STANDING on the spot where Japan attacked China and triggered World War II, the college students debated Japan's past - and future - in China.
Across Beijing, China's Communist leaders were welcoming Emperor Akihito of Japan in Tiananmen Square. But on the outskirts of the Chinese capital, the 12th-century Marco Polo Bridge and a nearby museum highlighting Japanese atrocities here swarmed with students out to learn of Tokyo's bitter legacy.
"China wants advanced Japanese technology," says a student from Beijing Labor College. "But I don't want to earn Japanese money."
"There's still resentment among the Chinese toward Japan, but that's history," counters a fellow student.
"China should receive reparations from Japan," says another young man. "Japanese investment is an economic invasion."
"But investment is important for China's economic development," responds a student who wears the earphones of a Japanese cassette player. "At its current stage, China is still learning technology and is not economically able to confront Japan." Bitterness lingers
Still bitter about the past but resigned to closer future ties with their historic Asian rival, many Chinese are enduring the six-day visit of the son the Japanese emperor who once brought war and devastation to China.
So far, the response has been muted as Chinese officials, worried about possible unrest while recognizing Japan's importance to China's economic opening and Asia's geopolitical balance, have clamped a tight security lid to ensure a smooth visit.
Security forces are pervasive in Beijing, and at least one spokesman for Chinese demanding a Japanese apology and compensation has been hustled out of Beijing temporarily.
The emperor is avoiding cities closely associated with Japanese brutality that killed or injured an estimated 20 million Chinese during the war. A year-long Japanese cultural festival is underway here to mark the 20 years since the two foes restored relations in 1972.
"Hirohito had an unshakable responsibility for the war," wrote Jiang Li Feng, a Chinese scholar, referring to the emperor in whose name Japanese troops invaded and occupied China from 1931 to 1945. "However, it is unfair to shift all responsibility for the war to the [current] emperor."
Indeed, at a welcoming banquet late last week, Emperor Akihito stopped short of the formal apology that many Chinese had hoped for, expressing only "deep sorrow" for China's suffering.
But for many Chinese, even those too young to remember the war, the visit stirs memories of Japanese brutality.
When asked, many Chinese equivocate on Japan. On one hand, the memories of the crimes of World War II have yet to abate. On the other, they admire Japanese technology and economic clout.
Some Chinese observers blame this ambivalence for China's past problems with Japan. "I grew up in Liaoning Province in northeast China where Japan dominated 30 million Chinese with a force of just 100,000," says a prominent Beijing journalist.
"I grew up with the idea of the Manchurian empire and didn't know my motherland was China because everyone was afraid of Japan and no one dared to tell the truth," he recalls. "Chinese are hard-working, but they are not brave or courageous." Demands for an apology
Chinese bitterness is finding an outlet in demands for an apology and reparations that Beijing surrendered in 1972 when it normalized ties with Tokyo.
Citizens groups have sprung up and collected a reported 300,000 signatures around the country.
One magazine survey, based on 2,000 questionnaires distributed at three Beijing universities, claimed that 90 percent of the respondents wanted an apology. An internal Communist Party newspaper reported that last spring leaders from three provinces submitted a petition to the central government to demand billions of dollars in compensation.
Referring to China's surrender of reparations demands in exchange for normal relations, Beijing taxi driver Zhao Fu Qiang says bitterly, "They wrote off the past in one stroke." The divided young
The uneasiness that the past creates for China's future is most sharply focused in the divided attitudes of the young. One Beijing journalist says many young Chinese vie for jobs in Japanese companies.
"Both China and Japan should move forward and forget about the past," says the recent college graduate. "Some people are worried that Japan is an economic power. But in discussing economic growth in Japan, we ask why we can't do that too."
But a 30-year-old Beijing college instructor, who is from the south but spent his school years in Nanjing, recalls his father's accounts of Japanese massacres and yearly visits to the place where thousands of Chinese were killed by Japanese troops.
He says that even young Chinese cannot forget those images. "I hate Japanese. Whenever I meet a Japanese, I personally turn my back on him," he says. "And if I am in the street and meet the emperor's car, I will shout, `Go home. Away with you.'