What the Chinese Don't Eat
between the west and China. They made me see that you can find kindness when you least expect it, no matter where you are.

3rd September 2004
    A shocking tale in a New Zealand bookshop is a lesson that hate is an emotion best forgotten
    New Zealand was the first of 22 countries I visited between 2002 and 2003 to promote my book
The Good Women of China
. As well as a busy schedule and a lot of media interviews, I was asked to give a talk at a women’s bookshop in Auckland.
    During the two and a half hours that I was there, talking and signing books, my attention constantly wandered from the white faces surrounding me to the face of a grey-haired Asian woman in her 70s. Her eyes looked as if they were full of loss and sadness. She stood apart from the crowd, not approaching me with a question or asking to have her book signed.
    When I had finished signing books, I waited to see if she would come and speak to me. Finally she did, the last person to leave the bookshop. In a quiet voice, she asked, ‘Would you like to listen to the story of my life, which I have kept secret for 60 years?’
    I could hardly say I did not have the time.
    She told her story almost without pause. ‘I went to China with my parents when I was five years old in the 1940s. My father was a commander in the Japanese army. He showed me how he murdered the Chinese, so that I would grow up with ‘a man’s heart’. He never allowed my mother to hide me from this violence. Afterwards, the Chinese army came looking for him. He escaped, but they got my mother instead and killed her in front of me. I was six.
    ‘I was saved by a poor old Chinese peasant. He took me to his home town, a small village near the Great Wall, where I washidden and brought up by the whole village, by each family in turn, living in each of their houses. Until the 1950s I almost forgot where I came from; all I had was a memory of murder.
    ‘One day my Chinese father, the old peasant, said I should go back to my homeland, Japan. I was a teenager by then. Two months later, I was sent to the city with two men from the village. They handed me and a golden ring over to a very tall man, without saying anything. It seemed a deal had already been struck, and I didn’t say anything either. After all the years of murder and hiding, I knew when to keep quiet.
    ‘I arrived in Japan with no family. I had no idea where my father was, whether he was alive or dead, nor did I know how to speak the language. With the few words that I managed to pick up, I tried to ask people what had happened between Japan and China, but no one wanted to talk about the war. Still, in the home of almost every family there was a photograph of a dead relative with a candle in front of it, and that nearly broke my heart. I could not sleep for thinking about all the violence and murder.
    ‘I missed my parents, as well as the Chinese peasant who had given me a second life. The relatives whom I managed to trace said that I was mad and should leave Japan because it was so full of terrible memories.
    ‘So here I am. The country is different, the people are different, but in my heart, in my mind, nothing has changed. You cannot rid yourself of the memory of all that blood.
    ‘I watched you on television this morning. When you said that the Japanese and the Germans, like the Chinese, have the same difficult pasts, because of the war and because of the Cultural Revolution, I thought you would be able to understand my life.’
    I was stunned that the woman could recount such a shockingstory in such a gentle voice. ‘Have you ever gone back to that village in China?’ I asked her.
    ‘No,’ she said. ‘How could I? How could I, the daughter of a murderer, ask anything of the Chinese?’
    ‘Do you hate the Chinese? They killed your mother.’
    ‘No. My father killed them, too, so we’re equal. I think in some ways I am half Chinese.’
    ‘I think you are right,’ I said to her. ‘We should leave hatred in the past:

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