Skip to main content

Chinese passion, fury fuels anti-Japanese attacks

By Stan Grant, CNN
updated 8:20 AM EDT, Tue September 18, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Passion and anger merges in Chinese street protests
  • Protesters directing anger towards Japan over disputed islands
  • Japan bought what it calls the Senkaku Islands from private owner
  • China has long claimed it owns the islands, calls them Diaoyu

Beijing (CNN) -- It is a striking image that in an instant crystallizes the passions and anger on the streets of Beijing.

A man is leaning out of the sunroof of a car driving down a six-lane freeway, holding a massive Chinese flag in one hand and, in the other, a portrait of Mao Zedong.

"The islands are ours," he yells, referring to China's claim on what it calls the Diaoyu islands. He denounces Japan, and others in the car raised clenched fists, threatening to go to war.

Protests have flared for another day across the country. This is not just any day, it is the anniversary of the incident that set off the Japanese invasion of China in 1931. The wounds of history run deep amongst generations raised on stories of the brutality of Japanese occupation. The row over the islands is tearing at those old scars.

Chinese demonstrators protest on the streets in Zhengzhou, Henan province, on September 18, carrying on anti-Japanese rallies from the weekend. Chinese demonstrators protest on the streets in Zhengzhou, Henan province, on September 18, carrying on anti-Japanese rallies from the weekend.
Anti-Japan protests sweep China
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
>
>>
China protests over islands China protests over islands
China-Japan dispute threatens economy
Tensions rise between Japan and China

These are indeed confused times; old-style Maoism, anti-Japanese hatred, ancient territorial claims and a rich nation's hunger for national resources are fueling passionate and at times violent protests aimed at the Japanese.

The islands dispute is a magnet for a grab bag of competing agendas.

Japanese plants close amid Chinese fury

The open displays of anti-Japanese fury, say some China watchers, is a convenient distraction for the Communist Party as it grapples with a fraught leadership transition marked by political scandal, murder, "disappearances" and infighting.

The appearance of the iconic Mao images lends a revolutionary fervor to these protests. The father of China's Communist Party is not seen as synonymous with the new economic powerhouse. He harks back to a more brutal time.

But this is not just about anger and pride, it is about money. Lying beneath the uninhabited islands are vast natural resources. China is hungry for oil and gas to power its economy.

But most of the argument here is framed around history; unfinished business with Japan and China's rising economic significance in the world.

Chinese analysts like Guo Xiangjiang, the Deputy Director of the China Institute of International Studies, say there should be no question about who owns the islands.

Disputed islands in East China Sea
Tensions rise over Asian islands
Why is Japan feuding over islands?

"There shouldn┬╣t be any discussion on Diaoyu island. It has always been a part of China," he says.

China says its claim on Diaoyu extends back hundreds of years. Japan says China ceded sovereignty when it lost the Sino-Japanese war in 1895. Japan's surrender in World War II clouded the issue again.

How a remote rock split China and Japan

But in 1972, the United States returned Senkaku to Japanese control as part of its withdrawal from Okinawa.

China refuses to recognize these agreements. China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesman, Hong Lei, has effectively told the U.S. to keep out of the issue.

"We hope that the U.S. can earnestly honor its principle of not taking positions on the Diaoyu issue," he said.

On the streets it is all about Japan. Thousands marched outside the Japan embassy in China Tuesday.

"Kill Japan!" one woman yells.

Another turns the question on us.

"Would you not fight for Hawaii? Would you not fight for Washington D.C? Of course we will fight for Diaoyu," the protester asks.

China normally clamps down on protests like this. Public displays of anger are not allowed. But this is different: this is Japan.

Nationalism works for the party right now, Mao images and all; better to keep the people focused on an enemy outside than the enemies within.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 3:14 PM EST, Wed November 12, 2014
Despite China's inexorable economic rise, the U.S. is still an indispensable ally, especially in Asia. No one knows this more than the Asian giant's leaders, writes Kerry Brown.
updated 6:59 PM EST, Wed November 12, 2014
The new U.S. deal with China on greenhouse gases faces enormous challenges in both countries. Jonathan Mann explains.
updated 10:38 PM EST, Wed November 12, 2014
For the United States and China to announce a plan reducing carbon emissions by almost a third by the year 2030 is a watershed moment for climate politics on so many fronts.
updated 3:26 PM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
China shows off its new stealth fighter jet, but did it steal the design from an American company? Brian Todd reports.
updated 8:01 PM EST, Mon November 10, 2014
Airshow China in Zhuhai provides a rare glimpse of China's military and commercial aviation hardware.
updated 8:14 AM EST, Wed November 12, 2014
A new exchange initiative aims to bridge relations between the two countries .
updated 12:51 AM EST, Tue November 11, 2014
Xi and Abe's brief summit featured all the enthusiasm of two unhappy schoolboys forced to make up after a schoolyard dust-up.
updated 8:12 PM EST, Mon November 10, 2014
Maybe you've decided to show your partner love with a new iPhone. But how about 99 of them?
updated 9:19 PM EST, Sun November 2, 2014
Can China's Muslim minority fit in? One school is at the heart of an ambitious experiment to assimilate China's Uyghurs.
updated 9:55 AM EST, Tue November 4, 2014
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is one of thousands of Americans learning Chinese.
updated 12:00 AM EST, Tue November 4, 2014
Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou says he needs to maintain good economic ties with China while trying to keep Beijing's push for reunification at bay.
updated 1:28 AM EDT, Thu October 30, 2014
Chinese drone-maker DJI wants to make aerial photography drones mainstream despite concerns about privacy.
updated 1:18 AM EDT, Wed October 29, 2014
A top retired general confesses to taking bribes, becoming the highest-profile figure in China's military to be caught up in war on corruption.
updated 10:42 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
China sends an unmanned spacecraft to the moon and back but is country following an outdated recipe for superpower status?
updated 12:19 PM EDT, Tue October 28, 2014
Full marks for ingenuity: Students employ high-tech gadgets worthy of a spy movie to pass national exam.
updated 1:26 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Confucius Institutes seek to promote Chinese language and culture but some have accused them of "cultural imperialism."
updated 11:11 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Smooth jazz saxophonist Kenny G wants everyone to know that he's not a foreign agitator trying to defy the Chinese Communist Party.
ADVERTISEMENT