Monday, September 17, 2012

The Impact of China's Anti-Japan Protests on a Japanese Mother in Shanghai

There has been a growing clamor in China about some small islands in the East China Sea -- in China they are named Diaoyu and in Japan they are named Senkaku. Strong feelings pervade in China that it, and not Japan, is the righteous owner of these islands. If you are not familiar with the competing claims see an overview of the dispute's history by Scott Neuman on NPR.

There have been numerous protests in China during recent days, seemingly in response to the Japanese government purchasing the islands from a private owner. As summed up by Richard Burger:
We always knew the Diaoyu islands were a tinder box; now it’s exploded.
Disputes over land are one thing, but the anti-Japanese sentiment now being expressed in China is disturbing to say the least. One sign held by people proclaimed (as translated by Charlie Custer):
Even if China becomes nothing but tombstones, we must exterminate the Japanese; even if we have to destroy our own country, we must take back the Diaoyu Islands.
For more about the protests I recommend several recent pieces for an assortment of perspectives: "The Anti-Japanese Eruptions" by James Fallows, "Anti-Japan Protests Erupt In China Over Disputed Islands" by Louisa Lim, "On Beijing’s Anti-Japan Protests" by Eric Fish, "China’s Anti-Japan Riots Are State-Sponsored. Period." by Charlie Custer, and "Anti-Japan protests a double-edged sword" by Ko Hirano. Some of the titles on their own say so much.

Although the dispute has received attention in Western media, earlier I noticed a relative silence about one key aspect. Emily Parker summed it up in a tweet:

So before sharing one Chinese perspective and some of my own, I first want to share the thoughts and experiences of a female Japanese acquaintance who is now living in Shanghai, China. They highlight some of the protests' effects, intended or not, on Japanese in China.

Today I asked her if she had been impacted by the recent demonstrations in any way. She has (italics for emphasis are mine):
Things have been a bit tense... Yesterday I could see "the Red People" marching right through the street in front of our apartment. Hearing the news and actually seeing them was quite different. I actually felt fear, though I've heard some of those people are getting paid to participate in the march, without really knowing what for.

My daughter's soccer team's practice was cancelled and my husband was refused by 2 taxi drivers. I intend not to go out except to pick up my kids from the school bus for the next few days or however long it may take to calm down. Tomorrow there's supposed to be another big one.

In the Japanese news, they tell about many small clashes that have happened in towns, such as a Japanese civilian getting soup noodles thrown into his face, another had his glasses taken away and broken, etc., none of which is told in the Chinese news. Obviously the Western world doesn't care much about the situation.

I personally don't care to whom the island belongs, I just want everyday security. A lot of the educated, wealthy Chinese people don't care either, they know it's just another camouflage. They're probably bummed that their shopping trip to Japan on October holiday week may be cancelled. :(

This is all just too frustrating...
I followed up with some questions. Her reply:
Many of the weekend events are cancelled among the Japanese community, because the protesting and demonstration marching get really big on weekends. We think we need to be extra cautious and keep a low profile. The Japanese school in Shanghai decided to cancel all classes for at least next two days, and depending on how the situation turns out after the 18th (supposed to be the big anti-Japan day for Chinese people). There was supposed to be a big sporting event held this weekend, where all the parents and friends get to go watch, but it got postponed 'till next Tuesday, for the time being. There's a big chance it may get cancelled altogether.

Shanghai has quite a few soccer teams which are coached in Japanese by Japanese coaches, where naturally most kids are Japanese, though my daughter's team actually has a few Chinese kids and a Chinese coach, too. The practice was cancelled over the weekend for the same reason as above. The team uses the field that belongs to a Chinese school and there are many other people using the track, the basketball court, and other facilities. We want to avoid any kind of situation that may cause "clashes" between Chinese and Japanese.

I don't think the kids have had first hand experience of such anti-Japanese sentiments yet. In a way they are the least exposed to the real Chinese community, as they take the school bus to and from the Japanese school and don't get a chance to mingle with local kids much, which I personally feel that they are missing out on an opportunity, but living in a country like China, it can't be helped. (Americans or Europeans who send their kids to American, British, or International schools may think they're a bit more "Internationally" exposed, but I don't see much difference in terms of being cut off from the Chinese community.)

Today I had to go to the shop across the street to get enough groceries to last for the next few days. I was quite nervous just to cross the street and was hoping people woudn't be able to tell that I was Japanese (though I think they could).

I felt the same as I was walking back with my kids from the school bus stop back to our building. I figured as long as we stay withing the compound, there shouldn't be a big problem since most people living here are wealthy, educated Chinese along with other foreigners. But as I was entering the door, I heard a voice coming out of the doorman's walkie-talkie, and it completely freaked me out. It supposedly was a voice of another doorman who could see us from a distance saying, "Are they Japanese?". I know my Chinese isn't perfect, but I heard it clearly. I couldn't believe my ears. I just pretended I didn't hear it and walked right into the building, saying "Xie xie" ["Thank you"] to the doorman as usual. This doorman usually says "Bu yong xie" ["You're welcome"] back to me, but today he didn't. Believe it or not, this little incident gave me the biggest FEAR in these past few days. Much more so than seeing the protest marching outside my window.

Having lived in the US as a minority, I've had people say discriminatory words towards me, or look down on me. But this is nothing of that sort. This is a simple, but very strong FEAR towards the unknown, something completely irrational.

As for my husband, he was told to get off after he got onto the taxi once. I think they could tell from his accent.

3 Panasonic factories have been severely destroyed and also a Toyota dealer was burned down, as well as many Japan-related shops and restaurants having been attacked and plundered. The thing is that most of the workers at these factories are Chinese, and they'll be without jobs for the next however many weeks or months until these factories are restored. Also, most of the shops and restaurants are owned by Chinese.

OK, I still have to cook dinner. We still get hungry.
Based on earlier conversations, I know she appreciates much about her life in China and has found living there to be a special experience. She is someone who could potentially be a positive voice for China in Japan. But now, despite not caring who owns some small islands, doing her best to avoid any potential "clashes", and recognizing that in some ways the protests have hurt Chinese people more than herself, she is living in China with her husband and children in fear.

To the Chinese people who have been expressing anti-Japanese sentiment, whether through words or actions, I have one question:

Mission accomplished?


  1. My deepest sympathy to all the Japanese in China, no one should experience any of such situation. It also makes me wonder about the level of fear of millions of Chinese in Nanjing during the WWII, when hundreds of thousands were slaughtered by the Japanese. Can't we all just be friends?

  2. Unknown, what you have written is precisely the Japanese street opinion.

  3. this is horrible and pathetic. humanity does not seem to realize how precious peace is!

  4. This is the first I have heard of this (apparently it's not big news in the U.S. - no surprise there.) As a former Shanghai resident, it's my personal opinion that this really is not so much about the islands and more about anti-Japanese sentiments that still exist from WWII. The Chinese never had any closure from WWII. The Japanese went away but have never even acknowledged what they did. The Japanese woman in your article may not realize why she is discriminated against because she may not even know these things. I don't think that history is taught in the Japanese school system. The Chinese think the Japanese will invade again someday -- I have heard this stated publicly. Even when I lived there people were still being killed by accidentally finding hidden stashes of Japanese poison gas, etc. Unless the Chinese get some kind of closure, this will take a few more decades to go away. This thing with the islands is just an excuse for the Chinese to vent a lot of pent up animosity.

    1. This Wiki article has been linked enough in the recent days, but I always find an opportunity to link it yet again:

      Also, history is taught in Japanese classrooms and textbooks. The point of contention over history is usually Japanese editors minimizing or neglecting the more unsavory details of their military's violations against the Chinese people. Unlike China, however, the Japanese internet is uncensored and conflicting viewpoints and analyses are easy to find online.

      The Chinese who think Japan will re-attack someday have a very poor grasp of the current Japanese military, which currently consists of around 240,000 troops. Additionally, Japan has no missiles, no aircraft carriers, and after the nuclear reactor incident last, a chronic dislike for nuclear weaponry.

      This will take more than a few decades away as long as the Chinese gov't can continue to use anti-Japanese sentiment as a leverage point at politically convenient times. The upcoming political transition, wave of scandals, and economic slowdown have contributed to a lot of unease in the Chinese general populace, once that has been nicely supplanted by anti-Japanese fervor. The state-run media outlets have been running incendiary op-eds and heavily slanted articles for weeks now, and the protests seem to be even orchestrated by government organs in some cases. I heard reports from friends in Beijing that people mysteriously showed up to join the protests in buses, buses that came from...where? In Xiamen, the protests were manipulated from anti-Japan to pro-Communism/Mao Zedong demonstrations, and those who dared to unfurl pro-democracy banners in the midst of the protests were promptly arrested.

      Basically, business as usual in the PRC. There has been an outpouring of dissent from Chinese people online however, condemning the protesters and lamenting the loss of face for the Chinese people.

      Written from my desk in Nanjing, China.

  5. maybe these japanese have a taste of what the Chinese felt in ww2. call me when somebody gets killed. otherwise these japanese needs to toughen up.

  6. These Japanese need to toughen up?! Are you kidding me. "These Japanese" weren't even alive during WW2 so why would you want fellow human beings to suffer. Why? Because you are a short-sited, emotionally motivated, uneducated prick who will never understands how the world works. If something were to happen in Germany would the Jews hope the Germans got a "taste" of what they felt. Absolutely not.