Date Posted: 12:53 17/04/2005
Carnival of hate
Thousands take to the streets of Shanghai to protest against the Japanese
Yesterday, an ocean of people swept west from Shanghai's riverfront, flowing along a number of pre-determined routes towards the Japanese consulate in the Hongqiao district some ten kilometres away. There were floats decorated with anti-Japanese slogans, rising sun flags defaced with black crosses, T-shirts marked with the bloody visage of Prime Minister Koizumi and banners demanding the return of the Senkaku Islands and the boycotting of Japanese goods. Some 20,000 youths were snarling and yelping in righteous indignation.
The status of the marches has remained ambiguous. While not quite approved by the authorities, they were certainly condoned. The official boundaries and circumscriptions were provided by roadblocks and temporary PA systems urging calm, but the public security bureau soon discovered that the waves of mob euphoria were almost impossible to contain. The police looked on as a group of hooligans threw a bicycle into the window of a teppanyaki restaurant. They did nothing when the group then proceeded to take turns to throw rocks at the restaurant's remaining windows. The riot police guarding the Consulate looked worried when the mindless physicality of the crowd suddenly tried to press forward and breach their defence. Holding their positions, they could do nothing when some members of the crowd began aiming stones at the roof of the buildings.
Other observers say that as many as three Japanese people were severely beaten by a group of demonstrators, and that a foreigner in the crowd was threatened after taking photographs of the events using a Japanese camera.
The kindest interpretation of these events is that Japan, and anti-Japanese sentiments, were actually a pretext, a figleaf concealing decades of accumulated rage and frustration. Protestors took advantage of a chink in the ideological restrictions of the government, and by singing the national anthem and calling for the return of the Senkaku Islands to Chinese sovereignty, they sought to position themselves as impeccable, irreproachable patriots. Beyond the flag-waving, the marchers were by no means pro-government. Rather, it seems that the government – well aware of the extent of the anger – thought it best to keep them on its side.
That is not to say that the anti-Japanese sentiments were not real. The hatred, of course, runs deep. Euphoric and ecstatic, thousands of students poured down Shanghai's biggest streets and past its most significant commercial centres, chanting about 'Japanese pigs', 'stinking Japanese', 'small Japanese', chanting 'kill kill kill' and beaming beatifically as their plastic bottles, eggs and tomatos rained down on the many Japanese retail outlets on their route.
For many of them, it was a day out. It was an opportunity to participate in their first demonstration. It was like a rock concert, or a carnival, with the added counter-cultural kudos brought about by the stand-offs with the police.
It was politics at its most terrifying - politics as mass mobilization, and politics reduced to the undifferentiated prejudices of the crowd. The government should be very worried about such violent potential. Outside the cities, the masses are rioting about less abstract concerns. They riot about poverty and injustice, about corruption and pollution. Outside the cities, these huge pressures are far more troubling to the authorities.
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