The 9.18 Protest: a Show of Force

Much like Tom Lasseter, I had never been to a protest in China before yesterday. Unlike him, though, I’m not a professional reporter, and I got to the scene late, so I was mostly confined to the outskirts with the Chinese media, some expelled protesters, and a few curious onlookers.

I happened to have a camera, and created this video. Nothing about it is particularly good from a videography point of view–virtually everything that could go wrong did at every stage of its production–and to top it all off I got the date wrong. Not the most auspicious start to our plans for adding video content to this site. But I’m going to post it anyway, because I think there are aspects of it you will find interesting.

(Here is a direct link to the video on Youtube. If you live in China, you will need a VPN or some kind of proxy to see it.)

It was especially idiotic of me to get the date wrong, considering that it wasn’t exactly an accident the protesters chose September 18th.

But, as Mr. Lasseter said, it wasn’t much of a protest. It was rainy, there weren’t many people there, and I don’t think Japan is going to leave the Diaoyu Islands or return the Chinese captain just because somebody baked a cake.

Han Han recently wrote a blog post on the subject that was quickly deleted in which he expresses his thoughts on the protest:

People without their own land fighting for someone else’s land; people who aren’t respected demanding that someone else should be respected…how much per kilogram do people like that cost?

But anyway, protesting [something like this] is safe, fun, and makes you look cool. The key is that after the protest is over, you can still work and study as usual, in fact it might even look good on your resume.


Anyway, none of that is important, what’s important is that if I was allowed to protest for Tang Fuzhen and Xie Chaoping today, I would gladly protest for the Diaoyu Islands or the Olympic Torch tomorrow. But it’s a paradox, because in a time when you could protest for Tang Fuzhen and Xie Chaoping, you wouldn’t have problems like the Diaoyu Islands or [people trying to snuff out] the Olympic Torch to protest about. Protests of external issues are meaningless to a people who can’t protest peacefully about domestic ones, it’s all just an act.

What was impressive was the show of control put on by the police, especially given that the protesters were there in support of the official government line. By the time we got there in the afternoon, police had cordoned off at least a one-block radius in every direction around the Japanese embassy. The streets to the north and east of the embassy, outside of the police tape, were lined with PSB officers, one standing every five feet or so for several blocks. There were easily a hundred of them, and obviously many more inside the police tape.

At the northern entrance to the cordoned-off area on Ritan Road, People’s Armed Police officers in green camouflage guarded the area, but most of the other police there were regular PSB officers, milling about and sometimes photographing or filming the crowds outside their lines. Police vehicles were entering and exiting the scene regularly.

By the time we got to the Western approach to the embassy, where a small crowd had gathered on the intersection of Xiushui St. and Xiushui North St., there were reportedly no protesters left inside the cordoned off area, just some Western reporters and a whole lot of police. It was a show of force, a demonstration of control.

The reporter you can hear in the video above was not the only one complaining bitterly about how the Chinese media wasn’t allowed in. After our camera was turned off, another reporter came up and asked how to get in. “Good luck,” the first reporter said, “they’re not letting anyone Chinese in.” “I’m from Taiwan,” the second reporter said, but he, too, stayed outside the lines. A team from another domestic media outlet circled the scene with us (coincidentally), filming down each street towards where the protesters had been, but were never allowed to pass through police lines.

As I spoke to the protester you hear in the video, one of his friends circled us, photographing me repeatedly. I have no idea why, but it underscored the mood amongst the crowd at the Western entrance — angry, suspicious, and mostly all armed with cameras.

The police, on the other hand, were calm. They directed people around the blocked off area, they stared, and they waited. After all, there were so many of them that nothing was going to happen. And there’s only so long one can spend filming police cars before it’s on to the next story.

0 thoughts on “The 9.18 Protest: a Show of Force”

  1. I’m not surprised that the police presence was so high- the government needed to ensure that nothing occurred which might have weakened China’s position in the whole Diaoyu affair.


  2. Han Han is despicable.

    The islands will probably forever be in Japanese hands, and it’s unwise for China (or Taiwan) to resort to military means, which is increasingly unlikely as economic ties grow between China and the rest of Asia, meaning anything that could interrupt trade would essentially ruin China and topple the Communist Party.

    So Japan would fortify its military might around that region, so that after the captain is released a stronger military presence would discourage all attempts by activists from the mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan to reach the islands. And basically China can do nothing about it. This should not have happened, but unfortunately Japan this time broke their traditional practice of not arresting the activists (or fishermen who were in that area).

    It’s the same with the South China Sea. What’s controlled by Vietnam, Malaysia and other ASEAN countries will probably be theirs forever, and the islands under Chinese administration will stay in China. All the heat in the region will blow out as all sides eventually (in 10, 20 years maybe) realize the situation will not change and sign agreements.

    I believe the islands will be forever controlled by Japan and the Chinese (in all Chinese-speaking areas around the world) should move on. Still, Han Han is despicable for saying what he said.


  3. Han Han is one of those liberals that the West loves to put in the spotlight. He’s right about what he says, but the complete lack of assertion for Chinese sovereignty obviously doesn’t sit well with most people.

    As for the Diaoyu islands, I believe this is 99% nationalism, and 1% legal dispute. Both sides harbor great misunderstanding of the other and the evidence is clear from what people think about each other’s motives. Some examples from Japan:

    “The Chinese are taking the first step towards claiming Okinawa”
    “The fishing boat was actually crewed by government agents”
    “Those protesters are just PLA personnel in civilian clothing”
    “The DPJ government is too weak and cannot stand up to foreigners”

    And from China:

    “Japan is testing our reaction to gauge our nation’s strength”
    “Japan intends to build an airstrip on the islands as a springboard to invade China”
    “Japan intends to foster political antagonism in the region for their own gain” (?)
    “The CCP government is too weak and cannot stand up to foreigners”

    Both sides believe their theories are perfectly legitimate and will argue vehemently for them, but the same ideas would be considered ridiculous on the other side. There will be no venue for resolution until the emotions die down, and that isn’t going to be anytime soon.


  4. Though I think this situation does put China to an advantage. Taiwan has been in dispute with Japan with these islands and China putting their weight in support in Taiwan puts a favorable light on China.


  5. Agreed completely with shuaige’s view on hanhan. For the most part, hanhan is right when he talks about China but he also has this completely utopian view of the west which makes him look rather ignorant at times.

    Personally I think the whole anti-Japan movement in China is a joke. When the women from the country side look at japanese fashion magazines to decide for their next hair style you know that the whole anti-Japan movement won’t go anywhere.

    I wish that there are more bloggers who can cover the other side though in this china/japan debate though. Namely what do Japanese people think about all of this. I regularly watch the popular Japanese political show “Takajin no sokomade itte iinkai”. Being a generally conservative show, it is quite anti-China and has done segments where it tries to prove that Nanjing massacre didn’t happen. It’s like Germany having a show where panel of experts try to disprove the holocaust.


  6. >lolz
    Why would you watch that? I might (very rarely) watch something like Channel Sakura, but I wouldn’t watch Takajin…he’s a typical net-uyo tard while being abrasive and annoying…pretty much just like a Japanese Fox TV.

    As for the Japanese net this is probably the most representative:

    As for 2ch, they’re pretty calm and restrained. It’s pretty much the same old:
    -complaining that Asahi Shinbun is too left
    -complaining about the Japanese govt/DPJ being weak
    -wanting Japan to be more “assertive” in defending itself in foreign media
    -theorizing why why it happened (The guy was sent by the Chinese government to push the issue/test the DPJ after Futenma/distract the Chinese populace/etc)
    -and of course calling anyone who posts a different opinion a Korean….


  7. Han Han has a very good point and is quite right. As for China’s actions in this dispute with Japan I’m confused and I think China’s CCP leadership is conflicted. They can’t control public opinion anymore and if they set anti-Japanese feelings in motion they can’t control it like they used to.

    As for Japan, I’m sure they wouldn’t have arrested the Chinese captain if he hadn’t of rammed two of their military ships. What a hothead he must be.


  8. If you’re still frequently visiting Chinese forums, you’d find that a lot of people have the same attitude as HH.

    And by that, I mean this: they may be angry about what the Japanese have done, they may be angry about the government being too much of a pushover on the international stage, but at the core, they are venting about a perceived lack of “freedom”. Instead of viewing their country as their own, they see it as belonging to the government (and not the government belonging to the country, which they all share), and their stance is “if you don’t take care of my personal interests, I won’t take care your national interests”, completely disregarding the axiom that regardless of ideology or system of governance, you will always have responsibilities toward your country.

    Take protests near the end of the Qing dynasty, for example. Sure, protesters were unsatisfied about the Qing’s oppressive domestic policies, but were they not just as angry, if not more so, about the Qing’s international policy of endless appeasement and the semi-colonized state of China? They protested against the Qing government for not protecting China’s rights internationally, not for personal rights/interests.

    Another example would be protests against Japanese occupation after 9.18 during the Republican phase, whose participants were frequently shot by Chiang. The protesters weren’t protesting about abusive domestic policies; they weren’t even usually protesting for their dead comrades. Once again, they were protesting for their country’s interest, against a government that wasn’t very interested in protecting it.

    Personally, I find HH’s behavior to be disgusting and hypocritical because he’s leveraging a shared interest between him and the government, that being the national interest of China, against the Chinese government. Meanwhile, he has completely separated himself from his duties toward his country (note: he didn’t say anything about his government), and issues an implied threat to not fulfill them.

    It’s like the wife saying to the husband: “if you don’t buy that nice car I want, I’m going to stop feeding the kids”, or the husband saying to the wife, “if you don’t let me sleep with my hot coworker, I’m going to quit my job”.

    It’s also hilarious to watch users who used to post anti-nationalist internationalist comments now furiously feeding the nationalist fire, in complete opposition to their earlier stance. It’s pretty obvious that they don’t really have a real ideology that they adhere to; they just want to use public opinion against the Chinese government.

    But either way, I dislike people with hidden agendas, regardless of whether they are well hidden or intentionally left obvious.


  9. A selected and strictly monitored freshmen under heavy control and confined to one place with probably only an hour to chant certain censored phrases, wonder how they feel about this “protest”, to me it’s like a woman pulls it out every time you are about to cum, excuse the profanity but I couldn’t think of a better analogy.


  10. @ chaiji: I’m not sure these protests were all that comparable to the protests at the end of the Qing dynasty. If there was anger at the government for not properly protecting China’s interests, that wasn’t expressed anywhere that I could see when I was there, or that I heard about in any of the reports from the many Western reporters who were there all day.

    As for Han Han,I wonder what yo think his “duties to his country” are? Being Chinese, he’s obligated to defend anything the government says is “China’s interests”? Because I don’t think he really cares about the islands one way or the other, or considers them to be particularly important to “China’s interests” as a country (as opposed to as a government). What obligation do you think Han Han is shirking here?


  11. @C. Custer,

    HH is just one person, and on his own, he can’t do squat against anyone.

    On the other hand, at least among the people I talk to, there is a general consensus that ensuring the completeness of China’s borders (as we understand them, of course) really isn’t defined by a specific government. Case in point: as much as many people despised the Qing dynasty and wished for its destruction, they were still outraged by its weakness internationally. Does that mean they wish the Qing were strong and lasted for another hundred years? Probably not.

    Look, unless you grew up in England (or somewhere in the Old World), you’re probably in one of England’s many former colonies or their extensions. The general trend there is that countries are exactly as defined by governments, not history or culture or whatever, and that when profitable, even land itself (which is oftentimes considered sacred in the Old World) can be bought and sold like Louisiana and Alaska. Do I expect you to understand the kind of territorial, defensive nationalism in China at the moment? I probably shouldn’t.

    As for the island itself, if the Chinese government backs down now, it would set an example for not only disputed waters with Japan, but also disputed spaces with SEA countries, which contains natural resources such as minerals and oil. As was the case with the US in the Cuban missile crisis, while China isn’t being threatened directly on the mainland, it’s simply a precedent it can’t afford to set.

    Now what about HH? Like I said before, he’s not particularly powerful by himself, so there really isn’t much that’s expected of him. He is required, by law, to obey the government, as is the case in all countries, but no, he isn’t expected to do anything beyond that. On the other hand, tradition demands that he should love his country, not only as a collection of people, which tends to be the popular attitude in ex-colonial countries, but also its physical manifestations, such as its political borders. You probably think it sounds ridiculous that I’m telling you having a certain attitude is a responsibility, but this is quite common not only in China, but in most of the Old World. It should be easy to make out, then, why I don’t like HH – because he’s threatening to not fulfill this responsibility of his, simply because his government isn’t behaving in ways he wish it would.

    Does that make sense? I’m more sleep-deprived than usual, so I’m not really confident about it.


  12. chaji>

    Yes, we “New Worlders” have a different view of things. An even better example is the most recent Quebec independence referendum, where people were jumping all over some idiot in English Canada who brought up the idea of using the army to prevent independence (eventually the Prime Minister had to clarify the preconditions for separation). And another province voted to join Canada as recently as 1949.

    Provinces come, provinces go. So when Canadians hear mainland Chinese say they would fight and die to prevent Taiwan from ceding, it just seems illogical, bordering on ridiculous.

    Some Chinese even accept that life in Taiwan is better….but they still want to invade! How illogical.

    Don’t get me wrong, I can understand the concept of “total war” and every peasant fighting for a cause, such as during the French Revolution, or for ideologies such as communism.

    What I don’t understand is why citizens would die just to fulfill the dreams of Qin Shihuang…


  13. @ Some Guy

    Yeah, and that’s exactly my problem with people from ex-colonial states. According to Marxist theory, imperialism is nothing more than a higher form of capitalism, as a method to gain access to raw resources and new markets.

    Consequently, land that does not belong to their ancestors (but rather people they killed, through guns or plagues) are viewed as nothing more than commodities. At best, they are areas from which tax may be collected. That’s my understanding of the ex-colonial mentality. We don’t think that way.

    And is it just the Chinese that think this way? Not at all! Go to Europe. Go to the Middle East. Go to just about anywhere in the Old World. You will find the same attitude. Why do the Jews want Israel so badly? Why do the Europeans oppose immigration so much? The answer is identical everywhere.

    But of course, you New Worlders see yourselves as the leaders in a new era for humanity, the most advanced countries on earth, free of the burden of Old World-style responsibilities, so feel free to ignore everything I just said.


  14. @chaji

    Thanks for the reply. But I think you’re still not understanding me.

    My view is that the current ideas of nationalism and the nation-state are new, only dating to 1805, and the Napoleonic wars. Nationalism spread from France as anti-French nationalism in the areas conquered by Napoleon. Before then, nations were just however much land a king could grab and control, and armies fought for money not for country.

    The lesson drawn by the West (except the US) from the two World Wars, is that nationalism is a flawed ideology. This isn’t a new-World idea by the way. Germany has accepted the loss of much of its territory, countries there have split without wars, and Europeans tend to be multilingual and travel across porous borders.

    The lesson drawn in China from the same time period is that unity and nationalism are, quite the opposite, critical to national welfare and to be encouraged. Both leaders and netizens think in geopolitical “competition between nations” terms that seem archaic to Westerners. China seems to be stuck in a 19th century mindset in the 21st century (obvious some Party factions more than others, but even “liberal” intellectuals in China seem to think like this).

    By the way, Japan also thinks in the post-war mindset, and so ideas of “Japanese aggression” behind these kind of incidents is a complete misunderstanding of the other sides thinking.

    Frankly I think this difference in mindsets is the biggest reason why Chinese and Western netizens can’t seem to communicate.


  15. @Some Guy

    I’m sure you’ve read Man Jiang Hong by (although that is being argued) Yue Fei, written during the Song (or Ming, depending on who you ask) dynasty. I don’t know what it looks like, but to me, it’s pretty damn nationalistic. Care to share your own interpretation?

    I should also point out that the whole “Free World” idea, that nations are not bound by alliances of interest but of ideology, is nothing new either. To the eyes of a Chinese, the “Free World” isn’t fundamentally different from the ancient concept of “Christendom”. And just like the Christians (specifically, the Catholics), today’s believers in Western values also believe in their ideals’ universal applicability, something they’re willing to prove through military force, just like the Crusaders centuries ago.

    I don’t know how Crusaders are viewed in Europe, but in China, they’re seen as religious fanatics that forced their religion on others, slaughtering entire cities that refused conversion.

    Another point I can think of: China has always been mostly an agrarian country. To a farmer, there is nothing more important than his land – it’s not just his only source of income, it’s his only way of keeping himself (and his family) fed and alive. This is at least one of the reasons why Chinese people are so willing to defend their land – because to them, land is a symbol of life and of prosperity, and ownership of land is associated with power and even glory. Thus, whatever land China has is valued highly because it was passed from the ancestors, and whatever land China will take is taken for the future generations. Compared with the commodified status of land in the ex-colony states, the Chinese view on land is far more serious.

    So yes, I agree that such differences in mindsets is the fundamental reason for the lack of understanding, but I don’t think that it either will or should go away.


  16. @chaji

    “Another point I can think of: China has always been mostly an agrarian country. ”

    So were all the western nations until about 100 years ago.

    “This is at least one of the reasons why Chinese people are so willing to defend their land – because to them, land is a symbol of life and of prosperity, and ownership of land is associated with power and even glory. ”

    Again, same as the west. In fact private property rights today are taken far more seriously than ever.

    “Thus, whatever land China has is valued highly because it was passed from the ancestors, and whatever land China will take is taken for the future generations.”

    How do you think this is different from any western country? Even today usually all possesions are passed on from parents to children, exept in some unusual circumstances.

    “So yes, I agree that such differences in mindsets is the fundamental reason for the lack of understanding, but I don’t think that it either will or should go away.”

    You’re failing to look at the fundemental cause of the difference in mindset: Chinese backwardness and immaturity. The obsession with territory was very common in western nations 100 years ago. Speaking of which, where exactly did that lead them to? Two of the biggest wars in the history of world, tens of millions dead, colossal national debts, ruined towns, destroyed cities, death and destruction on an unimaginable scale. Britain used to control 1/4 of all the land in the world, France controlled a big chunk of it too……but those empires are gone now, blown away by their own nationalism. Chinese never learned this lesson, so now the question remains, how many Chinese people need to die in order for the rest to grow up? How many tens of millions? Of all the progress made in the last 30 years, how much of it needs to be undone? And if this does come to pass, do you seriously believe the victorious powers are going to allow China to even remain unified?


  17. @Outcast

    The problem with your argument is that you’ve defined a direction of societal and philosophical development as “mature”, and the other as “immature”. What argument can there be had when you’ve defined yourself to be right?

    Read my comment about the crusaders again, you’d be surprised at how well it applies to you.


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