Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Chinese Demonstrations

Though the outcome was not necessarily inevitable, it is unsurprising.

In what looks like nice weather, a whole lot of Chinese gathered together in groups today to protest Japan's effective control of the Senkaku Islands. The demonstrators shouted anti-Japanese slogans and called for boycotts of Japanese goods. An Ito-Yokado store in Chengdu lost its front windows.

So much for a winding down of tensions after the Kan-Wen meeting on the sidelines of the ASEM meeting in Brussels.

To be fair, Japan's right wingers got in their licks in first, with a demonstration two weeks ago in Shibuya decrying the Japanese government's lack of spine in releasing with the Chinese fishing boat captain accused of ramming two Japanese Coast Guard vessels. They had a repeat performance near the Chinese Embassy in Tokyo today.

However, today's spontaneous and window-smashing demonstrations in Chengdu, Hangzhou and other cities -- as well covered by the national media as the Shibuya demonstrations of two weeks ago and today's were ignored -- will feed into the growing Japanese populist narrative that the Chinese have lost all sense of proportion, that they have become drunk with power and self-righteousness.

However, before anyone mouthes off about the special character of anti-Japanese feeling in China and its official sanction as special root causes of the demonstrations and the outbreak of violence, there should be an admission that the formation of instant mobs seeking redress for some wrong is a chronic feature of modern China. There are demonstrations of this kind, many descending into violence, on matters regarding land control, food safety, political corruption and the like. Mob activity is therefore not necessarily indicative of a particularly strong anti-Japanese feeling.

Mob actions in China should also be seen as the physical expressions of what were out-oud wishes or off-the-cuff remarks of Communist Party leaders. In attacking Japanese possessions inside China, members of the public are reconfirming locally the threats that leaders such as Premier Wen Jiabao made on the national level.

No comments: