Power struggle behind the anti-Japan rally

By He Qinglian on September 18. 2012.

In mid-September this year, under the encouraging commentaries from such mouthpieces as the People's Daily and the Global Times, China's anti-Japan patriotic movement has finally reached its climax on the eve of the 81st anniversary of the Mukden Incident. Judging from the way the rally started and the mysterious identity of some of the participants, this year's anti-Japan rally has features different from that of the past.

First, the organizers of this patriotic rally and the response measures the local governments have taken obviously reflected the split in the highest levels of China during the power transition process of the 18th National Party Congress. There are forces on the aggressive mode, which hope to see the events escalate. The best outcome for them is a battle, which they could use as an opportunity for expansion and to fish in troubled waters. This was manifested in the protests on September 15 and 16. There are other forces on the defensive mode, which hope the protests and demonstrations across the country be controlled within a scale that would not lead to international conflicts, that was the reason the armed police were armed to their teeth when the rallies took place on September 18.


Since some political forces were the director of the anti-Japan patriotic rally and plainclothes police and soldiers were the main actors of it, the legitimacy of the rally was seriously questioned. Before the rally took place, official media had been mobilizing the people with public opinion: the Global Times published on September 13 an article that entitled “Joint Statement from 10 generals: Get Ready to Fix Japan”; the People's Daily echoed by issuing in its Weibo account a “mobilization order” that read, “in the hearts of the Chinese people, there is a sense of anger that is being held back for over a century. The Diaoyu Islands is the warning sign, which reminds us of the shames of the past; and it will become a turning point, witnessing the collective will of an arisen China that would not have an inch of its territory taken from it. This collective will will make China as hard and solid as steel. A China like this is fearless.”

In many places, plainclothes police and soldiers, as identified by netizens, led the rallies and even smashed cars. For example, the dauntless car smasher in Xi'an has been identified by netizens as the station officer of Hujiamiao Police Station, Xincheng Branch, Xi'an, and around him were members from that police station. At the protest site of Zhengzhou, Henan, the person who held in his hand a walkie talkie, walking at the forefront of the crowd, leading them to chant the national anthem, was identified as the deputy director of Zhengzhou municipal public security bureau; and in Cangzhou Hebei, where a major rally with over 2,000 participants took place, it was found out that the rally was organized by an online QQ chat group, with captain of the local traffic police brigade being the creator of that group.

In some places it was the state-owned media that took part in the organization and mobilization of the rallies. On September 16, Bobo, alias of a general manager of an enterprise in Shanghai posted on Weibo in the early morning that, “my nephew, studying in high school now, joined the crowd that smashed, robbed and burned down a Japanese-owned chained-store in Zhuzhou. The crowd was organized by Zhuzhou Daily (a state-owned newspaper). Who at all is the largest group of gangsters in this country?”

And the organs that could directly give orders to the police and media are chiefly the CPC Central Politics and Law Committee and the Publicity Department. In order words, Zhou Yongkang and Li Changchun could be seen as the masterminds behind these.

The Chinese people now, though, are not as gullible as the time when Mao Zedong ruled. They could see through the complex factors at work behind the patriotic rally this time. Huang Yi, a program host of the Southern TV station, wrote on weibo that the crowd that joined the rallies could be broken down into five groups:—

First, there were some professional trouble-markers who were capable of organizing the protests and fighting. They were pawns played by the groups at the highest levels which had some ulterior motives;
Second, there were some extreme patriotic individuals and extreme nationalists;
Third, professional or amateur thieves and robbers who fished in troubled waters;
Fourth, onlookers and people who blindly joined the protests; and
Fifth, sensible usual residents in cities.
These five groups of people could easily be distinguished from plainclothes police officers, who were equipped with sophisticated earphones and microphones and were constantly in contact with one another. Each of these five groups of people had their own features, and the group that should be paid special attention to was the first group of people, the pawns. These people were at the forefront in rallies, they were nimble, wearing the same hairstyle and came and went in pack. They shied away from cameras but had no fear of the police. Based on these features, the only possibility was that these people were from barracks. However, there is no way to be ascertain whether they were armed police officers or soldiers.

Many netizens who photographed those pawn protesters were astounded, wondering what jobs these people do for a living and where do they come from.

Another feature that set this patriotic protest apart was that there were severe acts of vandalism. Since the vandalism targeted Japanese-owned enterprises and Chinese people who possessed Japanese products, shops that sell Japanese products and people who drive Japanese cars all became victims with no escape.

These acts of vandalism lead to two results. First, Japanese-owned businesses are forced to withdraw from China. According to media reports, Japanese businesses have decided to shutdown 211 convenient stores and supermarkets in China; most of the Japanese-owned plants are now closed; All Nippon Airways announced on September 18 that 18,800 bookings from September to November have been canceled. Among those, 3800 were on flights from Japan to China, and 15,000 on Japan-bound flights from China. On a first glance, it seemed Japan sustained major losses, partially realized the goal that the People's Daily Overseas edition announced in an article published on September 17, “China pulls economic trigger, and Japan will have a 20-year-regression”.

The fact, however, is that China too has suffered grave hidden losses: tax revenue from Japanese-owned enterprises, and the job opportunities they provided. These two have precisely been the biggest economic problems that weigh on the current government, particularly at a time when new foreign investment are decreasing and the foreign enterprises are leaving China. Wen Jiabao and Li Keqiang, the next Premier are deeply worried. It is therefore very obvious who these actions targeted.

Those vandalism also resulted in serious discontent in the middle class and reinforced their fear of a revolution. In this patriotic anti-Japan rally, all Chinese people, regardless of social status, became targets of those “patriotic mobs” so long as they have in their possession Japanese-made goods, from cars, cameras, to clothes. A Japanese car dealer, 4S, destroyed by those mobs, was a business owned by the Chinese people themselves; volumes of black smoke emitted from torched-down items that were mostly private property of the Chinese people. On September 18, the owner of 4S Qingdao branch posted on Weibo an accusation against those mobs. “Atrocity in broad daylight!” He wrote, recounting the incident of his business being smashed, robbed and burned to nothing by his compatriots. More curious still was when the vandalism took place, the staff there tried to contact the public security bureau, the fire service, and the mayor through their public hotline and could not get any assistance. The blaze raged for three hours and no department came forward to help solve the issue.

The middle class in China consists chiefly of people without political background. In China, a country where there the upward mobility channel is very narrow, these people earned what they now have through years of hard work. In ordinary times, they are sandwiched between the oppression from the higher political levels and the large scale criminal offenses from the bottom of society. The only thing they crave is stability. In terms of politics, they tend to be conservative, fearing and worry about a revolution. The anti-Japan rally this time strengthened their abhorrence of a revolution led by the bottom of society. Coincidentally, what happened fit perfectly in what Chan Koon-chung wrote in his political novel, the Fat Years. “Are you not dissatisfied with my being corrupt? Are you not planning a rebellion? Fair enough, I don't care about anything anymore. I will not put out fire; I will not arrest thieves. And then everything is in chaos. Some rob, some rape, some set things ablaze, the world descends into a mess within days, there are bloodshed and corpses everywhere. And then what? Do you see I'm good now? Do you want me back to take charge? I'll do, but you have to obey me. Will you do that? You say 'yes!' And so I can rule forever.”*

The points discussed above shed light on only some of the background of the anti-Japan rallies this time. As for the rallies staged by Leftists in many cities, and the slogan that appeared in almost all of those rallies, “the Diaoyu Islands belongs to China; Bo Xilai belongs to the people”, seemed to indicate the protesters were fans of Bo Xilai. However, it was more likely that those were moves the manipulators from behind the scene made to deceive the public.

The most important actor of political drama—the military force—is still in hiding. The disputes over the Diaoyu Islands are but an excuse they use to take center stage in the political arena.

*This was not taken from the official English version of the novel, but was translation based on the source text quotation in Chinese.