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Pay Attention, Confused Foreigners: ‘Wan’ (卍) is Not a Nazi Symbol

Japan wants to get rid of the Buddhist manji-symbol (卍) on city maps, as foreigners associate it with the Nazi swastika. In China, where the symbol is known as the ‘wan’ character, some netizens seem to find the controversy entertaining.

Manya Koetse

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Japan’s official map-making organization wants to get rid of the Buddhist manji symbol (卍) that marks the location of temples on city maps, as foreigners associate it with the Nazi swastika. In China, where the symbol is known as the ‘wan’ character, some netizens seem to find the controversy entertaining.

This week several international media, including
the BBC, wrote about the decision of the Japanese map-making association to change its manji symbol on tourist maps.

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The 卍-symbol indicates the location of temples, but is often seen as the Nazi swastika by foreigners. With the Rugby World Cup and Olympics taking place in Japan in 2019 and 2020, Japanese authorities deem it is better to remove the symbol in order to avoid any misunderstanding amongst international visitors.

 

“Ignorant foreign travelers simply don’t understand Buddhist traditions”.

 

The news was also reported by Chinese media. The manji symbol is used in China as well, where it is a character pronounced as ‘wàn’.

China’s Sohu news writes that the Japanese manji is actually not the same as the Nazi swastika: the first has arms going anticlockwise (卍) whereas the arms of the Nazi symbol go clockwise (卐).

The article says that Hitler’s Nationalist Socialist Party designed the swastika that way because the German words for state and society both start with an S. This is allegedly why they designed the swastika in an S-shape.

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Another difference, according to Sohu, is that the Buddhist swastika usually is gold, whereas the Nazi symbol is black.

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The confusion between the two symbols is mostly created by foreigners, Sohu writes, who do not know the difference. Japanese netizens reportedly complain about “ignorant foreign travelers”, who simply “do not understand Buddhist traditions”. They should not protest its use – “When in Rome,” they say: “do as the Romans do.”

 

“By all means, don’t let them come to Chinese Buddhist temples. They’ll go crazy”.

 

On Chinese social media network Sina Weibo, a netizen called Wuguaixing seems entertained by the news. The micro-blogger, a PhD student at Tokyo University with over 100,000 Weibo followers, writes on his account:

“Ha ha! The much used Buddhist ‘wan’ (卍) character that marks temples on Japanese maps is opposed by foreigners, who think it is the Nazi ‘卐’ symbol. They now want to get rid of it.”

Other Weibo users commented on the post, saying: “Foreign tourists are just not culturally educated at all!” And: “By all means, don’t let them come to Chinese Buddhist temples. They’ll go crazy!”

The symbol can be found in many of China’s temples, either depicted on the Buddha or in ornaments.

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The writer of one of the post’s most popular comments wonders why the manji symbol is a problem at all: “Does this centuries-old symbol really need to make way for the Nazi symbol, that is just some decades old?”

One Weibo user remarks: “If this was about any other Asian country, it would be no problem. But because of Japan’s past war crimes, the issue is very sensitive.”

 

“Where did everyone’s IQ go?!”

 

Some Weibo users address the history of the symbol: “Strictly speaking, this is an old Hindu symbol that was then used by Buddhism.” This comment is backed up by a netizen nicknamed Black & White, who writes: “The 卍 and the 卐 are two different characters, and they both read as ‘wàn’.”

According to Brittanica Academic, both symbols, either clockwise or anti-clockwise, are referred to as a swastika. It comes from the Sanskrit svastika meaning “conductive to well-being”, and is an ancient symbol of prosperity and good fortune. It represents the revolving sun, fire, or life, Buddhas Online explains.

According to the Encyclopedia Brittanica:

In the Buddhist tradition the swastika symbolizes the feet, or the footprints, of the Buddha. It is often placed at the beginning and end of inscriptions, and modern Tibetan Buddhists use it as a clothing decoration. With the spread of Buddhism, the swastika passed into the iconography of China and Japan, where it has been used to denote plurality, abundance, prosperity, and long life.

The swastika was used as a sign of ‘Aryan race’ in the 19th century, and was adopted by Nazism in the 20th century (Quinn 1994, x).

“Where did everyone’s IQ go?!” one Weibo user wonders.

China’s Ifeng news wrote an article about the swastika and the issue of the clockwise and anticlockwise arms. It explains that Buddhism actually uses the sign in both ways, and they both represent wisdom and compassion.

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Although the issue seems more nuanced than a simple (anti)clockwise explanation, for some netizens, it’s not complicated at all: “The 卍 is a Buddhist symbol, and the 卐 is a Nazi symbol, please don’t mix them up.”

By Manya Koetse

References

Quinn, Malcolm. 1994. The Swastika: Constructing the Symbol. London/New York: Routledge.

Featured image from Flickr: https://c2.staticflickr.com/6/5179/5435812352_e2578ba5b8.jpg

©2016 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Roger Guindon

    January 22, 2016 at 5:14 pm

    Being a foreigner in another country I certainly would not want a country to change ay any cost, a symbol that has thousands of years of history.. History is history that’s why we travel to educate ourselves on other cultures. :O)

  2. Avatar

    Charuko Nakamachi

    January 23, 2016 at 8:05 pm

    I find this article to be interesting. So much angst over a symbol used for thousands of years with benevolent intent, usurped by one malevolent group a mere ninety four years ago, and troubled over today.

    I find myself both torn and mystified by this symbol. It seems harsh to me in it’s appearance with it’s sharp angles, but the Buddhist usage is one of benevolence. My sense is that the NAZI usurpation of this symbol has taken it out of its context, and stolen it from kinder hearts.

    Beyond that, it’s a very Japanese decision to remove it from maps that visitors would be using. The idea is to promote harmony and to make visitors as comfortable as possible. I believe that’s an exceptionally benevolent and laudable thing to do.

    • Avatar

      Domonique Brown

      May 28, 2019 at 4:51 pm

      That’s ignorant. Stop defending white supremacy. You should check your privilege. You probably think the “okay” hand gesture is safe to use. #BLM

  3. Avatar

    Peter Herz

    August 17, 2016 at 6:26 pm

    I am an American who is 1/2 Central European Jewish. My father, God rest him, knew of family who perished in the Shoah. But it did not take me long to recognize the wanzi as a symbol of Buddhism, not Naziism, when I lived in Taiwan. I would tell Japan to keep the wanzi, or however the Japanese pronounce it, to mark temples on their maps, and I would tell the rest of the world to learn some history other than that of Europe over the past three centuries.

  4. Avatar

    Andy Tithesis

    August 27, 2018 at 4:37 pm

    Most westerners have a Pavlovian response to anything relatable to the Nazi regime. We in America are taught very little of history outside a handful of our own believed victories. Few pay attention to even that I am afraid. As with most humans if you give them a cultural green light to despise and condemn something they will do so without a thought. Nobody wants to learn the details when they can act aggressively and spew venom as it is much more fun for most. Mankind will always have is beast not far from his heart but separated almost completely from his brain. I consider myself a Buddhist even though I am said to be tainted by my upbringing in western culture. I actually agree with that. Eastern thought is a rare thing these days worldwide. If you are on the computer reading this you to are more than likely tainted by the western influence. Still though there is redemption for those who can take it all in and turn something new and benevolent outwards. This symbol should never be taken down if put up for non radical reasons related to ignorance and racism. You should not be upset with the foreshadowed foreigners you should be upset with your own powers bowing to the almighty currency they greedily see coming. Your map company is a traitor to it’s own roots and you should let them know how you feel. Shall everything be made for sale to outside influence? It seems the way of the world as of late and it is sad and depressing. I have every religion in my heart and consider myself a student to them all if they will teach me wisdom beyond what our current world has to offer. Which really sets the bar pretty low actually but I shall remain hopeful that we as a species and a single race, the human race, can rise above the capitalist swindle and put a stop to such moronic and shameful sell out tactics such as this. This bewilders me and there should really be more articles like these on our side of the pond but sadly there is not. This is my opinion anyways. I thank you for your time. All are my brothers and sisters. Good luck to you all always. ♥

  5. Avatar

    jamey james

    January 6, 2019 at 9:32 pm

    I am in agreement that one should respect traditional history. I have watched a lot of showlin stuff and had worked the fact out for myself of the difference between the two symbols being clockwise and anticlockwise. This also includes the colours gold and or black. I think that one should educate them self and learn the proper history before condemnation application.

  6. Avatar

    Laura

    January 25, 2019 at 6:10 pm

    You MUST keep your traditions and wanzi. Don’t let the Occident tell you what you have to do. If the foreigners don’t like that, they can go back home ! Both Swastika have NOTHING to do with Nazism. We must stop this propaganda and protect the culture all over the world.
    In Europe it becomes also very difficult. For example in Latvia, where the swastika is a very old worshiped symbol.
    A french friend

  7. Avatar

    Rancid Boar

    July 9, 2020 at 7:58 am

    This article doesn’t do a great job representing the Swastika.. The Swastika is clockwise and Suawstika is counterclockwise. Both were used since ancient times… The first person to use the Sanskrit word swastika and describe it was the Sage Panini. Su=Good Astik=To be, therefore the swastika means to be good… Nazis didn’t design thiers since they just bastardized the design and meaning. Still it isn’t an anti-Semitic, ignore that aspect. Your selective attention and cognitive dissonance has already let you ignore the Christian Cross and Sword of Islam as anti-Semitic symbols, despite the fact that those were actually used to crucify and kill Jews. Only Western mf with identity crisis can make a auspicious symbol a hate symbol, and a torture device a ‘holy’ cross… Makes perfect sense… The Swastika is eternal and will be used as long as humanity exists.

  8. Avatar

    salesh Prasad Mishra

    October 9, 2021 at 7:02 am

    Oh wonderful This again.. You know folks, if you happen to one day read media not made by the west, or controlled by the west? Maybe you will open your eyes one day.
    and for the rest of you you should stop actually swallowing whole would Western media is shoving down your throat.
    it must also concern you that there are religions and even Nations that are older than your Bible but of course that doesn’t matter to you does it I know it’s a shocker.

    even everything that you read on Wikipedia has a very Western vibe to it and by that you know exactly what I mean they’re always talking about our lease to them. You have to start learning how other people and other cultures actually work once you do you realize exactly what kind of mind virus has been implanted in your brain.

    think freely

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China Insight

“Chinese Spy Balloon” Versus “Chinese Civilian Airship” – The Chinese Words That Matter in the Balloon Incident

On Chinese social media, the Chinese balloon is seen as a weather device that ended up measuring the temperature of China-US relations.

Manya Koetse

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A day after the U.S. military shot down a Chinese balloon off the Carolina coast, the ‘balloon incident’ is a hot topic on Chinese social media, as official media are publishing about the incident and social media users are discussing it.

At 8:17 in the morning on Feb. 5, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs published its response to the shooting down of the Chinese balloon on Weibo.

They expressed “strong discontent and protest” over the American use of force to attack the “civilian unmanned airship” (民用无人飞艇) after Chinese officials recurringly informed the U.S. side that the balloon – described as a weather device, – had accidentally entered the U.S. and did not pose any threat to the U.S. whatsoever (#外交部就美方宣称击落中国无人飞艇发表声明#).

On Chinese social media, as also described in our earlier article on the incident, the balloon has come to be referred to as the “Wandering Balloon” (流浪气球) in the context of the box-office hit The Wandering Earth II.

At the same time, China celebrated the Lantern Festival (元宵节) which marks the first full moon of the Chinese New Year. It is tradition to eat glutinous rice balls and enjoy lanterns floating in the sky.

The balloon incident set the Chinese social media meme machine in motion, in which the balloon, The Wandering Earth II, and the Lantern Festival all came together in various images that circulated on Weibo and beyond.

The balloon, featured in ‘The Wandering Balloon’ movie produced by ‘US Government’, wishes everyone a happy Lanern Festival.

Another meme titled “Wandering Balloon” drawing comparisons between the ballloon and rice balls traditionally eaten during Lantern Festival.

The Weibo hashtags used to discuss the incident were mainly initiated by Chinese (state) media outlets, such as “The U.S. Side Claims to Have Shot Down Chinese Unmanned Airship” (#美方宣称击落中国无人飞艇#); “America Uses Military Force to Attack Civilian Unmanned Airship” (#美方宣称击落中国无人飞艇#); “The U.S. Side’s Insistence on Using Force Is Clearly an Overreaction” (#美方执意动用武力明显反应过度#).

“Is it a balloon or an airship? The American official and media side all claim it is a spying balloon; the Chinese side claims it is an civilian unmanned airship,” one blogger wrote, showing the different media contexts in which the incident is being discussed and emphasizing the importance of the vocabulary used.

Words matter, and at a time when there is a lot of speculation about the incident, the seemingly humorous way in which Chinese netizens have responded to the international dispute also relates to the language that is being used to describe the event.

On Chinese social media, the majority of commenters see the balloon as a weather device that went wandering and, unexpectedly, ended up measuring the temperature of Sino-American relations – which turned out to be icy cold.

Some examples of the kind of phrasing that matters in the Chinese media context:

Civilian Unmanned Airship
民用无人飞艇 Mínyòng Wúrén Fēitǐng

The balloon in question is described as a “civilian unmanned airship” in Chinese official and state media texts. The word ‘civilian’ (民用) is included in the clarification about the balloon being a civilian meteorological balloon, and thus not serving any military purposes (民用 ‘civilian’ versus 军用 ‘military’).

Attack [on] Civilian Unmanned Airship
袭击民用无人飞艇 Xíjí Mínyòng Wúrén Fēitǐng

The U.S. military shooting down the Chinese balloon is also phrased as an “attack” (袭击) in many Chinese media reports as well as in the official Foreign Ministry post.

Completely by Accident
完全是意外 Wánquán Shì Yìwài

The expressions “completely by accident” (完全是意外), “unexpected circumstances” (意外情况), and “force majeure” (不可抗力) are used in official Chinese media texts describing the balloon incident to underline that the circumstances in which the device floated into American skies was not only unrelated to military / government purposes, but that it was also unintentional.

Stay tuned for more updates.

By Manya Koetse 

 

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China Insight

Hot Air: Chinese Social Media Reactions to the Chinese Balloon Incident

The Chinese balloon incident is also referred to as the “Wandering Balloon” on social media at a time when ‘Wandering Earth II’ is trending.

Manya Koetse

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The 2023 “China balloon incident” has gotten so big over the past few days that it already has its very own Wikipedia page now.

On Feb. 2, 2023, it was announced that a Chinese “surveillance balloon” was traveling over the northern United States. Later, it was reported that a second Chinese balloon floated over Latin America.

As a consequence, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called off a scheduled visit to Beijing, calling the presence of the Chinese balloon “an irresponsible act.” The balloon has also been dubbed the “Chinese spy balloon.”

On Sunday morning after 4 AM China local time, news came out that the U.S. military had shot down the Chinese balloon off the Carolina coast after the coastal area of North and South Carolina had been closed for the national security operation.

In an earlier statement on Friday, Chinese officials referred to the balloon as a civilian “airship” (“飞艇”) used for weather monitoring and meteorological research that deviated from its original route due to the wind. The incident, therefore, is also described as the “Chinese Airship Incident” (“中国飞艇事件”) by Chinese media outlets.

On Chinese social media, the issue is referred to as “the balloon incident” (“气球事件”) or the “balloon problem” (“气球问题”), and many netizens think it is all about “making a big issue over nothing” (“小题大做”).

The balloon is also nicknamed “the wandering balloon” (流浪气球) in light of the current Chinese box office hit The Wandering Earth II. One of the hashtags used to discuss the events was “The Wandering Balloon II” (#流浪气球2#).

Chinese political commentator Hu Xijin, who frequently posts on social media, suggested earlier that the U.S. side allegedly is very well aware that the Chinese balloon – which accidentally went “wandering” – actually “poses no threat” and that ongoing reports about the balloon were purposely being used to create an anti-Chinese narrative.

Hu’s reasoning is similar to that of Chinese International Relations Professor Li Haidong (李海东), who claims that the balloon story is framed as a threat in order for the U.S. to gain an advantage in bilateral negotiations (#专家称美炒作气球事件对华施压#).

Following news reports about the Chinese balloon getting shot down, some Weibo commenters jokingly lamented that the “poor baby balloon” had been ruthlessly shot down without even getting the time to float around.

“Such a pity,” some wrote, with others suggesting it’s “just a stray balloon.”

One of the hastags used for online discussions of the balloon getting shot down was “The Wandering Balloon Is Shot Down” (#流浪气球被击落#) and “The ‘Wandering Balloon’ Gets Shot Down by American Military” (#流浪气球被击落#).

There are many online jokes about the incident, such as those saying that the Chinese people thought the sci-fi blockbuster Wandering Earth II was the current film hit and that they had not expected the ‘Wandering Balloon’ to be the actual hit of the moment.

The fact that the current Chinese balloon developments trigger so many online comparisons and memes related to the sci-fi film Wandering Earth II perhaps doesn’t come as a surprise, since the movie has been among the hottest trending topics of the past week, and considering its narrative is all about catastrophic events and the future of international society.

Others comment that since this is the time of the Chinese Lantern Festival (元宵节), celebrated on the fifteenth day of the first month of the Chinese New Year, the incident is just another way of wishing everyone a happy new year.

All jokes aside, there are also bloggers who see the incident as a more serious occurrence at a time of worsening Sino-American relations, suggesting the significance of this matter “can’t be underestimated.”

For more updates on this story, see this article.

By Manya Koetse 

 

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