WUKONG Beijing faces protests
dilemma By Wu Zhong, China
HONG KONG - Large anti-Japanese
street protests took place in dozens of Chinese
cities over the weekend after Tokyo's purchase of
the disputed Diaoyu Islands (called Senkaku
Islands in Japan) from their private Japanese
owners in order to nationalize them. Japanese
media described these as the largest scale
anti-Japanese demonstrations since the two
countries normalized their relations four decades
Today marks the 81st anniversary of
the September 18 Manchuria Incident - Japan's
invasion of northeast China in 1931. More protests
are expected in Chinese cities. Some
Japanese-invested factories in China are
reportedly to close down today to stay away from
Chinese people's anger over
Japan's move to nationalize the
Diaoyu Islands is quite
understandable. The Chinese believe the islands
belong to China since "ancient times" and regard
Tokyo's unilateral move to change the status quo
of the islands in the East China Sea as a
provocation and also a fresh reminder of their
collective memory of humiliations and misery
inflicted by previous Japanese aggression.
To a certain extent, the Chinese Communist
Party (CCP) may not be unhappy to see the rise of
patriotic sentiments. In past decades, the Party
has devoted great efforts to introduce patriotism
to Chinese youths in the hope of filling the
"ideological vacuum" orthodox Marxist believe was
abandoned to pave the way for economic reform and
opening up advocated three decades ago by Deng
In practice, anti-Japanese
protests could help divert the attention of
Chinese people from worrying about the slowdown of
economic development and other domestic problems.
They could also lend support to Beijing for taking
a tougher stance in territorial disputes with
Japan and other neighboring countries. Of course,
all this would work provided that street protests
inspired by growing patriotism remain rational,
peaceful and law-biding.
the weekend protests in a number of cities turned
out to be very violent, somehow reminding people
of the Boxer (Yihetuan) Rebellion in the turn of
the 20th century. In some places, protesters even
turned their anger to the Chinese government and
military, blaming them for being "too weak" in
dealing with territorial disputed with other
Riots have been reported in
many cities such as Shenzhen, Guangzhou and
Dongguan in Guangdong province; Changsha, Hunan's
provincial capital; Xi'an, capital of Shaanxi
province; and Qingdao, in Shandong province.
On footage of Hong Kong TV news broadcast
on Sunday, one could see protesters in Dongguan
smashing doors and windows of Japanese restaurants
- though are all owned by Chinese investors. The
Chinese owner of one such restaurant tried to stop
the mobsters by waving a five-star red flag -
China's national flag - and shouting: "I'm
Chinese! I'm also a patriot!", but in vain. He
then had to order his workers to chisel away the
business sign board cemented on the wall, amid
cheers of on-looking protestors. A Japanese man
was reportedly attacked on street.
Chinese owner of a Japanese restaurant in Beijing
complained on his weibo mini-blog that these days,
some people would often walk in and order food to
eat but refuse to pay their bills. When asked to
pay, "they would display the national flag, saying
they won't pay because they don't want to become
Also in Beijing,
some notices were posted on street lampposts to
recruit a "dare-to-rape" team of men to rape
Japanese women, according to Hong Kong's Economic
Although many Japanese-brand
products are manufactured in China, protesters not
only called out for a boycott of Japanese products
but to smash them.
In Xi'an, nearly 10,000
protesters took to the street on Saturday. They
stormed into a four-star hotel to smash
facilities, accusing it of accommodating Japanese
visitors. On their way, they damaged shops selling
Japanese-brand mobile handsets and Japanese
restaurants. When they saw a Japanese-brand car
driving by, they stopped it, pounded it and crush
its windows, then gave the driver of the car a
five-star flag. At least more than a dozen
Japanese-brand cars were seen severely damaged
that day, according to Hong Kong media reports. In
Qingdao, protestors set fire to a retail shop of
Guangzhou Toyota Motor Co.
protestors stormed and looted a Japanese
department, despite it being closed for business
to avoid trouble. Everything valuable such as
Rolex watches and Gucci products were robbed. Some
protesters even set fires on streets. Later, a
netizen boasted on the Internet that he was
"lucky" to get a "free" Rolex watch.
Sunday in Guangzhou, provincial capital of
Guangdong, tens of thousands anti-Japanese
protesters took to the streets. They also stopped
Japanese-brand cars and damaged them. Some stormed
the five-star White Swan Hotel by the Pearl River,
home to the Japanese Consulate locates, smashing
In Shenzhen, the richest
and most open city in mainland China and bordering
Hong Kong, the anti-Japanese demonstrations on
Sunday turned out to be the most violent. Early in
the morning, several hundred people gathered in
the center of the city and began to march,
shouting: "Down with Japanese devils!" "Boycott
Japanese products!" "Diaoyu Islands belong to
China!" "Declare war on Japan!"
numbers joined them and some people began to
damage doors and windows of stores with Japanese
names. It was estimated there were more than
10,000 protesters at the peak.
Shenzhen government sent riot police to keep guard
and protesters began to target the police, who
earlier last week arrested four suspects for
causing damage to several Japanese-brand private
cars during anti-Japanese protests in mid-August
after Japan detained several Hong Kong and Macau
men landing on one of the Diaoyu Islands.
Protesters besieged a Shenzhen government
complex demanding the immediate release of the
arrested, throwing objects into the building. They
confronted the police, turning a police vehicle
upside down. At one time, some protesters even
shouted: "Down with the People's Liberation Army",
for not taking any action in the face of Japan's
Hong Kong TV footage showed
riot police tried to disperse them with tear gas
and water cannon, but some protesters picked up
tear gas grenades and threw them back at the
police. Others managed to take control of a water
cannon and smash it. It was not until the evening
that the police managed to bring the situation
It is astonishing to see
that almost all protesters at the weekend were
young people. Since China and Japan normalized
their diplomatic relations in 1972, Chinese
leaders have repeatedly expressed the hope of
"letting the torch of China-Japan friendship pass
down from one generation to the next". That hope
now seems to be dashed given that young Chinese
people have become the fresh anti-Japanese army.
It is also astonishing to see these young
Chinese pick up the outdated slogan of "Boycott
Japanese products!" When China was poor and weak,
this slogan could be seen as the helpless moan of
a weak nation in face of a stronger invader. In
practice, it never worked. Thanks to
globalization, China today can boast that it is
the world's second-largest economy and an
international manufacturing hub - so why are there
some people still moaning?
many Japanese brand products are now manufactured
in China - as much as 90% of some "Japanese-brand"
cars are reportedly produced in China. "Boycotting
Japanese products" - if it works at all - will
only cost many Chinese workers their jobs. Hence
this sounds like a stupid tactic of trying to hurt
the enemy by hurting oneself first.
the weekend violent protests, Canon, a leading
Japanese multinational corporation involved in the
manufacture of imaging and optical products,
announced on Monday that it would suspend the
operation of three of its four factories in China.
Japanese electronic home appliance giant Panasonic
also reportedly temporarily close down several
factories in China. Certain Japanese investors are
considering pulling out of the country altogether.
Ironically, the latest identity cards for
Chinese its citizens are made with Fujitsu-Xerox
technology and equipment. Will those young people
shouting "boycott Japanese products" set an
example by destroying their Chinese ID cards
The riots with the anti-Japanese
protests over the weekend have alarmed rational
Chinese intellectuals. For example, Hu Xingdou, a
professor with Beijing Institute of Technology,
said the riots happened because the quality of
citizenship in Chinese society is poor.
"In China there are either obedient people
or mobsters. There is no real citizen. The masses
in general lack the awareness of citizenship.
Therefore they can be easily controlled by extreme
nationalism and resort to 'Boxer-like' conduct,"
he told Hong Kong's Chinese-language Ming Pao
daily. He also blamed authorities concerned for
"dereliction of duty" as they failed to prevent
Whatever, the occurrence of
riots amid anti-Japanese protests has damaged the
legitimacy of the anti-Japanese protests
themselves, brought shame to the Chinese nation
and smeared the image of China's "peaceful rising"
that Beijing has tried very hard to polish.
Innocent people's rights have been
criminally violated and their property damaged.
The Chinese government must launch investigations
and punish the culprits, as well as take measures
to prevent similar violence from happening again.
Patriotism must not be used as a loincloth to
cover up crime.
It should also be pointed
out that overzealous patriotism can easily become
xenophobic and narrow-minded nationalism, which is
a double-edged sword. As in Shenzhen's case,
anti-Japanese sentiments could be turned and
directed at the Chinese government itself.
If such sentiments continue to surge, then
the Chinese government will have either to launch
a harsh crackdown at home or allow its foreign
policy to be "hijacked" by "popular will" to run
into military conflict with Japan ... and then
other neighboring countries. Surely, neither is
desirable for the CPP - especially during a time
of power transition.
(Copyright 2012 Asia
Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved.
Please contact us about sales, syndication and