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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

The disaster in Japan has evoked rare sympathy from Japan's biggest rival, China. Relations have traditionally been tense with diplomatic and economic issues, as well as the history of Japan's occupation of China during World War II. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese were killed. Well, now China has acted fast to send aid to Japan.

As NPR's Louisa Lim reports from Beijing, the crisis in Japan has caused some Chinese to view their neighbor with fresh eyes.

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

LOUISA LIM: Chinese television reports on the work done by the 15-person Chinese search and rescue team in the Japanese quake zone. This reciprocates the Japanese military team that aided China after its own massive earthquake three years ago. As the first Japanese troops in China since the end of the brutal Japanese occupation, their presence was politically charged.

When Premier Wen Jiabao gave a press conference on Monday, it was hard not to wonder whether this troubled history was the reason it took him two and a half hours to get around to expressing his condolences.

Premier WEN JIABAO (China): (Through translator): China is also a country that is prone to earthquake disasters, and we fully empathize with how the Japanese people feel now.

LIM: Words aside, China is stepping up. It's already sending $4.5 million worth of rescue materials, including blankets and flashlights. And it said it will send more, if necessary.

But many Chinese, like 66-year-old Zhang Qinglong, are conflicted about this aid.

Mr. ZHANG QINGLONG: (Through translator) From the humanitarian perspective, I support it. But from a historical perspective, I do not. People my age believe Japan ought to be wiped out. During the Japanese occupation, they killed so many Chinese people.

LIM: On the streets, instinctive anti-Japanese nationalism is not unusual. Shockingly, online posts have been written celebrating Japan's misfortune. But at the same time, a new respect is emerging for Japanese virtues. People have seen pictures of orderly queues of evacuees and noticed the lack of looting or price-gouging in the Japanese quake zone. This stands in stark contrast to what happened after China's earthquake, prompting some introspection.

Mr. TANG ZHAOXIN: (Foreign language spoken)

LIM: I'm amazed at how well the Japanese are behaving, says Tang Zhaoxin, and I think we should enhance the quality of our national behavior.

And that reappraisal is also happening online.

Mr. KAISER KUO (Director, International Communications, Baidu): This really is sort of the first time that I've seen a broad netizen response toward Japan sort of swing in the direction of genuine admiration for some aspect of Japanese culture.

LIM: Kaiser Kuo is head of International Communications at the Chinese search engine Baidu. He describes how even the Communist Party mouthpiece has changed its tone.

Mr. KUO: We've already seen People's Daily come out with editorials really excoriating people who have been harsh on Japan, who have shown, you know, a lack of sympathy. It's an unusual thing to see. Editorial direction that encourages you to be sympathetic toward Japan is a rarity, indeed. But I'm very encouraged by it.

(Soundbite of video)

Unidentified Woman: (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

LIM: This video has words of encouragement for Japan from the victims of the Sichuan earthquake. The message: Be strong.

What's not yet clear is whether this burst of neighborly concern will have a lasting effect on ties. If radiation from Japan starts to be detected in China, that sympathy could be very short-lived, indeed.

Louisa Lim, NPR News, Beijing.

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