Harry Potter is immensely popular in China, both the officially released series of seven fantasy novels written by British author J. K. Rowling and the dozens of wholly unauthorized titles written by industrious Chinese writers hoping to piggyback on the publishing phenomenon.
A stern conversation on rampant piracy and total disregard for intellectual property aside, who knew Harry Potter fans included Chinese Communist Party officials? (Rowling’s books are marketed towards children aged nine to 12.)
In an atmosphere more tense than the Gryffindor-Slytherin Quidditch final, China and Japan’s ambassadors are battling out their country’s differences in the columns of the British press—with both sides comparing each other to Harry Potter villain Lord Voldemort, wrote the Huffington Post.
The opening salvo was unleashed by Liu Xiaoming, the Chinese ambassador to the United Kingdom, on New Year’s Day.
In a blistering broadside in the Daily Telegraph, Liu wrote: “In the Harry Potter story, the dark wizard Voldemort dies hard because the seven horcruxes, which contain parts of his soul, have been destroyed. If militarism is like the haunting Voldemort of Japan, the Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo is a kind of horcrux, representing the darkest parts of that nation’s soul.”
I’m no authority on Harry Potter, but I take that to mean the envoy was somehow blasting Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Dec. 26 visit to Yasukuni Shrine, an edifice that Japan’s neighbors see as a tribute to the country’s World War II aggressions. The shrine also honors the country’s war dead, including several generals convicted of war crimes.
For reference, a horcrux in Harry Potterdom is a device in which evil characters keep parts of their souls so as to achieve immortality.
Keiichi Hayashi, Tokyo’s man in Britain and evidently another Potter fan, responded on Jan. 5, charging that Beijing is the real baddie. “There are two paths open to China,” Hayashi wrote in the Daily Telegraph. “One is to seek dialogue, and abide by the rule of law. The other is to play the role of Voldemort in the region by letting loose the evil of an arms race and escalation of tensions.”
Again, I’m no Potter expert—I’ve only seen three out of eight movies, and I’ve read none of the books—but I think Hayashi was riled up and saying that China was attempting a complete power shift in the Asia-Pacific region.
William Pesek, a Tokyo-based commentator on politics throughout the Asia-Pacific region, said of the schoolyard squabble, “It’s tempting to roll one’s eyes at this over-the-top rhetorical tiff. But the exchange is a troubling sign, and one that raises questions about whether commercial ties will be enough to prevent Asia’s two big powers from sliding toward outright conflict.”
Regardless, diplomatic metaphors matter, and using such a heavy one—and without apparent reprimand on either the Chinese or Japanese side—betrays the level of hostility in North Asia.
“Trite as it may sound, a diplomat essentially calling another nation evil, a ‘Dark Lord’ that everyone wants vanquished, according to J.K. Rowling’s books, is a bit much,” said Pesek.
Abe, dancing around what appears to be a thoughtless visit to Yasukuni, told reporters on Monday that he did not visit the shrine to promote militarism, “but to remember the 2.5 million Japanese war dead and to reaffirm his determination that Japan should never again go to war”.
Worsening ties between China and Japan, the world’s second and third biggest economies, are causing concern in the United States, the Guardian noted. Big points of contention include territorial disputes and escalating military activity.
At the weekend, the US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel urged Abe to reach out to China in the wake of his Yasukuni visit, which Washington had described as “disappointing”. To his credit, Hagel did not make reference to Harry Potter.
– Contact the writer at [email protected]