Have the anti-Japanese riots helped in any way?


I began writing about China’s “blind rage” phenomenon nearly four months ago, long before the current rift catpulted the story onto the world’s front pages. Aty that time, I was afraid it was a classic example of ill-conceived overkill: While the claims may have validity (which they do), the modus operandi, I felt, was not only wrong, it was self-defeating. And, most upsettingly, it was apparent the government was subtly encouraging it for reasons of its own.

I think it’s safe to say I’ve now seen my worst-case fears confirmed.

Chanting “Japanese pigs get out,” protesters threw stones and broke windows at Japan’s consulate and Japanese restaurants in China as some 20,000 people defied government warnings to protest Tokyo’s wartime history and its bid for a permanent U.N. Security Council seat.

Peaceful protests were reported in two other cities. Beijing remained calm. Police stood guard on Tiananmen Square to block a planned demonstration in the heart of the capital, a day ahead of a visit by Japan’s foreign minister. Paramilitary police surrounded the Japanese Embassy, where protesters smashed windows last weekend.

Japan’s Embassy said two Japanese were injured in Shanghai after being surrounded by a group of Chinese, Kyodo News agency reported. The extent of their injuries was not immediately known….

n Shanghai, protesters gathered around the Japanese Consulate. Police in riot helmets kept them away from the building but let protesters throw eggs and rocks. A group of young men broke the windows of a Nissan sedan and flipped it onto its roof.

In a nearby street, protesters broke windows of about 10 Japanese-style noodle shops and bars, many of them Chinese-owned. Others broke the windows of a police car, chanting “Kill the Japanese” after a rumor spread that a man sitting inside was Japanese. The car drove away before the crowd could grab him.

The violence followed a march from City Hall to the consulate by about 5,000 people. They carried banners written in English that said “Say No to Japan in the Security Council” and chanted “Japanese pigs get out!”

Japan filed an official protest, complaining that Chinese authorities failed to stop the violence.

I don’t want to talk about the atrocities of the Japanese in WWII, with which we are all too familiar. I just want to pose the simple question(s): Has China derived any benefit from this exercise? Has it improved its standing in the world in any way? Are the world leaders impressed or are they upset by what they see? Is this likely to encourage new investment in China or scare it away? Is this a sign of continued political maturity and wisdom or of a descent into raw emotionalism?

As the article says, now that things are getting out of hand, the CCP is threatening to arrest violent protestors (having dished out plenty of help over the past week). Demonstrations that help take the heat off the CCP are fine — until they start to take on a life of their own and can no longer be choreographed, or at least contained. That’s when the CCP gets scared shitless.

The Discussion: 12 Comments

Richard, I think you are asking exactly the right question. With the exception of those who are out there because they have no other way or opportunity to vent their emotions in the form of protest (and they certainly are getting what they want in this regard) let us assume that many of the others genuinely have some goals that they want to attain and changes in Japanese policy etc. that they want to accomplish. From that perspective, I think the outlook is somewhat dismal.

I have recently argued that on the contrary, this is actually making things worse (muninn.net/blog/2005/04/the-textbook-feedback-loop-and-masochistic-history.html)

April 17, 2005 @ 5:58 pm | Comment

I don’t know from personal experience (I’m in Dalian) about the number and scale of the protests, I think they mostly happen away from the bigger cities, but according to the Guardian last year there were 58,000 of them.

As for the CCP getting scared shitless, the protests in Hong Kong this weekend http://www.thestandard.com.hk/stdn/std/Front_Page.html do not bode well for future demonstrations. Unless that is just a HK thing, of course.

April 17, 2005 @ 10:03 pm | Comment

No the demonstrations don’t make any sense if you look at things calmly and rationally, but people aren’t always thinking calmly and rationally. This is why I don’t subscribe to the “evil chessmaster” theory either with regard to these demonstrations or to history in general.

From what I’ve seen, I don’t think that the CCP looks favorably at these sorts of demonstration since it is pretty obvious to everything that they hugely complicate East Asian relations. The problem is that there is so much emotion that standing in the way of it is not a good place to be.

I’ve seen people talk is about the CCP encouraging nationalistic myths, but one thing that I haven’t seen is people talking about how those myths constrain the CCP. The Chinese “anti-Japanese” story always contains a government which is too weak or too traitorous to confront Japan, and the CCP does not want to be this government. The nightmare scenario for the CCP is for a student to be seriously hurt or killed in a anti-Japanese demonstration, in which case all hell will break loose.

I think what many in the West find extremely disturbing is that most people in the West get their stereotype of Chinese student protestors from the Tiananment demonstrations of 1989 where the students were elevated in the Western mind to saints. So seeing students acting “unsaintly” is something people in the West find disturbing and being on the side of riot police keeping the students from storming the Japanese embassy is something else that people in the West find uncomfortable. I think a lot of the talk of an “evil chessmaster” is an effort to find some way of rescuing this historical stereotype and finding something to blame on the CCP.

The problem with this historical stereotype is that like all historical stereotypes, they radically oversimplify the truth.

April 17, 2005 @ 10:18 pm | Comment

Has China derived any benefit from this exercise?
Apologies in advance for answering a rhetorical question, but I should also point out that over 20% of tourists to China were Japanese last year, and they tend to spend lots of money. So the main “benefit” will probably be a string of bankruptcies when Japan-related tourism takes a dive this summer.

April 17, 2005 @ 10:24 pm | Comment

…sorry, I wasn’t entirely clear: I mean bankruptcies in China when the tourists don’t show.

April 17, 2005 @ 10:27 pm | Comment

China is in danger of looking like the bad guy here, especially in the eyes of the west.

The EU and US didn’t suffer very much at the hands of Japan, and they are more ready to forgive and forget anytthing than most other nations, and right now China is looking like a sore winner to them. It won and it is still complaining because it didn’t get the appology that it wanted from somebody who was beaten very badly.

This is hurting China’s international image, it is making Japan look like the victim, and it is not going to get an appology out of Japan because all tantrums from Beijing do is make Tokyo clam up even more.

April 17, 2005 @ 10:50 pm | Comment

Hopefully, all of this is a minor blip. One shouldn’t forget that it was about three years ago that people were throwing rocks at the American embassy. I’m hoping that after the last few weeks, people will let off enough steam to calm down a bit. There are two bits of good news. The first is that there isn’t much of a counter-reaction from Japan. The second is that in the grand scheme of things anti-Japanese anger is less dangerous than anti-American or anti-everyone anger.

It’s always a bit scary to me when I see people acting emotionally against economic interest. The reason for this is that as long as people act in economic interest, everyone is going to get along more or less. When things like this happen, its a reminder that yes “mass insanity” is possible. The consequence for this week was some broken windows and harsh feelings, but nothing that a few weeks of calm will cure.

Now imagine if something really bad happened concerning Taiwan or the United States……

On second thought don’t, too scary…..

April 17, 2005 @ 10:53 pm | Comment


I actually agree with you. Regardless who’s the winner or loser, I don’t want to see any Japanese people and businesses in China got hurt by the mob.


What do you mean happening to US? Like you said, it had already happened three years ago.

April 17, 2005 @ 11:47 pm | Comment

Joseph Wang … haven’t noticed your comments before today, but I hope to see them again. There are a few contribitors here whose comments I always look forward to reading (Mark’s for example), and now yours. Really good thoughts.

In regards to the current thread, I’m not sure that I agree with you that this is a minor blip. Anti-China reaction has in fact started to emerge in Japan … I saw the first reports of a rally outside the Chinese embassy in Tokyo just this morning. Events in China will only serve to strengthen factions in the Japanese government wanting to adopt a more assertive role. The events in China come at an unfortunate time, when the Japanese government and people are disclined to bow their heads and look apologetic (which is their normal policy). You don’t get a fight when one side screams and raves, and the other side stays silent. But if the other side starts to speak up, then it will only make the reaction stronger from the original screamer, which in turn will only make the other side show more backbone, etc etc etc. I think these events are going to change things in Asia in ways that are going to have continuing and long lasting effects.

April 18, 2005 @ 12:19 am | Comment

Since a comparison has been raised, I’d like to remind folks that the Tiananmen protest happened 16 years ago had been absolutely peaceful on the student side. It’s the government that used deadly force to murder the peaceful protesters.

April 18, 2005 @ 4:18 am | Comment

Intelligence in a sea of insanity

With the China situation getting more and more charged, it’s good to see a steady head observing everything that follows (with some knowing observations to boot). I’m glad to have found this blog. The Peking Duck…

April 18, 2005 @ 8:48 pm | Comment

it has gotten a group therapy session . the people need to let go of the anger that is suppressed for quite a few generations. Of cos they were fed with anti-Jap diet since young, it takes many many generations for Asians to get over it.

Ask an Italian about blood fedual, you’ll get the idea.

May 26, 2005 @ 11:13 am | Comment

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