There’s a superb first-hand account of what’s going on outside the Japanese embassy in Beijing.
In the middle of the street there was a partition with police directing people to parade around it in long circles. People had huge Chinese flags and banners saying things like “Fuck little Japan.” What I was most surprised by were the number of Chairman Mao posters floating around. I asked a few people about this and the consensus was “Mao would never let Japan get away with this.”
As the crowds paraded around, they sang patriotic songs, chanted “Little Japan, fuck your mother,” “Chairman Mao 10,000 years,” “China 10,000 years” and most significantly “Communist Party 10,000 years.” (“10,000 years” basically means “Long live…”)
This mass outpouring obviously had official sanction. The police’s presence was to direct the protests rather than try to hamper them in any way.
This so reminds me of the simmering hatred of Japan that surged to the top back in 2005 with all the controversy over the Yasukuni shrine. There, too, the police facilitated the protestors, some officers handing them eggs to throw. They take a more active role in curtailing the demostrations after protestors become too violent, hurling rocks at the embassy. We always knew the Diaoyu islands were a tinder box; now it’s exploded.
For the single best wrap-up of what’s going on in Beijing you have to see this piece by NPR’s Louisa Lim (follow her links). In Shanghai reporters were allowing protestors to approach the Japanese consulate in groups of 10, and the protestors had to register with the police (!), she reported. Signs and rhetoric showed that right under the surface of the new outrage is all the old feelings about the Nanjing massacre and the old chestnut, Japan’s refusal to apologize for WWII war crimes against China.
Make no mistake: this is government-sanctioned and facilitated. Per Louisa Lim:
Close to the demonstration in Beijing on Saturday, cartons of “free rage eggs” were being given out for protesters to throw at the embassy. On the ground beside them lay a Japanese flag, bespattered by broken eggs. Such anger, once unleashed, could prove difficult to contain.
How’s that for an understatement? I think it’s already difficult to contain, to say the least. It will end when the government thinks there’s been enough and then starts to crack down, just like in 2005. Protesting against perceived injustices is something I encourage. Allowing emotions to take over and becoming enveloped in pure white-hot rage is dangerous. In this zombie-like state people can be manipulated to do the government’s dirty work. It does not reflect well on China when Japanese businesses and citizens are attacked. It does not reflect well on China to be seen as hysterics with no iota of self control. And I know all the bad things Japan did in the past. That’s irrelevant. This is supposed to be about the Diaoyu islands, not unbridled hatred of Japan from 70 years ago.The islands almost seem like an excuse.
Update: Excellent photos of damage to Japanese businesses in Beijing here.
Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.