Over the past month or so there have been repeated anti-Japanese demonstrations and riots in China. That in itself is unusual as the Chinese authorities are not keen to allow demonstrations to become a habit, but are signs that this series of demonstrations have the support of the Chinese government.
One of the great things about the blogosphere is that if something noteworthy happens somewhere, there is bound to be a blogger to write about it. Andres Gentry is in Shanghai and popped on down to the Japanese Consulate to have a look – his report has photos and is well worth a read.
But what I found eye-opening was the attitudes of the locals.
Most of the protesters were young 20-somethings and though there were more males than females there were still a fair number of women involved. On not a few occasions it seemed the demonstration was an opportunity for a date as I watched couples walk past. A few parents brought their infant children.
We stayed at the main intersection near the Japanese Consulate General for about half an hour, enough time for one fellow standing next to us to tell us his opinions on Japan. He said he had done his BA work in Nanjing and was doing research at a nearby financial school. He made the obligatory reference to how much he hated Japan and the Japanese. The UN Security Council seat didn’t come up for him. I asked him what the goal of the protesters was and he gave me two: 1) to let Japan know how much Chinese hate Japan and 2) to show Beijing how much Chinese hate Japan. I wasn’t surprised at reason number 2. I asked him why he didn’t just choose a new government for China if he was dissatisfied with the current one and he emphatically said that would be a bad idea becaue the last time that China experienced that kind of freedom it had broken up into smaller states. He did not seem keen on the idea of democracy. I asked if he thought foreigners would start leaving China for other countries, especially India, in light of the protests and he seemed very confident that this wouldn’t happen. He explained he had done research on the Indian economy and that its efforts to modernize had so far failed. He also seemed quite keen to tell me that Indians are fundamentally lazy and that Chinese are fundamentally hard workers so foreign companies have little incentive to leave China.
This wasn’t a conversation, I was only asking questions since I had no intention whatsoever to tell people my own opinions. I confess I repeatedly pressed the student on his attitude towards democracy and the strangeness that he was allowed to protest Japan but not allowed to protest anything about China, much less choose his own leaders. He was adamant that freedom would not be good for China at this time. We spoke almost entirely in English, something which was his choice and one I thought was reasonable since if we spoke in Chinese and everyone around us knew what he was saying than perhaps he might get into trouble. I tried on a number of occasions to ask his girlfriend some questions but she refused to answer and was self-evidently uncomfortable with her boyfriend’s loqaciousness.
Anyway, read the whole thing, which includes a diversion to a local Hooter’s restuarant and links to other accounts.