This photo shows “Tang Little Kyoto” at the time of its opening in late August 2021. It was a great success with many tourists. (Photo courtesy of Kenichi Matsui)

DALIAN, China — Debate is continuing in China over the merits of the “Tang Little Kyoto” development recreating the streets of Kyoto in the suburbs of this city in northeastern China.

It was a huge success when it partially opened in late August, but was temporarily shut down after criticism flooded the internet, with users asking questions such as, “Why are you building a Japanese town? Have you forgotten the history of invasion?”

In spite of the criticism, the local government hopes that the project will be a catalyst for local revitalization. Debate within China is therefore wavering between economic promotion and nationalism. In the end, the development is expected to reopen in early October with a less Japanese flavor, such as taking “Kyoto” out of the name.

The development is a 6 billion-yuan (about $930 million) project that combines about 1,000 Japanese-style houses, shopping districts, hot springs, and other facilities in the Jinshitan National Holiday Resort, located along the coast about 30 kilometers from the center of Dalian, Liaoning Province.

On a vast site spanning about 500,000 square meters, Chinese real estate development companies are playing a central role in the construction, with the cooperation of Japanese companies.

Although most of the buildings are Japanese-style in appearance, the word “Tang” was added to the name to reflect the interpretation that Kyoto was strongly influenced by the culture of the Tang Dynasty in China.

It is believed that the developers used the term “Tang” because they were concerned about criticism in China, but even so, when it partially opened in late August, it was condemned on social media, partly because the timing of the opening was close to the 90th anniversary of the Sept. 18, 1931 Liutiaohu incident at the beginning of the Manchurian Incident preceding the Japanese invasion of Manchuria.

But there are also many who have questioned the criticism, asking what the problem is, and Chinese media reports are increasingly showing understanding of the position of developers, shopping arcades, and their employees, saying that it is the Chinese who are losing their jobs due to the closure.

In early September, a weekly magazine supervised by the state-run Xinhua News Agency posted an article on its website titled “Traitor? Populism?” It asked whether the construction of a Japanese-style town would be traitorous, and whether criticizing it could be considered populism, and then pointed out that the project had been approved by the Chinese government in accordance with a national-level policy to create a key trade zone in Liaoning Province.

The article also presented the view of an expert that “respect for national sentiment does not mean drifting toward radical populism, nor does it mean stopping cultural, economic and business exchanges between China and Japan.” This article was also carried by websites such as those affiliated with the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party.

As of late September, development of Tang Little Kyoto was continuing, with additional construction at the site. After changing the name and renovating the buildings, preparations are underway to reopen it on Oct. 6.

According to Kenichi Matsui, president of Matsui Miso Co., which operates a restaurant in the shopping arcade, the Tang Little Kyoto has already become one of the main tourist attractions in the area, drawing several times more visitors than expected when it opened, and is highly regarded by locals.

A 79-year-old woman who lives nearby, said, “All the workers are Chinese, so it’s not such a big deal.”

(Japanese original by Koichi Yonemura, China General Bureau)


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