Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Hungry Like the Wolf
Who's afraid of the Big Gray Wolf?
Well, the owner of the aforementioned Shenzhen eatery hopes the Japanese are – or more specifically, ''military-minded Japanese''. The Big Gray Wolf is perhaps Shenzhen's most exclusive – or exclusionary – dining establishment. It's not about dress codes or your financial status, though. It's about history, war, long memories, prejudice and national identity.
Since 2002 The Big Gray Wolf owner, Feng Qiyoung, 51, has had his own version of the infamous (and historically disputed) "No dogs or Chinese allowed'' sign that was alleged to have graced the entrance of Shanghai's Huangpu Park in the early 20th century.
Outside The Big Gray Wolf and its new sister establishment The Chieftan, are Chinese language signs proclaiming "No military minded Japanese allowed'' flanked by smaller notices condemning Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visits to the ''evil ghost temple'' (Yasukuni Shine, containing the remains of a number of war criminals) and promising that no Japanese merchandise or food products desecrate the premises.
I'd first heard of the Wolf last year from a young Chinese musician friend in Shenzhen who was a frequent diner and who also had an underground band of sorts. He had hit me up for Western rock 'n' roll and advice. ''I love the music of rock and roll,'' he'd told me. ''The music of rock 'n' roll is a kind of weapon. It helps me to fight against the fate of life, the corruption of tge political and the hurt of my heart so that I can grasp the truth, the freedom, and the courage and the strength."
Wow, I'd thought at the time. A budding Chinese Dylan, Johnny Rotten, Springsteen and Billy Bragg all rolled into one. So, what kind of songs do you want to write? I'd asked. He'd paused a minute and then smiled: ''I want to write about the motherland's right to claim the Daiyou Islands!''
A song about the ongoing kerfuffle over a couple of tiny, uninhabited islands between Japan and China isn't exactly the next Anarchy in the UK or Masters of War, but his obsession said a lot about his love for The Big Gray Wolf and the socially-politically acceptable outlets for aggression in China. And due to its horrorific actions in Nanjing in 1937 and the attendant devastating occupation of China's eastern coast, Japan is one of the few Beijing-approved targets for domestic discontent. Unhappy about losing a soccer match to the Japanese? Go ahead and riot within reason and the cops will look the other way. Want to organise a quick camping trip to Daiyou to raise the flag? No problem. Just don't start looking to kick out the jams about any discontent or contradictions within your borders, unless it involves condemning ''separatists'' or ''public intellectuals''.
Inside The Big Gray Wolf – a faux cavern of sorts decorated with nature photos which Feng said he named in tribute to wolves as a symbol of primeval purity – the atmosphere is slightly less strident; though the entryway contains a healthy selection of anti-Japanese press clippings courtesy of the usual mainland media troglodytes such as Xinhua, Liberation Daily, China Daily and People's Daily.
Each table contains a Great Wolf notebook for diner's comments. With the help of a translator, I found that most of those who'd dined at our table were simply happy with the food (''I am the goat, you are the grass. I come here and you disappear'' was one lilting tribute) but a few others were there because of who wasn't. ''No Japanese allowed, but Chinese customers are welcome with pigs and dogs!'' wrote ''A Communist Party member''.
"I am ashamed that I am Japanese,'' scrawled another anonymous customer, whom my translator surmised was probably a Chinese in disguise.
Though he opened the Wolf in 1999 after retiring from the People's Liberaton Army as a propaganda artist, Feng said it was only after Koizumi's second visit to the ''evil ghost temple'' in April 2002 that he decided to take a public stand. It was a popular move, he said, but it did cost him some customers.
''Before the signs we had Japanese customers,'' he said through a translator. ''They don't come anymore. We have others, more Chinese and foreigners who have replaced them. Japanese are welcome to eat here, it's just 'military minded' Japanese who are not.''
How would he make the distinction? ''They don't admit their history,'' he said, referring to Japan's relucatance to publicly confront the rape of Nanjing and its glossing over of World War II in some school textbooks. "If they admit what they have done, maybe we will change.''
Feng said his anomosity stems not from personal experience but from national duty.
"As I Chinese, I do not have to have personal experience with history,'' he replied when I asked if he'd had relatives brutalised or killed by Japanese troops. "I think all Chinese should have the same kind of feeling toward the Japanese.''
I didn't bother to bring up some inconvienent facts, such as that an apology of sorts for Nanjing et al was included in the documents signed when Beijing and Tokyo normalised diplomatic relations in 1972 and that it was Japanese foreign aid in the form of soft loans that has fueled a huge amount of China's economic growth during the last 20 years. Historical spin isn't confined Japanese textbooks, though you'd have a hard time convincing Feng of that.
I leafed through the table guest book again after our talk and found a lone English entry signed by someone named Li. "All in all it's just another brick in the wall,'' they had written, quoting Pink Floyd. I pondered it in vain for a subtext and finally penned my own rock 'n' roll entry courtesy of a 1981 one-hit wonder by The Vapors: "I think I'm turning Japanese.'
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