Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Self-Inflicted Wounds in China

The Japanese woman who shared with me her thoughts and experiences regarding China's recent anti-Japan protests was fearful of something she described as "unknown" and "completely irrational". She also believed that in some ways Chinese people were being more negatively impacted by the protests than herself. A mob's actions, described by Colum Murphy in the China Real Time Report, serves as a particularly disturbing example of why her concerns were not unfounded:
The beating took place on the afternoon of Sept. 15 in the central Chinese city of Xi’an in Shaanxi province. Mr. Li, his wife, one of his son’s and the son’s fiancĂ©e, were on their way back from a shopping trip when Mr. Li’s white Toyota Corolla was set upon by an agitated anti-Japanese mob brandishing sticks, bricks and steel implements, according to the Beijing Youth Daily.

Mr. Li’s wife urged the demonstrators not to damage the vehicle. “It was wrong of us to buy a Japanese car. We won’t buy one ever again, OK?” she was reported as saying by Beijing Youth Daily.

But the gang beat Mr. Li anyway, striking him on the head with a steel shackle and causing him to lose consciousness. Later, he was rushed to hospital where he was treated for open brain injury and then moved to an intensive care unit. He remained there until he regained consciousness three days later.

Mr. Li can now move the left-hand side of his body but the right side continues to be partially paralyzed.
For me it sounds like another world from many of my own experiences in China. Nevertheless, I feel this story is important for several reasons.

One, it is an example of the violence recently expressed in China. Whether or not most Chinese support the protests, there is genuine reason for concern.

Also, is it is an example of pain that China is inflicting upon itself. It makes it seem all the more reasonable to wonder if the anti-Japan protests are indicative of deeper problems that are not only about Japan's past actions.

Finally, as a Chinese reader wrote before:
People need to understand the effects of their actions.
The violent acts in Xi'an did not spring out of nowhere. Even if a protestor's words are not reflective of deeper beliefs and are a result of being "caught up in the moment", they can fan the flames of hate in others and even themselves.

To the reader's words I would add that people also need to understand the effects of their inaction. Or in other words, even doing nothing can be an action with visible effects.

When stores and restaurants refuse to serve Japanese because of their nationality, how many Chinese still walk through their doors? When relatives, friends, or coworkers speak hate, how many don't reply? When mobs carry out violent acts against people and property, how many don't intervene in any fashion?

In his article, Murphy reported that many users of Sina Weibo, a popular online social networking service in China, have not been silent and have expressed their criticisms of the protests (some other examples here). But it is important to note that Sina Weibo is not representative of China's full online world, and the online world is certainly not all of life in China.

I don't know the answers to the questions I asked. But considering such questions is important for both Chinese and foreigners who wish to better understand what is happening in China now and what might happen in the future.


  1. Irrationality is always troubling in any form. I understand the deep resentment some Chinese will still hold against Japan from history. But I was surprised that the simple transfer of ownership of an island triggered all of these problems which made me suspicious of the origin. Do the ordinary modern Chinese people REALLY hold so much repressed hate for the Japanese or was some of this trumped up by the government? Unfortunate no matter what on many levels, especially with innocent victims unknowingly stumbling into the jaws of random violence. Thought provoking post - thanks! W.C.C.

  2. After living for many years outside of the first-tier cities in China the answer would have to be Yes. The resentment is extreme in these places. It's incredible what lies just under the surface with many people regarding Japan. What hasn't helped is that the government-made curriculum vilifies Japan from an early age. Even my internationally-educated, but government schooled through high school, friends and colleagues think there is something inherently aggressive and evil about the Japanese and their government. It was scary to encounter the unguarded feelings about Japan when they finally opened up on "those issues."