"Fuck Japan" photo via AlertNet photo cred REUTERS/Jason Lee
So tensions between China and Japan have truly escalated about the uninhabited Diaoyu islands in the East China sea. I am just fine, but it was a little unnerving biking down my road and seeing riot police and dozens of buses and trucks blocking the road (the Japanese embassy is down my road, past the American one). I am not going to pretend like I really know what’s going on in this situation–I always make a valid effort to keep up with the news, Chinese, international, tech and mobile, my hometown of Erie. However, in China, I find it hard to know what’s reallly going on, and I didn’t really realize how serious this recent development in China was. After seeing riot gear and hearing these reports, I wanted to make a valid effort.
The quick summary is, Japan, China, and Taiwan all claim to have possession of two uninhabited islands in the East China Sea. They have become valuable as important mineral resources have been found in their waters. Recently, Japan purchased the islands from the Japanese “owners.” Chinese, with a history of tension with Japan and an education system that encourages nationalistic pride over Japan, have become agitated. To provide a full picture, the Japanese do have a horrible history with the rest of Asia. Even one of my close Chinese friends who’s normally forgiving, and works to understand the other side mentioned to me that she was not a fan of Japan. Also, when I lived in Vietnam, I had expats telling me of the atrocities of Japan and Japanese soliders on South East Asia, its people and civilians.
Below, I’m just providing you with some information that I’ve gathered, as I’ve tried to decipher what’s going on today. Here are some pics from RT of the protest in Beijing today.
Protests have been happening in several cities in China, but as reported by TeaLeafNation.com, Netizens are tweeting a more level approach to he situation, at least condemning the attacks. First heard about issues with the island situation from TeaLeafNation.com, and the nationalistic streak, surfaced over Weibo.
Not trying to alarm, just updating. Beijing rarely lets people protest (they are supposedly illegal), and as quoted in the NYT:
“I think the government is encouraging this,” said one protester, who gave his name as Uda Chen.
“They could have stopped all of us approaching when we were at the subway station. The government has taught us to be anti-Japanese at school, so if they want us to stop it would be like slapping their own mouths,” he added.
I’d have to agree with this statement; I didn’t see much of an effort by police to keep people from protesting. And in the next cited blog entry, he mentioned the feeling of a picnic… At first when I rode my bike down to LiangMaQiao Lu around 8:30 this evening, I saw people eating what looked like sanctioned cafeteria food, Chinese food in red containers. A larger organization understood what was going on, and people were largely allowed to go and do what they wanted, milling up and down the roped off road (normally a wide, car-filled street). My roommate, who has previously worked with the embassy, says they’ve been protesting in front of the Japanese embassy since Wednesday, although today was just the main escalation.
The Chinese government is going through a leadership change, done once every 10 years, so things are tense in the party to begin with. Having something else for the public to focus on must be quite a relief, especially with Xi Jinping missing for days.
After searching for a good account of events, I found this Sinostand entry by Eric Fish, via Shanghaiist.com. I posted in its entirety; I think it offers experience and perspective.
Today saw huge demonstrations in front of Japan’s Embassy in Beijing to protest Japanese claims over the Diaoyu Islands. Two years ago when tensions last flared over this issue, I checked out the Japanese embassy in Beijing, where there were no more than about 50 people. This time, turnout was exponentially bigger and more serious.
I got to the embassy at about 1:00 this afternoon. The roads around it were all closed off to traffic with a few hundred riot police, regular police, public security volunteers and lord knows how many plain clothes officers. I estimate there were at least 2,000 people while I was there, although it’s unclear how many actively came to protest and how many were just curious onlookers.
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.
Later things started to get a bit more intense. While the crowds circled around they were allowed to stop briefly in front of the Japanese embassy itself. It was guarded by hundreds of riot police with helmets and shields. At first protestors threw water bottles and eggs at the embassy, which police made no attempt to stop. But gradually rocks and (I assume Japanese) cell phones started to be thrown. Many of them hit the Chinese police, who were covering themselves with shields.
One man brought a bucket full of rocks, which police came and confiscated somewhat violently. After a man chucked a rock, an officer wrestled him away and said, “Enough, they’re Chinese.” He then let him go. I caught up with the man and asked him what had happened. He said, “I just wanted to fuck Japan.”
Finally I went to interview a man on the side of the road holding a sign. As I was speaking with him a police officer grabbed my shoulder and turned me around. “What are you doing,” he asked forcefully in English.
I said I was just talking with people and taking pictures. He pulled me toward a small police post on the side of the road and demanded my passport. He looked at the visa page, handed it back and then seemed to get distracted with something else. I slowly but steadily walked away.
It was very strange. It seemed like coverage was being encouraged. I didn’t notice any of the other foreigners who were taking video/pictures being hassled. I’m not sure why I was singled out.
That was about the time I headed home. If you didn’t understand what the people were chanting, the whole atmosphere of the protests seemed very festive. People chanted things, others laughed. Families with little kids were out, young people, old people. It kind of felt like a 4th of July parade…until things began to be thrown at the embassy.
This whole uproar is a godsend for the Communist Party. I never imagined I’d see people marching down the street with pictures of Mao Zedong chanting “Long live Mao, Long live the Communist Party.” It was a bit surreal. (Though several people were chastising the government for sitting by too idly)
It’s interesting to speculate on how much of this was deliberately egged on by the CCP. The whole thing erupted when the Japanese government bought some of the islands from a private owner. The move was intended to put the islands under national control so Japanese activists could be prevented from planting flags on the island and stirring up tensions. But it seems that was a huge miscalculation by Japan on the eve of China’s 18th Party Congress.
The Chinese media could have lauded the move as an attempt to ease tensions and work toward a peaceful solution, but it went hard in the opposite direction, portraying it as an illegitimate slap in China’s face. It’s no wonder so many are riled up.
It is important to note that when you see Mao posters being paraded, it’s probably a pretty poor representation of Chinese people. And it’s hard to say how many people present at the protest were active nationalists, how many came because they thought it’d be cool or interesting, and how many just happened to walk by and stuck around.
But there was a lot of intensity. Whenever someone started a chant, most joined in. This is clearly the most serious clash between China and Japan in a long time, and it could be far from over. A few days from now will be September 18th, the anniversary of Japan’s invasion of Manchuria. Unless there’s a police clampdown, the protests are likely to continue through at least that day.
With Xi Jinping back and all this intense anger directed toward Japan, I predict China’s leadership transfer can now go off without a hitch.
As a side note, I saw many, many Chinese just out watching the scene, many just with the phones, most likely posting, or planning to post on Weibo. I also saw three (potbellied) men wearing Chinese flags pushing their way past onlookers, as they left the scene.
Again, just sharing what I know. The best thing we can do is stay informed; I’m just trying to figure out what’s going on. I thank social media for providing a variety of voices/content, real time updates, and keeping me in touch with sources that I trust.
**As a side note to the aesthetics of this blog, I’m always tweaking the blog, and embarrassed that certain bugs aren’t quite figured out. But again, this blog is a work in progress, and a learning ground for me. I always welcome your input and criticism.**