Sunday, April 17, 2005

Street Fighting Man
What follows is a story I filed for The Standard after slogging through nearly 4 hours of an anti-Japanese protest in Shenzhen today. What I didn't write about was how we were almost late because C, also my faithful translator, couldn't decide what to wear. White pants or green? What exactly does one wear to an anti-Japanese protest? I suggested red in case there was any bloodshed. As it happened, the worst casualities seemed to be a Hitachi billboard and an unfortunate (and Hong Kong-owned) Japanese noodle and rice fast food eatery.
If you happened to work for a Japanese-owned or related company in downtown Shenzhen Sunday, chances are you had the day off.
For the third Sunday in as many weeks, thousands of anti-Japanese protestors took to the streets of Shenzhen bent on venting their outrage at what they perceive to be distortions and omissions in a Japanese history textbook, Japan's attempts to gain a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Councils, the disputed Senkaku/ Diaoyu island and just about anything else Japanese connected that they could seize on.
As such, many Japanese connected businesses were closed, advertisements were covered over and one posh Japanese-related shopping mall, Jusco, in which windows had been broken a week ago, appeared to be sealed off completely and ringed with PLA soldiers and police.
"I'm very angry about the texbook," said 36-year-old Peng Zhaodi, a housewife who was one of the tens of thousands who paraded slowly and generally peacefully for about four hours through corridors of soldiers and police in Shenzhen's two major retail areas, Hua Qiang Dei and Dong Men. "The Japanese are not supposed to deny their past." Like many other protestors, Peng said she had joined the march "spontaineously" and added that the paper flag she carried urging a boycott of Japanese goods had been given to her "by a friend."
Marchers, many carrying Japanese mobile phones and recording the event with Japanese digital and video cameras, chanted slogans urging a boycott, sang the Chinese national anthem and shouted "join us!" to onlookers who lined the streets. Many carried signs and wore T-shirts advocating the same themes.
"If we don't buy their products they will all starve to death," one mother was overheard explaining to her small daughter who had asked her why a boycott made sense.
Police vans with loudspeakers urged the crowd to "please remain calm," "resist the influence of evil groups" and to "always remember the lessons of history." What evil groups or lessons they referred to was unclear -- whether June 4, 1989 where unruly protestors met a bloody end in the Tiananmen Square massacre or possibly the 1939 Nanjing massacre.
While the authorities urged calm they did nothing to stop an occasional burning of a Japanese flag, or two rather pathetic vandalisms. Lacking a specific site at which to target their discontent -- such as a Japanese consulate -- the marchers took a break beneath a large Hitachi billboard and watched for more than an hour as several young men, one carrying a sword, attempted to peel the offending advert away amid cheers and more sloganeering.
That mission accomplished, the next target was a Hong Kong-owned Japanese rice and noodle bowl chain that the owners had padlocked, complete with a red and white sign that proclaimed the business was "100-percent Hong Kong-owned, we love our motherland."
It didn't stave off the wrath of the protestors, though, who cheered lustily and threw water bottles and vegetables at the offending noodle shop as a young man with a handy stepladder and a hammer smashed the store's neon sign and slowly tried to scrape and peel away a large picture of a sumo wrestler.
Occasionally a store occupant would raise the metal door shield part way up to peer out at the crowd, only to quickly slide it back as another rain of plastic bottles and vegetables showered the storefront.
As the sign was smashed, police on Honda motorcycles moved around the edge of the crowd, which either failed or chose to ignore the Shenzhen government connection with a major Japanese manufacturer.
"Tell the world the truth. This is a spontaneous activity sponsored by Chinese youth because Japanese invaded our island," a 69-year-old retired college professor, Shen Lantian, told a reporter. "The Japanese should face their past as they are a developing economy like China." Shen, it turned out, was a retired chemistry prof, obviously a man more at home with bunsen burners than the realities of international economics.
A few others were more pragmatic.
Thirty-year-old Liu Shangwu, who sells printed circuit boards, said he while he joined the marchers, he didn't agree with the call for a boycott. "We are too connected. If it's done it should be step-by-step. I don't agree with the Japanese government's actions, they must apologize for them, but I also have business with Japanese. Not all Japanese are bad, mostly only the government.
Eddie Mong, a 60-year-old retired Hong Kong police sergeant said he joined the crowd out of professional curiousity. "The police are doing a very good job," he said. "But the Chinese government has to be careful because the whole world is watching these protests." Mong said he bears no ill-will against the Japanese, partly because in retirement, he said, "I love to sell Japanese products to Thailand. It's a very good market."
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