The Diaoyu Powderkeg: Primed and Ready

A sampling of the coverage from the last two days about the Diaoyu Island protests, in which the Chinese fenqing are at once unleashed and corralled by the Party. First, from Peking Duck, where Richard calls the dispute a tinder box:

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 demonstrations after protestors become too violent, hurling rocks at the embassy. We always knew the Diaoyu islands were a tinder box; now it’s exploded.

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.

From Reuters, a description of some of the actions some officials are taking to curb the protests:

In the biggest flare-up on Sunday, police fired about 20 rounds of tear gas and used water cannon and pepper spray to repel thousands occupying a street in the southern city of Shenzhen, near Hong Kong.

Protesters attacked a Japanese department store, grabbed police shields and knocked off their helmets. One protester was seen with blood on his face. At least one policeman was hit with a flowerpot.

Demonstrators have looted shops and attacked Japanese cars and restaurants in at least five Chinese cities. Protesters also broke into a dozen Japanese-run factories in eastern Qingdao on Saturday, according to the Japanese broadcaster NHK.

It added that the protests had spread to at least 72 cities.

A six-deep cordon of anti-riot police guarded the Japanese embassy in Beijing as demonstrators resumed their protest on Sunday, screaming slogans and insults as they passed by and throwing plastic bottles full of water.

“If Japan does not back down we must go to war. The Chinese people are not afraid,” said 19-year-old-student Shao Jingru.

Dissident artist Ai Weiwei, who walked by Sunday’s protest in Beijing, told Reuters he believed the demonstrations were sanctioned by the government and the police.

“Chinese citizens need to thank the Japanese government because for the first time, they can mount a large protest on their own land,” Ai said. “In China, there are no protests organized by the people.”

On the other hand, ChinaGeeks describes some of the ways in which the government has facilitated these protests, beyond the obvious factors like using decades of indoctrination in schools and the media to rile up anti-Japanese sentiment:

Browsing it, your first inclination may be to marvel at the particularly insane bits, like the hotel advertising that Japanese guests are no longer welcome or the Audi dealership with banners outside that literally advocate mass genocide (is this a new Audi sales campaign?). But for anyone who has been to a protest in China before, your second inclination is going to be to say this: where are all the fucking cops?

But anyone who has followed domestic protests in China for even a short period of time should be clear on the fact that if it wants to, the government has the means to totally shut these protests down. They may have sent in the tanks back in ’89, but these days there are legions of trained riot police, People’s Armed Police, and other anti-protest forces. Every major city has them. If you think that China doesn’t have the law enforcement capability to totally shut down these riots, you’re delusional. If these were anti-government protests, not only would they not have carried on this long, but half the people in those photos would be in jail by now. Before the Jasmine protests (for example) police nationwide were literally arresting people just for considering going to the protests, not to mention people police thought might go.

Can you imagine Tibetans protesting in 40+ cities without massive police intervention, gunfire, and months of crackdowns and disappearances after? Because that happened in 2008, and the region is still under lockdown today. Obviously this isn’t going to happen to Han protesters who are mad about Japan, though.

SinoStand has a first-hand description of one of the protests:

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.

And finally, a good one from Rectified.Name:

Today was one of those perfect Beijing fall days, sunny, reasonably clear air and just the right temperature for a day-long hike of the Great Wall at Jinshanling… or for burning and pillaging your local Chinese-owned and operated Japanese restaurant. Whatever.

In fact, combining the best of both fun activities, three separate groups of young Chinese marched along the wall today waving flags demanding the protection of the Diaoyu Islands from the dastardly Japanese. One group was in yellow and waved a yellow flag. Another was in red and held a red flag. A third group split the difference and went with an all-orange look that confused a few Dutch hikers into thinking a football match was about to break out at the next guard tower.

On their way up, each group stopped to pay homage to a statue of Ming general Qi Jiguang. General Qi is something of a patron saint around Jinshanling. He’s credited with organizing the construction of this section of the wall in the mid-16th century. But before that, Qi Jiguang was best known for his battles against Japanese ‘pirates’ along China’s coast, and so is now the patron saint of seriously deluded Chinese nationalists out for blood over a chain of rocks inhabited by a herd of confused goats and an endangered species of mole. Seriously.

Frankly, every time I hear the phrase “history says…” I want to try and remove my own corneas with a shrimp fork. History “says” a lot of things. For example, China has never ever invaded another country. The PLA did not invade Tibet in 1951 because Tibet has been part of China since at least the time of the Yuan which was not a Mongolian Empire but a Chinese Dynasty. And China didn’t try to invade Japan in 1274 and 1281 because that was Kublai Khan who was, you know, a Mongol and not Chinese.

History is especially tricky when you take relatively recent concepts and constructions like the nation state and national sovereignty and apply them retroactively.

Of more contemporary concern though is the way the CCP, through the educational system and the official media, has made defending China’s ‘national sovereignty’ and ‘territorial integrity’ such an important and highly visible pillar of their legitimacy. That leaves precious little room for negotiation or compromise in situations like the current stand-off with Japan.

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