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A Chinese anime fan says she was detained and interrogated by police after she wore traditional Japanese dress to pose for photos in the eastern city of Suzhou, sparking heated debate on China’s social media over what some see as over-the-top nationalism.
Wearing a white kimono decorated with images of red flowers and green leaves, the young woman said she was waiting in line for a snack on Wednesday evening in Huaihai street, a lively food strip popular for its Japanese bars and restaurants, when she and her photographer were suddenly surrounded by police.
The woman, who goes by the handle “Is Shadow Not Self,” posted details of the encounter on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform, on Sunday, where a related hashtag had been viewed more than 90 million times before it was censored on Monday.
According to her post, police objected to her kimono, which she had paired with a long blond wig as cosplay of a main character in the Japanese manga series “Summer Time Rendering.”
Wearing a kimono in public in China has become increasingly controversial in recent years amid a rise in nationalism and anti-Japanese sentiment. Rooted in Japan’s brutal invasion of China during World War II, Chinese public sentiment against Japan has waxed and waned – often tied to China’s domestic politics and the state of bilateral ties.
But as Chinese nationalism turns more aggressive and intolerant under the leadership of Xi Jinping, fans of Japanese culture – which had previously been popular among China’s youth – have faced growing criticism and suspicion.
‘Are you Chinese?’
In a video the anime fan posted on Weibo, purportedly showing part of her encounter with police, the woman can be heard explaining to an officer that she was doing a photo shoot.
“If you come here wearing Hanfu, I wouldn’t say this. But you are wearing a kimono, as a Chinese. You are a Chinese! Are you?” the police officer shouts at her in reply.
Hanfu is a blanket term for the ancient clothing worn traditionally by ethnic-majority Han Chinese before the Qing Dynasty. It has surged in popularity in recent years amid Xi’s promotion of traditional culture.
The woman then calmly asked on what grounds she was being yelled at.
“On suspicion of picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” the police said, referring to a catch-all charge often used against dissidents, journalists, human rights lawyers and activists.
The woman was then grabbed and escorted away by several police officers in a chaotic end to the video, which has been viewed more than 8 million times as of Monday afternoon.
The woman said in the Weibo post she was interrogated at the police station for about five hours until 1 a.m., during which she said her phone was searched, her photos deleted, and her kimono confiscated. She said she was also “educated” and warned by the police not to talk about her experience on the internet.
CNN cannot independently verify the woman’s post and the video, though two shopfronts seen in the video matched the ones on Huaihai street. fCNN attempted to contact police at Shishan station near Huaihai street, but a staff member who picked up the phone said he didn’t “know much of the situation.”
The woman did not respond to CNN’s attempt to reach her via Weibo.
Criticism over kimono
In an earlier post on Qzone, another Chinese social media platform, the woman said police also asked her to write a 500-word letter of self-criticism.
“I feel like I have no dignity right now,” she said in the Qzone post on Friday. “The police said what I did was wrong. I feel powerless … I like Japanese culture, European culture and I also like traditional Chinese culture. I like multiculturalism, I like watching anime, is it wrong that I like anything?”
“I have always been very patriotic – or rather, I had been very patriotic and trusting of the police, until now … I can only say I’m very disappointed, it turns out I never had the freedom to wear or say what I want.”
A screenshot of her Qzone post was shared on Weibo and went viral over the weekend, prompting the woman to post on Weibo her account of events.
“If this is what you want to hear, I can also say it to you: Sorry, I should not have disregarded the public sentiment to walk on the streets in Japanese clothes, this is wrong and dangerous behavior. I’m very sorry for having hurt our national feelings,” she wrote on Weibo.
However, some criticized her for wearing traditional Japanese clothing. “Why does a good Chinese wear kimono? Think about what your grandparents went through,” a user said.
Yet many more expressed support for the anime fan, saying she did nothing wrong, especially given that she did not wear the kimono on sensitive days or near landmarks commemorating the Sino-Japanese War (which has previously landed other kimono-wearers in trouble).
“I’ve seen the video and your account of events. You have not hurt my sentiment or feelings as a Chinese. I hope you won’t blame yourself and wish you stay safe,” said the top comment with 25,000 upvotes.
“I suggest the police shut down all Japanese restaurants, or I will call the police to pick quarrels and provoke trouble,” another supporter said in a sarcastic comment.
Some accused the police of abuse of power, while others lamented the lack of rule of law and voiced concerns over the increasingly narrow-minded nationalist sentiment.
“The cultural witch hunt is no longer limited to the online world. Sigh, this is only the first taste of the bitter pill of stoking nationalism,” a comment said.
CNN’s Shawn Deng and Beijing bureau contributed reporting.