Recent anti-Japan demonstrations organized by the Chinese regime have struck astute citizens as somewhat ironic, given that the Chinese seldom have the right to march for such causes on their own.
“Finally, in a country where we are not even allowed to type the word 'demonstration' in our blogs, we have a demonstration to march in,” wrote Han Han, one of China’s most popular writers, in a Sept. 18 blog post. The anti-Japan demonstrations were held on Sept. 18, the 79th anniversary of Japan’s invasion of China.
While “9.18” has always been the day that anti-Japanese sentiment peaks in China, parades of the kind that took place this year are somewhat rare. In at least seven cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Hong Kong, Chinese took to the streets to express their long-held animosity—which itself has partly been engineered by the Party-state.
Though the recent China-Japan boat incident in disputed waters and the subsequent detention of a Chinese captain ignited heightened anger in many Chinese, such demonstrations, small-scale as they were, could not have happened without the authorities’ acquiescence or encouragement.
Several petitioners in Beijing reported receiving phone calls from various sources days before Sept. 18 encouraging them to participate in the “government-permitted” demonstration in Ritan Park, which is steps away from the Japanese Embassy.
The petitioners, who usually appeal against local corruption and injustice, said the government was simply taking advantage of people’s patriotism. Nevertheless, some said they decided to participate and use the opportunity to draw public attention to their own cases. Generally, petitioners’ attempts to publicly protest are suppressed, and the individuals are detained, harassed, and expelled from Beijing.
But the regime has kept the numbers of demonstrators down to a manageable level. In Beijing and Shanghai, mere dozens of protesters chanted anti-Japan slogans under the watchful eyes of armed police.
In the other mainland cities, crowds of a few hundred were outnumbered by police who took away most of their banners and signs. Notable also was the fact that except for Hong Kong, the demonstrations were all dispersed by police within an hour.
The authorities also made sure that no voice was heard in the demonstrations other than accusations against Japan.Yuan Peiwei, a petitioner from Shenzhen, shouted “Down with corruption!” in the Beijing demonstration, holding a photo of herself being beaten up by police while petitioning. According to an eyewitness, Yuan was immediately arrested by a policeman. When the demonstration coordinator asked police to release her, they claimed that Yuan was a thief.
Most other dissidents and activists didn’t even have an opportunity to attend the rallies. Beijing civil rights activist Liu Anjun told The Epoch Times that agents from the Security Bureau had warned him ahead of time not to participate in the anti-Japan demonstration. Three volunteers from Liu’s organization were missing on Sept. 18 after they distributed food to homeless petitioners. Before they lost contact with him, the volunteers called Liu and said agents of the Security Bureau were following them.
Another Beijing activist, Zhang Hui, said he was followed around by police when he went out on Sept. 18. Zhang said many other activists and dissidents in Beijing also had restricted freedom on the same day, while in other cities activists were detained.
Experts believe the regime is encouraging and using anti-Japan sentiments to put pressure on Japan, the United States, and Korea, but authorities fear that the Chinese people will eventually direct their anger toward the government. “The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is playing with fire,” said China expert Shi Cangshan, who now resides in Washington, D.C., “Once their patriotism is inflamed, the Chinese people will realize how the CCP is harming the country, and they will turn and vent all their anger on it.”
The regime’s paranoia may be justified. During the Shanghai demonstration, protesters began shouting that the government was “weak-boned and diplomatically impotent” when police blocked the way to the Japanese Consulate. Beijing protesters cursed at the policemen who stopped the crowd from burning an image of a Japanese flag and accused the police of being traitors.
Just how much attention should be allowed to be paid to anti-Japan hostilities has always been a dilemma for the CCP. On the one hand, the regime established its legitimacy by posing as China’s savior that led the country to victory against the Japanese invasion. They repeatedly remind the people of this. On the other hand, it is hard to make up a plausible theory to explain why this honor should not be given to the Kuomintang, the then official government and leader of the national military forces.
Facts such as the Kuomintang’s 3 million casualties suffered in over 1,000 battles against the Japanese army have been removed from textbooks and historic documents in China, while movies depicting the CCP’s fighting against Japan have become a film genre in their own right.
“In a country where peaceful demonstrations for the rights of its own citizens are not allowed, demonstrating against outside forces is meaningless,” Han Han wrote at the end of his blog article which was deleted shortly after it was posted. “Such a march is no more than a dancing group.”