the Empress back to his command headquarters on the Ikaruga. Lee and his followers are imprisoned briefly for trying to stage a coup, but then the Grand Eunuchs realize that other than Li’s superior fighting skills and military leadership, they haven’t a hope of winning. So they install him in the Knightmare Frame “Shenhu” (divine/magical tiger) while holding his aide, Zhou Xianglin, hostage in the command centre. Li manages to capture Karen, and the reinforcements from the Chinese Federation arrive behind the Black Knights. Most Black Knights members want to rescue Karen, but Diethard points out that it is illogical to risk sacrificing themselves for one soldier, and they should meet up with the Indian army for reinforcements. However, as Rakshata has stated that other elements within the Indian government has given Shenhu to the Chinese Federation in the first place, Lelouch deems it likely that in fact India has betrayed them as well. So the Black Knights gather their forces around the command centre, which leaves the Chinese Federation units the only choice of also concentrating their forces in front to break through. Li’s Shenhu engages with Toudou’s Zangetsu while the main Chinese Federation forces does break through the first block of defense. However, this is exactly what Lelouch wanted, as he gets the divided first block to surround the Chinese Federation units from behind, hoping to contain Shenhu long enough to exhaust its energy. Li had another plan, which was to collapse a dam and let canal water submerge the Black Knights. Lelouch had foreseen this and reduced the amount of water in the canal. However, Lelouch did not know that the land he had been fighting on was used for irrigation, and along with shoddy construction work, it means that the earth is softer than usual, and the Black Knight’s units sink into the mud. Li lectures Lelouch on his imminent defeat, concluding with “The bearer of our victory is our country’s land itself.”

Lelouch is forced to retreat, as Ikaruga hasn’t sunk. He takes what remains of the Black Knights to the Tomb of the 88 Emperors, guessing that the Federation won’t attack the resting place of their own rulers. However, the Eunuchs don’t seem to care about this. They have solicited the help of Britannia to attack the tombs, and reveal to Li that to them both the he and the Empress are expendable, and in fact they have readied a puppet Empress. Li is angered by this and wants to go after the Eunuchs, but Gino stops him. Li tells Gino to get out of the way because “This is my country’s own problem,” and Gino argues, “But on the international stage, they are your countries representatives.” Meanwhile, Anya is wiping out the Chinese Federation troops with Mordred. Nina, on board with Prince Schneizel, wonders why Mordred doesn’t just destroy the entire tomb complex, and Kanon Maldini, the Prince’s aide, says that they have to leave it to the Eunuchs to kill the Empress, otherwise it would give Britannia a bad reputation. Lelouch tries to bargain with the Eunuchs, but the Eunuchs already have everything they want in their deal with Britannia. Lelouch is outraged that the Eunuchs don’t care about how their decision will impact the people. The Empress at this point runs out of the Ikaruga, screaming at all the troops to stop fighting. Kaguya tries to go after her but the guards block her way. Li sees the Empress getting blown about as explosions go off, and then the Eunuchs order their troops to kill the Empress. Li puts Shenhu in their line of fire and takes their shots, but realizes that he can’t hold his position, and calls for help. Lelouch answers by coming out in person in the shiny new Knightmare Frame Shinkirou, and uses it to prove to Li that he himself is the only person Li can join forces with. Li says that he will not be Lelouch’s subordinate. Lelouch answers that no, Li is a capable person, and so he will save the Empress, Li, and everyone in the Chinese Federation. At this moment, all parties receive word that there’s a riot going on in Shanghai, Beijing, Jakarta, Islamabad, etc. Lelouch had conducted his conversation with the Eunuchs for the purpose of leaking it to the public via Diethard’s control of the media. Schneizel guesses, and Lelouch explains, that creating conditions for a revolt at the same time Li stages a coup means that the Black Knights are not in fact under siege at the Tombs, but that all the civilians of the Chinese Federation are their “reinforcements.”

Lelouch sends out the Black Knights, which those surrounding Schneizel say that they can easily crush. Schneizel, however, orders that they retreat, as “A country is neither its territory or its government, but its people,” and having lost support of the people, the Grand Eunuchs are no longer useful for Britannia to back. They retreat, and Lelouch and Li go to find the Eunuchs, Li so that he can get Zhou Xianglin out and Lelouch so that he can rescue Karen (who had been “given” to Suzaku earlier). When they return, Li and the Empress reunite, but Diethard advises that they arrange a marriage between the Empress and someone Japanese. Lelouch things of Toudou and Tamaki, but all the women in the Black Knights go against Diethard’s suggestion – Kaguya mostly because she thinks that Li and the Empress should be together. It takes Shirley, Lelouch’s friend at school, to convince him to let affection run its course, and that love is power. Lelouch interprets this as similar to how he wanted to create a better world for his sister Nunally, and decides that the Chinese Federation would be a more powerful ally if they want to do the same for their Empress. Diethard seriously objects to Lelouch’s “We fight by the power of our hearts!” speech, but everyone else nods happily, and Lelouch and Li shake hands.

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The response to this couple of episodes was rather interesting. Predictably, there were people who were opposed to the way the battle was constructed, with comments along the lines of “Japan, go to hell” and “Go die” etc. One viewer astutely summarized his/her take on the battle as “The central point of this episode seems to be ‘Japan no longer constitute a threat under the military might and pressure of the West, and therefore needs to subjugate the old-fashioned and backward China, and use China’s resources, to oppose their might.'”[h] On Episode 11, there were numerous protests that the animation for Chinese Federation people look ugly, that the Chinese Federation looked too ancient, and that history was all distorted anyway, and since when did we have eunuchs in government…? An interesting dialogue that went thus: Poster A: “Wow, the producers are so generous…they gave all of Asia to China.” Poster B: “Really? Why didn’t they give us Japan too?” [f] And one person pointed out something that seems both obvious and easy to miss: “Why does everyone in the Chinese Federation know how to speak Japanese?”

Maybe I’m picking out more negative responses. There is an emoticon on Youku that animates the Chinese character for “great” or “wonderful,” and I would say at least 1/5 of the posters posted this emoticon and nothing else. Most people enjoyed how exciting the battle, was, but there were a few comments that the battle maneuvers were copying the Romance of the Three Kingdoms. This refers to the Li’s idea that the people living on a terrain will know it best and will ultimately win because of it, which was one piece of military wisdom in the story. What I find interesting is that no one saw using ideas from Three Kingdoms as a good thing. It is understandable that many Chinese viewers would see this as almost plagiarizing off one pillar of their culture and using it to (literally) attack (a fictional) China with it. However, as a point of history, it is said that Mao Tse-Tung studied Three Kingdoms extensively during WWII and used tactics therein to repel the Japanese invaders, which is exactly what is going on in Episode 10. For a Japanese anime to include that is frankly quite astounding to me. Granted, the Eunuchs look awful, the country is represented to be in shambles, but if there is a representative for the Chinese Federation in this anime, it would be Li. Lelouch owns that Li’s genius rivals his own and Li’s heroism in battle rivals Suzaku’s. And Li quite clearly refuses to be subordinate to Lelouch, even if they join forces. I did not mention this scene in my discussion of Li as an ambassador to Britannia, but in the first episode of Season 2, Gao Hai the Grand Eunuch tells the Britannian governor that he’s heard rumours that Zero is dead, to which the governor replies, “No, no…I believe it is still a bit early for you, members of the Chinese Federation, to understand us, Britannia.” Then, two soldiers ask Li to remove his sword for security reasons, and says that he does not need such an “antique” anyway. Li responds by drawing his sword and cutting off the two soldiers’ weapon belts so quickly that they (and we) barely see him do it. When Gao Hai chastises him for being rude, Li replies, “Forgive me. I believe it was a bit early for them to understand us, the Chinese Federation.”

“Understanding” the Chinese Federation would involve understanding things like national pride in the land as being able to rise up and defeat enemies, which it seems neither the Black Knights and Britannia grasp. It is the first time in the anime that Lelouch is significantly out-maneuvered. For this anime to understand and assert that the Chinese Federation holds such values that could drive them to ingeniously defend their country, but also that superpowers should not presume they understand everything about China and belittle China, seems to be speaking of China with quite a high regard. Again, granted that the country is in shambles etc. There was one comment as follows: “Such an insult…an insult…even the Japanese know about shoddy work and corruption…damn…”[e] This person was somehow not spammed by comments questioning his patriotism. This may be because there is a general feeling of discomfort and shame that this in actuality is what takes place in China from time to time.

I am still ambivalent about this. The battle over the Empress pretty much redeems any other slur against the Chinese Federation for me, yet I cannot deny that those slurs exist. Some of them hold truth (the corruption and shoddy work, and to a certain extent the Eunuchs), which make Chinese viewers uncomfortable. In Episodes 10 and 11, at least, it’s hard to conclude that Japan invaded and took over China. I think it’s more accurate to say that Lelouch used extremely tenuous political circumstances on all three sides to ensure that he gains a powerful ally. I prefer to think that Asia, in this case, has united against the powers of the West. But we do need to examine the ending political situation of the anime.

The comment that the viewer would like to defeat Lelouch, and by extension Japan, received a response giving the political situation at the end of the anime (spoiler alert!), which is that Lelouch “defeated” the Chinese Federation and unified the world. This response was in turn met by a rather sharp response, “What country are you from?” (ie, whose side are you on.) Whether the Chinese Federation is defeated is a question. It is true that it no longer exists in its imperial state, but in separate smaller states. As territorial unity is important to the Chinese sensibility, it is not surprising that the viewers online would see national fracture as national failure. I believe that the producers of Code Geass may also hold this view, as the fact that the Chinese Federation becomes separate states in no way drives the plot – it’s an aside that is just written in. However, coming from a country where one province holds an entirely different official language, I have to question whether the Chinese Federation splitting constitute a failed state. First of all, it was a Federation of different ethnic groups to begin with. More compelling is Lelouch’s line that “No matter where we are, we will always be Japanese!” It seems that an anime that defines a people by its culture and values and not its territories when speaking about Japan would not then forgo this logic when considering its other fictitious nations. After all, from the broadcast about the United Federation of Nations that Lelouch helps create, he installs himself as the CEO of the Black Knights, but Li as its commander-in-chief. Li also leads the final battle against Britannia, though he does give up this post to Prince Schneizel out of his concern that Schneizel would use his nuclear weapon.

In some ways the anime is extremely complex because it simultaneously asserts the possibility of a nation beyond territory (which is increasingly our world – and there’s tons of scholarship on what being “Jewish” means when there’s Jewish people around the world before the creation of Israel) and yet unites most of the world’s nations in a melting pot to counter Britannia. Lelouch arrives at the conclusion that although his desire at the beginning of the anime was simple – that he just wanted to create a world for his sister Nunally – through his formation of the Black Knights and the United Federation of Nations, he should no longer privilege her, but needs to consider the world. The idea behind the United Federation of Nations is that no single country is more important than any other country, and in fact borders are meaningless. Taking this into account, the fact that the Chinese Federation is fractured into separate states does not really matter – whether entering the United Federation as the Chinese Federation or as separate states, it still ends up being a part of the larger world sphere. In addition, this does not apply just to the Chinese Federation but to any country that enters the United Federation. In comparison to other nations, the Chinese Federation doesn’t get a worse deal, and so I would argue that we should not take the conflict in the Chinese Federation as somehow destroying it. Despite all the negative comments on video sharing sites, it seems that most people like the anime, and frankly, it’s better to give the Chinese Federation/China a role in the story as a world superpower instead of not mentioning it at all (And think for a second – when was the last time you heard Cambodia mentioned in an anime? No offense to Cambodians). The anime’s inclusion of different nations parallels the United Federation of Nations somewhat – it conducts countries into its plot, and viewers really have to put nationalism aside to get into the story.

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IV. A Punch for Media and Cultural Studies

In general, I think anime has a pretty positive take on China. Despite certain stereotypes discussed, it’s a mark of appreciating Chinese culture for someone like Ryu Fujisaki to adapt The Investiture of the Gods into a 20+ volume manga title. And having talked with people who have recently immigrated from Japan, I don’t get a sense that I am being looked down on. Of course, these things are never one or the other.

Having exhausted the anime’s story, I want to turn to the anime’s production. I am not someone who scrutinizes the credits, but some viewers on Youku and Tudou noticed that a Chinese animation company in fact contributed to the anime. This further complicates the discussion of the representation of China. If we conclude that Code Geass in fact does negatively portray China, then Chinese animators are complicit in insulting themselves, and are like a media version of the Grand Eunuchs. If we conclude that the production is neutral or complimentary, then perhaps we can say that yes, in real life Japan and China are teaming up to attack America (attack America as in helping to create an anime that attacks Britannia, and America by extension, and also creating Asian media together instead of just letting in American media).

Inherent in a Chinese studio helping animate a Japanese anime is a power relationship where the executive decisions are made in the production headquarters and then shipped to cheaper labour to do the grunt work. Most people are not aware that this takes place in media as much as fashion, but North American cartoons are frequently shipped to Asia because of cheaper labour. Therefore, one can also take Chinese participation in anime production as a sign that Japan has “invaded” China. Bearing all of this in mind, I do want to assert that it’s not all hopeless. Throughout the discussion I have pinpointed many positive depictions of the Chinese Federation, most notably the battle over the Empress suggesting that Chinese values are understood and applied as the Chinese themselves would apply them, and also suggesting transnational alliances where grievances are continuously aired are going to destroy those alliances. So I agree somewhat with viewers who say, “If you don’t like Japan, stop watching anime!” or “This is just a way to relax, stop bringing up the past.” Given this, I do insist that the Japanese government right now needs to start shaping up and admitting to some of Japan’s war crimes, such as the Nanking Massacre and the systematic abduction and purchase of women (Korean mostly, but also Ainu, Chinese, and Flilipina) to be used as forced prostitutes for the military during WWII.

I am prepared to think of the anime production coalition as a kind of beginning phase of the United Federation of Nations. The anime isn’t about political science even if it does involve it a lot, so it does not explore the complex negotiations and mutual adjustment that must go on in most of the world suddenly renouncing their statehood. I expect, though, it would be similar to a rapid version of globalization that is going on in the real world – that some nations who are less powerful to begin with are going to just share a bite of the apple while more powerful nations own the orchard. But, I hope that the United Federation of Nations is an example of how inequalities can work out, and it comes a time when it doesn’t make sense anymore to prioritize a single individual, where it doesn’t make sense to quibble about historic tensions and assert the quirks of a single nation, when there is the whole world to consider.

[1] Chinese characters in anime and manga include Melissa Mao from Fullmetal Panic!, Chang Wufei from Gundam Wing, Prince Lin Yao, his bodyguards and May Chang from Fullmetal Alchemist, Shampoo, her granny, and Mousse in Ranma 1/2, possibly the main character Hei in Darker than BLACK, and arguably the entire cast of works adapted from Chinese classics like Houshin Engi. But most animes don’t try to involve China as a geopolitical entity along with the characters’ nationality/descent.
[2] Some rather anti-Japanese titles are: 血色迷雾, 刀锋1937, 潜浮. Search them up on
[3] Some remarks of China include Emperor Charles’ declaration that the Chinese Federation is a communist state and hence breeds laziness and a lack of progress (Ep.6), and CC’s comment that she needs to conduct herself in a haughty manner when meeting with Chinese Federation delegates because the they look down on displays of humility (Ep.16).
[4] The author does not condone illegal file sharing blah blah blah. Anyway, Tudou is a video-sharing site like youtube based in China, without the 10-minute video limit. This means that many Chinese viewers access many shows on this site and leave messages. I take those who leave messages on Tudou to be a fairly good representation of the anime-watching demographic in China, though this may be contested.
[5] For those who aren’t acquainted with Code Geass, the events of the anime is precipitated by Lelouch, a Britannian student expatriate in Japan, encountering and sharing powers with CC, a witch that Britannia had been doing research on. Lelouch obtains the power to control another person into doing whatever he wishes them to do, working once per person and only with eye contact.
[6] For example, if the story was about Shanghai mafia lords during the 1930s, even the mafia lord who is the most merciless would in the end be patriotic and team up with his Chinese enemies to repel foreign invaders.
[a] 我擦 比稀烂剧情更郁闷的是 中华联邦 我擦; and 呵呵~我们中国最强~是不是
[b] 中国成了联邦, 2019年还有天子和太监
[c] 樱枫释飞: 兄弟顶你。区区小日本这么狂
[quoting] endofallhope:因为日 本 狗 崽 子 们 总是以为中国还是处于封建的清政府统治阶段 事实上他们知道中国富 强 只是像鸵鸟一样把脑袋塞进屎里否认罢了
[d] 不就是把我们的三国那去动漫化吧
[e] 讽刺啊..讽刺….偷工减料的陷阱.这情况连日本人都知道了…完了…完了…
[f] 灰色回忆£:
是吗= =怎么没把日本送过来
[quoting] weiman2802:
[g] ゞ誮糀紘孓灬:
[quoting] GGXXX:
[h] 无薪睡眠:
非常多不符合逻辑的事,ZERO这帮人的财力富可敌国,而且新型机的生产速度好像就是变出来一样,在敌方全面控制大局的情况下如何生产这么大数量的 NIGHTMARE?又如何去运输? 整个片的中心思想就是”日本在西方列强的高压下已经不可能在武力对列强们有威胁,只能通过征服古老落后的中国再利用中国的资源来和列强们战斗” 作者的头脑可以说是极端幼稚. 虽然这部动画可以说画面和战斗情节都不错,但是完全是天马行空的想法已经令这部动画越来越失色了.

More stuff off Tudou or Youku that I’m too lazy to translate:

遗莣。 发表于1年前:

动画一族 发表于1年前:

动画一族 发表于1年前:

Oo冰叶翼oO 发表于1年前:


喀耳刻 发表于1年前:

“= = 汗,老大啊,这是动画片,好不好?人家印度还没嫌Clamp的大婶们把他们纳入中华联邦呢!所有的国家只不过是在一点点事实上增加虚构而已,要真是把共和国的中国弄到动画片上,估计那时才会出乱吧?这样正好,不容易产生一些民族情绪。况且,整部动画片里,日本是处于绝对的劣势地位下,被不列颠侵略殖民,靠中华联邦来逃亡。”


5 thoughts on “Sino-Japanese Relations…in an alternative universe (Code Geass pt2)

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  4. Great read, except you forgot to consider how China would get this way. The whole anime’s a spin on WW2, and bashes every country and type of government imaginable. Imagine a china where the Manchu’s never invaded, the xinhai revolution never happened, and the Communist revolution happened. It probably would be outdated, a modern china would not be possible without the KMT, no matter how much the communists want to say it. After the cu d’etat, it’s pretty much a reenactment of the warlord era from 1920’s. When you look at it in that perspective, it’s not making fun of a modern China, but the pre revolutionary china. They do digs with japan too, showing the do or die resistance, which the Japanese in RL got nuked instead of an invasion. If they wanted to show the modern japan, with all it’s crazy nationalists, they would have shown a japan that resisted until the bitter end. Of course they did digs on the old monarchy system, from an extremely outdated british style of government (they lost to napoleon….) and in Akito the exile, they insulted democracy. It’s all a pretend nation, and anybody who takes it personally should probably read up on history.

    • Thanks for the intelligent comment. In fact I admit that I don’t have much of a background in East Asian history at all, so it’s an even farther cry for me to try and construct plausible counterfactual history, but this is a stab at it.

      From your comments, I actually think the situation with Akito in exile might be taking a dig at the crazy nationalists, though I’m not sure the do-or-die resistance is panned as much as valorized, and if not valorized it’s at least seen as tragic and not as stupid. And I agree with you on the modernization part – the Communists emerged after Republican sentiments of various degrees first pushed against the Qing government for modernization and industrialization. I’m not sure Code Geass is making fun of pre-revolutionary China exclusively though – the vibe I get from the anime is that it is saying modern China is not significantly different from pre-revolutionary China, such as the shoddy public works, corrupt officials, and the people in destitution, which have been current news.

      Also, If the capital is still in Luoyang, that would also impact Chinese culture differently from if subsequent dynasties (eg as you said, the Manchu invasion) did happen. From my limited understanding of ancient history in East Asia, the conservativism of China’s dynastic governments emerged after the Manchu invasion, and during the dynasties where Luoyang was a capital or at least a significant city, Chinese art, science, and technology flourished, for example the 4 great inventions, and in a few centuries, expeditions like Zheng He’s. Hence if we really pursue counterfactual history starting with the little that Code Geass offers us, I don’t think that China would be in the state as described in the anime. India defined by technological advancement and the current political state of the Chinese Federation seems to speak more to current developments in history, plus that comment by Emperor Charles in the first season about how the Chinese Federation is characterized by laissez-faire attitude to labour, which I take a critique against communism (though, to be fair, since Britannia are by no means the good guys, that comment was also a critique against America’s full-blown capitalism and social Darwinism). It’s this mix of defining the Chinese Federation as an ancient nation plus adding in current negative aspects of Chinese development that doesn’t sit well with me, as if China took the worst from both the ancient and the modern.

      As for audiences who take it personally, I think if they grew up in China they’ve been brainwashed and can’t help it. I definitely disagree with the way that the Chinese government handles current issues concerning Japan. The Chinese government still advocates patriotism, which seems like an outdated concept, and continues to fan hatred towards Japan. Last year, during the worst of the Fishing Island disputes, one of my colleagues in China sent an email to us saying that her Japanese car was smashed in by Chinese people trying to protest against Japan and that this kind of thing was happening all over the country. If everyone in China could afford a car, this probably wouldn’t have happened. The Chinese government let this kind of thing occur because it directs domestic class discontent onto international relations. What I like about Code Geass is that with the affairs after Lee’s coup, it’s essentially discontent at international relations that is directed into a domestic revolt against the government. Hopefully that might actually happen someday.

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