I think it has flown under the radar in the western media, but here in the East there is one topic on everybody’s minds. The worsening relationship between China and Japan. It all started because of a stupid island dispute. China says they own it, and Japan disagrees. (The Chinese call the islands Diaoyu, the Japan call it Senkaku.)
I have no opinion on the islands, and could really care less. In fact, I think most Chinese people could care less about the islands, they are just using it as an excuse to express their anti-Japanese sentiments. I wasn’t aware of this before I came to China, but the Chinese HATE the Japanese because of WWII and the Rape of Nanking (Nanjing). I mean, I knew the history, but I figured at this point, they would have forgiven the Japanese for the atrocities. Boy was I ever wrong.
Even 3 years ago when I first arrived students told me how much they hated the Japanese. “They killed my grandfathers family,” they said. Or, “they did terrible things to the Chinese.”
“But that was so long ago. We’ve forgiven the German for doing terrible things, haven’t you forgiven the Japanese?” The answer is always no. In fact, hating the Japanese is a national pastime. There are constantly TV dramas showing Japanese soldiers doing terrible things to Chinese (followed by the Chinese soldiers bravely defending their land ‘natch) to keep it fresh in people’s minds, and there are even urinals in some restaurants painted to look like Japanese soldiers. There is no PC culture in China and I have had really smart, worldly students tell me “If my child’s class had several Japanese students I would insist they change schools.” It’s almost like the way Americans dislike Mexicans.
And so with this recent dispute things are getting real ugly, real fast. There have been protests and rioting all across china. It has largely stayed out of the top tier cities like Beijing and Shanghai (kept down by the po-po) but in second-tier cities things are getting bad. People are smashing Japanese made cars, looting Japanese store (like 7-11 which is apparently owned by a Japanese company) and even setting fire to some Japanese buildings. To try to protect their possessions, people are putting Chinese flags on their Nokia cameras, and Japanese restaurants are covering their signs, or draping the Chinese flag over every surface (which seems to do the trick).
And like all good riots people are using this as an excuse just to cause trouble. One man was caught in a photo smashing a Rolex store (a Swiss company) and his excuse was he thought the Rolex logo was the Toyota Crown logo. Nice try buddy. And in a true genius move, one guy even admitted to stealing a rolex on weibo (the Chinese Twitter) and admitted it was wrong but that he couldn’t “control himself.” (Netizens in his area alerted local police to his crime, so not everyone is irrational.)
Unfortunately today is National Remembrance Day, or as one of my Chinese friends called it National Humiliation Day, commemorating the 81st anniversary of the day Japan invaded China. So if they protests were big before, they are about to get bigger. My city hasn’t had a real protest yet, but it will today. My local friend told me they are expecting 10,000 people to gather in The People’s Park to protest. (Yes, I’m staying away and have warned others to do so.)
In fact, I have been getting texts and weixins all day warning me to stay on campus. I have gotten a few telling me “not to worry” and “trust the government will take care of you.” Yeah, right. And really, if I shouldn’t worry, then why are so many people contacting me telling me not to worry!
But in truth I am not really worried. There are rumors that America is helping Japan, so there is some growing anti-Americanism, but for the most part it’s focused entirely on Japan. Luckily, I have local friends who are keeping me abreast of the news, and the overall feeling in town. (One guy, a haircutter, told me one customer said America has sent 10 jet planes to Japan to help. They haven’t but it’s interesting to hear the rumors.)
I am worried for the two Japanese teachers on campus. Their classes have been cancelled “until further notice,” they’ve gone into semi-hiding and the school is protecting them. I could definitely use a break from class, but not that way.
Anyway, most protests are scheduled for the afternoon so keep an eye on the news and see what it brings. I’m hoping this whole thing blows over soon because Chinese mobs are not a fun sight. Many people want to start a war with Japan over these stupid islands, (“I want to kill Japanese!” a tiny, adorable, soft-spoken students told me today.) but I have faith the two governments know that to be insane and will work it out.