I just wrote a huge post all about this excellent article on how Shanghai officials handled and mishandled the anti-Japan demonstrations. This will have to be a slapdash, much-shortened substitution. The piece is exceptionally rational and fair, and I enjoyed its analysis of “the four discourses.”

When Shanghai students and office workers marched into the consular district on April 16, destroying signs and shop windows and shouting “Japanese out of China!” โ€“ both they and the Chinese government seemed willing to risk those global commitments for the nationalist cause. A closer look, however, reveals a more moderate politics shaped as much by local concerns as nationalist sentiment.

Within the protest itself, participants voiced four dominant discourses. The loudest voice was a simple patriotism of flag waving and patriotic songs. The second and harshest voice was an unreflective Japan-bashing with little political content; common insults included “Japanese devils” and “Down with Japan.” The third discourse was a political argument against right-wing nationalism in Japan. Many protesters argued that the textbook revision and visits by Japanese government officials to the Yasukuni shrine were grounds for opposing Japan’s membership on the UN Security Council.

A fourth distinctive discourse was a self-consciously moderate internationalism, which was evident in posters praising Germany for its admission of war guilt, and even a willingness to cooperate with Japan. When asked why they opposed Japan, a mixed group of students and young workers strongly disagreed with the phrasing of the question. One replied, “We are not against the Japanese people or against Japan.” Another protester showed a reporter that he was wearing a John Lennon t-shirt. “John Lennon was married to a Japanese,” he said, “so I am not against all Japanese.”

Individuals in the protest slipped between one discourse and the other. These rhetorical switches reveal the tensions within the cultures of nationalism and cosmopolitanism simultaneously present in Shanghai. Intellectually and ethically, the most blatant gap was between the protesters dehumanizing language of “Japanese pigs” and their own stance against “right-wing textbooks” in Japan. More generally, the nationalism displayed by the protesters clashed with their larger claims to internationalism both within and outside the protest. In everyday life, Shanghai youth direct their energy at amassing cosmopolitan cultural capital, including the latest Shiseido cosmetics and Japanese manga. This does not mean they reject modern expressions of Chineseness, but foreign culture makes for greater status in cosmopolitan Shanghai. The demonstration was a rare chance to show a national pride that is usually subordinated to a cosmopolitan but also very local Shanghainese identity.

It’s uncanny how the “four discourses” reflect the types of commenters who’ve written about the protests on this blog, from the moderately nationalistic and rational to the frothing-at-the-mouth jingoist. This is something I expounded on at length with some good examples, and then I accidentally closed the browser window, two hours of work gone in the stroke of a key. (I know, I should always write these long posts in Word, or keep saving them as drafts.) Well, check out the article; it looks at the demonstrations with a wider lens than most. Unfortunately, I can’t recreate the post I zapped. How depressing.

The Discussion: 5 Comments

Yeah, Lennon married a Japanese. And looked what happened! The breakup of my heroes and the woman in question using Lennon’s bloody glasses to sell albums. If there’s a candidaite for the walking antiChrist amongst us, she would be my first choice.

May 2, 2005 @ 5:46 pm | Comment

Wonder how cosmopolitan Shanghai is anyway. As far as I know the majority of foreigners live in gated communities and contact with Chinese is quite limited due to the language barriere.

May 3, 2005 @ 4:08 am | Comment

Some of the foreigners live that way, but very large numbers do not. You can easily see them in many parts of city, living and working among the local Shanghainese. It’s really not at all unusual, maybe something like half of westerns living here do so (rough guess).

At any rate I think we can safely say Shanghai is more cosmopolitan, and in my opinion Shanghainese are in general a little more savvy about what the outside world is about.

Reagarding the article, although well-written, I’m not sure I see what’s all that remarkable about the conclusion that a group of loosely-organized protestors had differing motivations. Is that really surprising?

May 3, 2005 @ 9:29 am | Comment

Slim, I liked the writer’s rational approach, avoiding generalizations and getting into the motivations behind the different factions. I especially liked his chronology of the Shanghai leaders’ approach to the demonstrators and how it evolved so dramatically once they realized they were causing themselves more harm than good.

May 3, 2005 @ 10:02 am | Comment

Richard, I see your points. The pre-protest SMS from the Shanghai police seemed to especially indicate a level of offical ambiguity over the affair.

Mabe the Shanghai city gov’t needs a good public relations manager. Say, isn’t that your line of work, Richard? Great way to come back to China! ๐Ÿ™‚

May 4, 2005 @ 9:57 pm | Comment

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