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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 February 2020


What explains public attitudes towards a former aggressor state? Conventional wisdom would suggest the prevalence of negative sentiments rooted in historical hatred. In this article we contend that when individuals are proficient in a foreign language—e.g. a lingua franca—they have an alternative channel through which they are exposed to positive narratives put forth by other parties regarding the former aggressor state. And as a result, their attitudes towards the former aggressor state are more positive than those held by their linguistically limited counterparts. To test our argument, we focus on public attitudes towards the Japanese in Mainland China, Singapore, and Taiwan—three Chinese-ethnic majority political units that experienced Japanese aggression leading up to and during World War II. Using survey data, we demonstrate that individuals who are proficient in the English language are much more likely to hold positive attitudes of the Japanese. These results are robust even when we consider whether some individuals are predisposed to being cosmopolitan; whether some individuals have more opportunities to learn English; and whether the linguistic effects are symptomatic of American soft power.

Copyright © East Asia Institute 2020

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