China’s Anti-Japan Riots Are State-Sponsored. Period.

Apparent employees outside an Audi dealership with a banner that reads in rhyming verse: 'Even if China becomes nothing but tombstones, we must exterminate the Japanese; even if we have to destroy our own country, we must take back the Diaoyu Islands."

Like many people around the world, I’ve spent some of the past few days looking at photos and reports about the escalating anti-Japan protests in China. There is an excellent collection of them here for those that are interested. Browsing it, your first inclination may be to marvel at the particularly insane bits, like the hotel advertising that Japanese guests are no longer welcome or the Audi dealership with banners outside that literally advocate mass genocide (is this a new Audi sales campaign?). But for anyone who has been to a protest in China before, your second inclination is going to be to say this: where are all the fucking cops?

If you didn’t think that, try scrolling through the album again — or just doing an image search for “protest Japan” on weibo — and looking for police officers. You’ll see a few, sure. But you won’t see many.

Now, let’s compare that to photos from the Beijing “Jasmine revolution” protest, an incident so small that it not only didn’t have any car-flipping, burning, or rioting, it didn’t even have any protesters. There was an army of police there; it’s somewhat evident in the few pictures I have on my site, but you’ll find better photos of the incident here, among other places.

But perhaps that’s an unfair comparison, so let’s turn to a very fair one: the anti-Japan protests outside Japan’s embassy on September 18, 2010. Conveniently, I took video of that one, but here’s a short excerpt from the post I wrote at the time:

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.

[…]

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.

Now, obviously, these protests are much bigger than the 2010 protests, or the Jasmine revolution non-protests. And just as obviously there are police monitoring the protests in China right now; I am not suggesting that these people are rampaging through the streets completely unimpeded or anything.

But anyone who has followed domestic protests in China for even a short period of time should be clear on the fact that if it wants to, the government has the means to totally shut these protests down. They may have sent in the tanks back in ’89, but these days there are legions of trained riot police, People’s Armed Police, and other anti-protest forces. Every major city has them. If you think that China doesn’t have the law enforcement capability to totally shut down these riots, you’re delusional. If these were anti-government protests, not only would they not have carried on this long, but half the people in those photos would be in jail by now. Before the Jasmine protests (for example) police nationwide were literally arresting people just for considering going to the protests, not to mention people police thought might go.

The Global Times writes this morning in an op-ed condemning the violence:

There is no reason to suspect that the government is turning a blind eye to the violence seen over the weekend. This is simply the view of those who make a habit of criticizing the government.

Really? Then where is China’s police force? Even if all the riot police are busy doing traffic stops or something, I’d think if nothing else the chengguan could handle something like this pretty easily (and we all know how much they hate it when people dirty up city sidewalks).

The evidence that China is turning a blind eye to these protests is overwhelming. The absence of China’s police forces is glaringly obvious, especially in contrast to the vast numbers that turn up and start jumping in front of lenses and smashing cameras whenever a protest China’s government doesn’t like is scheduled to take place. China has clearly shown it is more than capable of keeping anti-Japan protests under control if it wants to. The obvious conclusion now — the only conclusion now — is that it doesn’t want to.

(Obviously, if we were to look at the sabre-rattling that has been going on in China’s media, we’d find more evidence that the government is not-so-subtly fanning the flames here. Case in point: a sympathetic editorial about the protests in the People’s Daily. That link is now broken, but the it is cited in the New York Times.)

Some will probably still feel that the title of this blog post is a bit sensationalist, but I disagree. The state many not be financially supporting — or even publicly encouraging — these protests, but I would argue the low police presence and apparent lack of attempted control sends a very strong message of support, especially in a country where you can get arrested and sentenced to a year of labor for a retweeting a joke.

Chinese citizens should have the right to protest publicly, of course, but that right should not extend to the destruction of property or to violence. The government should absolutely be doing much more than it is to control these protests, and I hope that it will step up soon, or tomorrow (9/18) could be very, very ugly. I think a lot of these protesters need to look themselves in a mirror and ask why they’re willing to beat their own countrymen and advocate exterminating the Japanese over some rocks they have never visited (and will never visit). But China’s government needs to be held accountable for the role it is playing in this violence as, by and large, it stands on the sidelines, content to let Chinese citizens in the wrong place at the wrong time driving the wrong car take the heat just because it’s a good distraction from the series of blunderous scandals that has been this year in Chinese domestic politics.

UPDATE: I have heard from several people who attended the Beijing protests that those were well-staffed with police and security. It does seem from photos and other evidence that the situation wasn’t the same in many other cities though, which would explain why there wasn’t much destruction in Beijing but there seems to have been elsewhere. I’m not sure why this is, but a Chinese friend emailed me a theory that I find very interesting. Make of it what you will:

The whole anti-Japanese thing is definitely state-owned, no doubt.
But I think you can go deeper…one party, different fractions
/clique…as far i as I am concerned,there are three major fractions
in ccp.

As for this event..it is Hu’s and Jiang’s at play….

Look at the most violent cities, Xi’an, Chang’ sha, etc…they all are
under Hu’s folks
Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou…lol….Shanghai clique…

UPDATE 2: Found this image just now, via this site. This would certainly seem to be evidence the protests are state-supported, no?

I suppose the police could be confiscating this vehicle, but somehow I doubt it. And I’m not sure why they’d confiscate it rather than ripping off the banners (since the result of getting in it without ripping off the banners is precisely this bad-PR photo, though it’ll be good PR to some folks in China). For those that can’t read them, the top one says “When Chinese people get angry the results are serious!” and the big one along the side is the same message as the Audi dealership; ‘Even if we turn China into a field of tombstones we must eliminate all Japanese.’ The other bits are (unsurprisingly) anti Japanese slogans about eliminating the Japanese, not worshipping Aoi Sola, etc.

In other anecdotal-but-interesting news, a friend of my wife’s family, who works for a city government in China, was taken along with his coworkers to a (mandatory) anti-Japan protest on Tuesday. Sounds pretty state-sponsored to me.

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169 thoughts on “China’s Anti-Japan Riots Are State-Sponsored. Period.”

  1. 1. There are hundreds of thousands demonstrations in China a year, living examples of Chinese practicing their constitutional rights. The vast majority of these protests is about some specific issues. Most cases are satisfactorily solved, making these protests an important force of progression for the Chinese society.

    “Most cases are satisfactorily solved.” Wow, that’s quite a claim! You have any evidence to back that up?

    2. Comparing China with Nazi Germany is not my invention. You guys should put the credit where it’s due: some China-bashing Western media. I just pointed out the inappropriateness of such claims.

    Then link us to where someone from the “Western media” has made that claim. This is the second time I have asked you to provide evidence for your claims. Do it, or expect future comments with these claims to be deleted. See: burden of proof

    3. Only a tiny percentage attempted to turn the protests into anti-government. They are by no means representative of the majority of the demonstrators.

    Certainly it’s true that only a tiny percent tried, but since most of those were summarily arrested, I think it’s absurd to draw any conclusions beyond that. It’s like the ridiculous quoting of opinion polls; in a country where (a) there IS no alternative and (b) dissent is punished, why is anyone surprised that most Chinese people say they support the government when random strangers call them to ask?

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  2. Certainly it seems like the state has allowed the protests to go on, but the whole debacle reminds me of what one professor from Beida said at a lecture in Wudaokou: the main party to suffer from anti-Japanese feeling among the Chinese public-at-large is the Chinese Foreign Ministry: These riots make China look bad (undeniably). So an alternative to the theory proposed by your friend is that the various security forces in cities with the most international exposure (i.e. Beijing and Shanghai) have played a limiting role, for example in herding protesters in Liangmaqiao in the same manner as visitors at the Maoselium, and in setting up barracades at the consulate in Shanghai, while the need to appear supportive of public opinion (remember, ALL governments are to some degree controlled by the people) means that they have let things go to a greater degree in places where they can afford to do so. Welcome to the balancing-act life of the CCP.

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  3. No one can excuse a rising fascism in China that will destabilize the region at a time economically and politically when there are so many other important issues at hand. Domestically China and Japan already have their hands full with faltering economies.

    This is all the racist Ishihara’s fault really for stirring the pot. That idiot should pay for all the losses incurred by the Japanese factories and the tourism lost to Japan during this period.

    These state-sponsored protests will come back to haunt the Chinese dictators.

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  4. According to the Yomiuri Shimbun of 21 August (morning edition page 1), the fishing authorities at Shipu, Zhejiang (石浦) were offering local fishermen the equivalent of 1.25 million yen to sail their fishing boats into the Senkaku Islands. (For Internet confirmation of this story, see http://news.mynavi.jp/c_cobs/news/eyenews/2012/09/125.html)

    On page 8 the same edition alleged that local police authorities in Shanghai ordered Uniqlo stores to post signs supporting Chinese ownership of the Senkaku islands. (For Internet confirmation of this story, see http://mainichi.jp/select/news/20120921k0000m020054000c.html, which gives the Mainichi Shimbun version).

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  5. I haven’t seen anything that you have written that even remotely provides evidence that the protests are state sponsored. During the London riots a few months back the British police were nowhere to be found so according to your logic this is evidence that the British state somehow sponsored the riots.

    Besides, I tend to think that the reports of violence have been overstated (because that sells) and the peaceful protests underplayed.

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  6. B, you need to read the post again and digest the logic. It’s not that the protests were big or small, or that CCP police were nowhere to be found. It’s that, based on previous displays which Custer cited, the CCP has already demonstrated the police capacity to completely put a stop on actual protests, not to mention non-events like the Jasmine stuff. So when a government has the ability to control a protest, but chooses not to do so in this case, that suggests it is complicit in the whole song and dance.

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  7. SK

    I’ll reiterate – the contention is that the protests are sponsored by the state and the post provides a piss-poor argument for this. The logic of the article is the problem – the headline asserts that there is state sponsorship, but then towards the end of the post the author admits that the state is neither financially supporting the protests nor publicly encouraging it – which is a pretty good definition of sponsorship, but the state isn’t doing it.

    The only argument to support the notion of state sponsorship is that the police aren’t clamping down on it – which in itself is dubious because the violence has been overly reported because of its sensationalist value, whilst the peaceful aspects are under-reported.

    Of course the state agrees with the protests – it agrees with state policy – that seems like the only point being made by the post, but it is somewhat of an irrelevant point because it is so obvious. Yes the state agrees with the protests – and? Would we be happier if they sent in the tanks?

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  8. To B,
    I’ve said earlier that “sponsor” is quite a strong word here. I personally would’ve gone with “facilitated”, “condoned”, or something along those lines. Custer offered an anecdote that people he knew working for some level of government were being bussed in to participate in the protest. That gets closer to “sponsor”. The cops in the fancy van in Custer’s update is inconclusive, since we don’t know if the van belonged to the cops…but if it did, then that gets it closer still. I don’t know how the CCP would “financially support” the protest as per your criterion…but does handing out free eggs to be used as projectiles count? Cuz they did that. “Public encouragement”? That depends on whether you believe or not some of the things some cops may or may not have said with megaphones.

    How do you conclude that “violence has been overly reported”? Do you contest the material property damage that had been committed? I can easily believe that hooligans made up a small proportion of the protesters…but has anyone anywhere suggested otherwise? And if only a small proportion were jackasses who caused a whole bunch of damage, does that discount the amount of damage they actually caused? Sure, violence and destruction gets more ink than a bunch of people walking with hands in pocket…but does that surprise you?

    Yes, it is obvious that the state agrees with state policy. But in that case, is official CCP policy to be openly anti-Japanese, to encourage destruction of Japanese businesses, to encourage the destruction of Japanese products (like cars) and the assault of people who use them (like drivers, who happened to be Chinese)? Sure, state policy is that those islands belong to China. But it’s certainly news to me that it’s CCP policy to torch Hondas.

    As for tanks, don’t be silly. We all know they only bring those out for protests that it doesn’t like.

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  9. SK

    No the word “sponsor” and the title are not simply “strong”, they are misleading. Plus, are you saying that government employees aren’t allowed to attend protests?

    My “criterion” as you put it, is not really my criterion – unless you somehow believe that I created the word and definition for the word “sponsor”. I can assure you that I did not, and that a large aspect of sponsorship strongly implies financial support. If you don’t like that then blame the English language and the misleading title of the post. As for the eggs, I did not realize that had happened, but is there evidence that this was a decision made by the state and that was paid for by state funds or was it the decision of an individual policeman carried away with the passions on the day? that, of course, if such a thing did actually happen. Public encouragement? The article says there has been no public encouragement and I agree.

    How can you seem to be disagreeing with my “conclusion” that violence has been over-reported yet agree that it is probably the case? Violence and any resultant damage are two separate things. Over-reporting of violence leaves the impression that violence has characterized the protests whereas I might suggest that the vast majority of the protesters have not been violent.

    Your second to last paragraph is makes little sense. The state agrees with protests against Japan’s stance on the islands – I think that it is an uncompromising press that has labelled them “anti-Japanese”, but my understanding is that the protests are a response to Japan’s actions over the islands. Anti-Japanese feeling may be integral to this, but it is also incidental. So no I’m not saying that the state has anti-Japanese policies in place, but that supports the notion that the state is not a sponsor of the protests.

    So, again, the article doesn’t deliver on its contention that there is any sponsorship from the state – it is paranoid thinking.

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  10. Of course government employees can attend protests. But when the local government busses them in to join a protest AS PART OF THEIR JOB FOR THE DAY, that’s fundamentally different, no? And if you accept Custer’s anecdote that government workers were “protesting” while on the clock, then the government was paying them to protest instead of performing their usual duties that day. That sounds a lot like “financial support” to me.

    In any event, I see you’ve gone from a straightforward “financially support” to “large aspect of sponsorship strongly implies financial support”. So there’s more to “sponsor” than just money after all, as you’ve acknowledged here. We are in agreement here, since you’ve realized that your sole criterion as stated earlier is in fact not the be-all and end-all of “sponsor”. Nothing wrong with the English language; you were just misrepresenting it a tad earlier.

    Now, were “rogue” cops providing free eggs instead of a missive from on high? I suppose that’s possible. Clearly, we would disagree on its plausibility. I suppose you could extend it further and say that property damage occurred only because rogue cops chose not to shut such activities down, when in fact the official CCP policy was for zero tolerance of such hooliganism. If that’s the case, then clearly we have different thresholds for incredulity.

    As for “public encouragement”, you can look in the “brinksmanship” thread for the link to Evan Osnos’ article that Custer mentions.

    “Violence and any resultant damage are two separate things.”
    —huh? When was the last non-violent protest you’re aware of where stuff gets torched, cars gets destroyed, and drivers get beaten upside the head with steel pipes? The vast majority of protesters may have been peaceful. Like I asked already, has anyone suggested otherwise? If not, then you have no point. And like I also intimated, is it better if a finite amount of damage is caused by the few than if it was caused by the many? Is it better if the police failed to control a small number of really bad hooligans than if they failed to control a large number of mildly mischievous ones? And you’ve yet to explain your basis for suggesting the “over-reporting” of anything.

    You said “Of course the state agrees with the protests” followed by the truism “it agrees with state policy”. And the protests devolved into burning of Japanese businesses yada yada, which the state did nothing about. So does the state agree with burning Japanese businesses, and/or doing nothing about it? Here’s something else to mull over: if “sponsor” can be more than simply providing financial support, then how about condoning someone else’s financial losses?

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  11. SK

    Well, not defining the goalposts and then moving them once definitions have been clarified is a great way to seem to win arguments but is a poor way of actually making a good argument. Anecdotes are fantastic but are strong support for the contention of the article only if readers have strong assumptions beforehand and don’t approach such arguments seriously or critically.

    I can take time off from my job feigning illness and go to the beach instead and by your newly displaced goalpost then there is a technical truth that my employer has “sponsored” my endeavours. But most people wouldn’t take you seriously. Also, are you seriously suggesting that I should refer to another post to prove that this post has effectively shown that the state has “sponsored” the protests? This is good – it shows that you actually do know that this article has completely failed to live up to its bold title – but you won’t admit it.

    I thought you would miss the significance of my point about the separateness of violence and damage caused thereof. The main body of the article points to the apparent lacklustre showing of security forces as evidence for state sponsorship – if the vast majority of protestors were peaceful then this simply suggests that the violence was unexpected and not “sponsored” or even anticipated.

    Nothing in what you have written comes close to showing that there has been any state sponsorship – condoning is not sponsorship, neither is it state sponsorship when a protest coincides with the feelings of the state. Arguing that condoning, agreeing, is the same as sponsorship shows the poverty of the argument being presented. By your reasoning, anyone who didn’t participate in the protests can be defined to have sponsored them by virtue of their inaction. This is completely irrational.

    I’m really glad the you referred me to the “brinksmanship” post on this site because it really highlights the lack of reason of the arguments on this one, as well as showing up a distinct lack of critical thinking in the post. All I see in the brinksmanship post is a lot of drooling over what might be.

    The Osnos article contradicts the assertion in this one that police have not been present at the protests – according to Osnos the police outnumbered the protestors and were supported by troops in full riot gear. For those inclined to actually think before they draw conclusions, this suggests that the state may have been surprised by the minority that committed the violence which is further evidence against state sponsorship.

    As for the claim that the police were publicly encouraging the protests that is a very ungenerous (verging on dishonest) interpretation of what Osnos quoted. It seemed to me that the police were publicly encouraging peaceful protests – which is a very different kettle of fish to simply (and I think dishonestly) spinning that as “proof” of public encouragement. Bear in mind also, that the protest in the Osnos article takes place after a couple of days of protests in which there is scant evidence of the state publicly encouraging the protests.

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  12. @ B: First of all, I want to say thank you for expressing your disagreement with the article in a way that is both logical and civil. Obviously I don’t entirely agree with you, but part of the reason I write things like this is to see what holes people can poke in my logic. Unfortunately, most of the critics turn up here are more interested in attacking my character than they are in approaching anything I write with any semblance of critical thinking. So thanks! (Seriously. I know it’s hard to convey tone on the internet but I’m not being sarcastic.)

    That said, some thoughts:

    I can take time off from my job feigning illness and go to the beach instead and by your newly displaced goalpost then there is a technical truth that my employer has “sponsored” my endeavours. But most people wouldn’t take you seriously.

    I think you’ll agree that you taking time off under false pretenses is an entirely different thing from your boss instructing you (and all your coworkers) to take time off to participate in a certain activity. Moreover, no one was taking time off; the message was “this is what you will be doing for work today.” In your example, your company may be sponsoring your vacation, but they’re only doing so because you have lied to them. In mine, the government department is knowingly sponsoring anti-Japan protests by mandating that employees participate in them during work hours.

    I thought you would miss the significance of my point about the separateness of violence and damage caused thereof. The main body of the article points to the apparent lacklustre showing of security forces as evidence for state sponsorship – if the vast majority of protestors were peaceful then this simply suggests that the violence was unexpected and not “sponsored” or even anticipated.

    So Chinese security forces simply didn’t anticipate violence at massive anti-Japan protests, but somehow they anticipated violence enough to bring hundreds of police officers to a “Jasmine” protest that literally had zero actual participants? That seems very difficult for me to believe, and I can’t think of any other examples (including the anti-Japan protests I went to in 2010) in which Chinese security forces were light at a protest. The 2010 protests were 100% nonviolent, but security forces apparently anticipated enough violence that police and military personnel outnumbered the protesters probably ten to one (obviously this is an estimation, but there were only a few hundred protesters at most, and enough cops to post one every two meters for several blocks around the embassy in addition to all the ones inside, large masses at roads and other checkpoints, etc.).

    I suppose it’s possible that Chinese security forces simply underestimated the potential for violence, but I find it very unlikely, and also unprecedented in police coverage of previous protests that I’m aware of.

    Nothing in what you have written comes close to showing that there has been any state sponsorship – condoning is not sponsorship, neither is it state sponsorship when a protest coincides with the feelings of the state. Arguing that condoning, agreeing, is the same as sponsorship shows the poverty of the argument being presented. By your reasoning, anyone who didn’t participate in the protests can be defined to have sponsored them by virtue of their inaction. This is completely irrational.

    I think I would agree that I actually didn’t do a great job of supporting the title in this article. I’m not going to change the title because (a) I don’t really ever do that and (b) I don’t think the claim is wrong, I think I just didn’t do as good a job as I should have supporting it. That said, I would still argue that the government sponsored these protests both in the figurative sense of supporting and promoting them, and in some cases in the literal sense by mandating government employee participation in some areas, by instructing police to permit anti-Japan sentiment while silencing all other protesters, by using state media to drum up nationalist sentiment and express sympathy for the protesters, etc. Now, yes, the protesters are supporting the government line here, so it makes total sense for the government to be supportive and promote the protests. I don’t see how that damages my argument, though.

    The Osnos article contradicts the assertion in this one that police have not been present at the protests – according to Osnos the police outnumbered the protestors and were supported by troops in full riot gear. For those inclined to actually think before they draw conclusions, this suggests that the state may have been surprised by the minority that committed the violence which is further evidence against state sponsorship.

    As for the claim that the police were publicly encouraging the protests that is a very ungenerous (verging on dishonest) interpretation of what Osnos quoted. It seemed to me that the police were publicly encouraging peaceful protests – which is a very different kettle of fish to simply (and I think dishonestly) spinning that as “proof” of public encouragement. Bear in mind also, that the protest in the Osnos article takes place after a couple of days of protests in which there is scant evidence of the state publicly encouraging the protests.

    Osnos was writing about the protests in Beijing, which by all accounts were well staffed with security. That is noted in my post. In talking about lower levels of security, I was referring to the places in the photos I linked to in the post, which are mostly other cities, not Beijing.

    With regard to the police loudspeaker quote, I think that needs to be understood within the context of protests in China generally. Yes, the police were encouraging peaceful protests as opposed to violence. My point isn’t really that the government intentionally caused the riots because it wanted violence; I was more trying to argue that the government wanted public anger first and foremost and wasn’t that worried about violence one way or the other. I agree this was poorly articulated in the original post.

    So, back to the citation of the police loudspeaker message, in the context of protests in China, expressions of support from the police for a protest — even if they’re also saying calm down, keep it peaceful, etc. — speaks volumes in a country where most protests end before they begin and the government sends hundreds of police to shut down a total non-event. Obviously the police are not going to come out and just say “Go break some Japanese shit, guys, it’s cool.” But in a country where most protests are grounds for years of imprisonment, I think you may be underestimating the power that comes with ANY police statement of support or empathy — even if it’s qualified with exhortions not to go overboard.

    This is especially true given that Chinese people had been hearing this message of government support for weeks in the form of hawkish op-eds and reports in state-run media, which is something I really should have spent a lot more time on in this piece.

    So, in short, why do I believe the protests were state-sponsored? Here, I think, is a better-articulated version of how I feel than what made it into the post:

    (1) They were facilitated by police in a way that is highly unusual for domestic protests, even previous anti-Japan protests. Police are government employees and were being paid for this work; to my mind that is quite literal sponsorship.

    (2) In some cities, security forces seem to have been unnaturally small for a protest event of this size, again based on comparisons to previous domestic protests, and I am assuming that this reduced security was intentional because I do not believe it possible the Chinese government simply didn’t anticipate the potential for things getting out of hand, given its reactions to previous, much smaller protests.

    (3) The reports of local government employees encouraged, or even mandated, to participate in the protests during a work day. These are admittedly anecdotal and I’m not revealing my source because I don’t want to get him in trouble or allow the trolls on this site to dig any deeper into my personal life, so I can understand your questioning this. However, based on my knowledge of the people involved, I can say I am 100% confident that there was at least one instance of local government employees being required to attend anti-Japan protests as part of their work day. I have read about numerous others as well, but they’re obviously unconfirmed and some of them may well be rumors.

    (4) The stirring of hawkish nationalist sentiment that occurred in state-run media leading up to and even during the protests. Again, obviously nobody directly said: “Go destroy Japanese cars!” but in the context of protest in China and the general government attitude towards it, I would argue that the message being received by many protesters was basically “the gloves are off.” I would further argue that the Chinese government is not naiive when it comes to this sort of thing, and cannot possibly have been unaware of the fact that that was the message some people were receiving.

    Like I said, I don’t really think that the government wanted people to be so destructive. But I do think the government wanted people to protest en masse and it was far more concerned with focusing anger on Japan than it was on whether or not these protests would be safe or turn violent. Because the government was certainly aware they COULD turn violent and because the government failed to take sufficient steps to secure the protests while using government funds to promote them, I would say that indeed qualifies as at least de facto state sponsorship.

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  13. To B,
    the way to disavow Custer’s anecdote is to simply not accept it’s veracity (because it’s a personal story which is as yet unproven, and you are more than entitled to not believe him). But to accept the anecdote then try to justify it is a losing proposition for you. I’m actually surprised you went with “I can take time off from my job feigning illness”. Can you not see that that is a ridiculous comparison? The local government didn’t tell its workers to lie and sneak off to join the protest; the workers themselves didn’t lie and sneak off to join the protest. The local government told them to go, and provided the transportation to get there. It was THEIR JOB for the day. They earned their pay that day by protesting instead of performing their usual duties. Hence ergo therefore, the local government PAID for those workers to protest that day. Since you like “financial support”, there it is. Before that anecdote, i’m on record as saying Custer stretched it with “sponsorship”. But that anecdote was good enough for me. I’m not sure which goalposts you’re referring to, but that argument of yours is so far out in left field that it’s completely off the pitch.

    “are you seriously suggesting that I should refer to another post to prove that this post has effectively shown that the state has “sponsored” the protests?”
    —rather than repeating something and cutting/pasting, i suggested you go to that thread to follow the link and read it in its entirety. Which you did. So I don’t know what the histrionics here are all about.

    “this simply suggests that the violence was unexpected and not “sponsored” or even anticipated”
    —the violence was perhaps unexpected. But if security forces were present, why was the violence tolerated at all? They had the time to pluck out a few guys walking with pro-democracy banners, but didn’t have the time to stop people from burning businesses? That’s very “selective” security. Not “sponsored”, it’s true. Like I said, I went with “sponsor” based on Custer’s anecdote. The other stuff, I’ve characterized as “facilitated” or “condoned”. Even then you have to wonder why “state policy” would condone or choose to facilitate such things. Well, maybe you don’t.

    “this suggests that the state may have been surprised by the minority that committed the violence which is further evidence against state sponsorship.”
    —and the fact that state assets did nothing about the minority that committed the violence, what does that suggest to you? Take your time.

    I’m glad you gave that “over-reporting” nonsense a rest. You haven’t backed it up after several direct requests, and it’s good to see that you are capable of knowing when to cut bait.

    You’re also surprising silent on the extent of “state policy”. State policy is congruent with the subject of the protest. Shit happened during those protests during which the state willfully turned a blind eye (you’ve already stipulated that security forces were there). So how much of Toyota-dealership-burning/Honda-smashing/Honda-driver-mob-beathing do you figure to be consistent with “state policy”?

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  14. @ C.Custer

    Sure – why waste the opportunity for a good discussion!

    As for my reply, I think that you have actually conceded that claiming state sponsorship can only really apply to this situation if we blur the definition of the word to such an extent that its meaning includes words like condone, facilitate, and even an attitude can be re-defined as sponsorship.

    Okay, there remains the anecdote of the government employees who were paid to attend the protests and were even apparently bussed in for the occasion. But anecdotes don’t make for good arguments.

    And that is my fundamental issue with your piece. It goes without saying that the PRC is a state where the authorities manipulate information. To my mind the antidote to that is logic, reason, and rational thinking. It doesn’t help to spread misinformation by asserting the “truth” of anecdotes in an environment where misinformation is a manifestation of an overly powerful governing entity.

    I can go all day with the idea that these protests are condoned, or even facilitated (somewhat) by the state, but (sometimes almost paranoid) conjecture based on anecdotes deserve to be thrown to the curb.

    There is also a moral issue involved here. As an ex-pat your foreign passport affords you some degree of protection from the kinds of abuses that the locals may experience from time to time. To me, that means that observations such as you put forward on your site, should be made in a responsible manner that doesn’t bring harm to any local people who may take what you write to heart.

    That’s why I feel that making what are basically unfounded claims that could potentially rile up local people should be avoided – they have more to lose than you do. This is the case whether you present reasonable or unreasonable arguments that locals are driven by. The difference is that a genuinely well-reasoned argument is simply more honest than conjecture from anecdote.

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  15. As for my reply, I think that you have actually conceded that claiming state sponsorship can only really apply to this situation if we blur the definition of the word to such an extent that its meaning includes words like condone, facilitate, and even an attitude can be re-defined as sponsorship.

    Well, there are a few arguments for the financial definition too (as I pointed out earlier), but don’t forget that “sponsor” can also be more figurative, i.e. “sponsoring legislation” “sponsoring a visa applicant” etc. These usages have nothing to do with finance, they refer to someone offering support and legitimacy to something by associating themselves with it. That, I think, is a pretty apt description of the Chinese government’s behavior towards these protests until after the violence story broke out.

    And that is my fundamental issue with your piece. It goes without saying that the PRC is a state where the authorities manipulate information. To my mind the antidote to that is logic, reason, and rational thinking. It doesn’t help to spread misinformation by asserting the “truth” of anecdotes in an environment where misinformation is a manifestation of an overly powerful governing entity.

    But in such an atmosphere, it becomes almost impossible to officially confirm an awful lot of relevant information, even information that you know to be true. In the case of this particular anecdote, I know it to be true. That would not be enough for me to publish it in a newspaper article, but on this site where a fair percentage of the readership is probably inclined to trust my judgement (at least on something as simple as whether or not a source is lying). I included the anecdote only as a supplemental afterthought in my final update, and it was clearly labeled as an anecdote. I agree it’s not going to convince everyone, but as this is a blog and not a newspaper, often I’d rather just put everything that I’m aware of on the table and let people draw their own conclusions as to what’s important, trustworthy, and relevant. If you’re looking for more journalistic writing on China; I’ve got a separate project that hopefully I’ll be able to announce here very soon. But my inclination here has been to include everything I have heard or am aware of along with whatever analysis or opinion I’m doing and let people judge for themselves whether it’s worth factoring into their own perceptions of the topic at hand.

    There is also a moral issue involved here. As an ex-pat your foreign passport affords you some degree of protection from the kinds of abuses that the locals may experience from time to time. To me, that means that observations such as you put forward on your site, should be made in a responsible manner that doesn’t bring harm to any local people who may take what you write to heart.

    Well, now that I live overseas, I’m pretty much not concerned about official abuse at all personally; however as my wife and thus half my family are Chinese nationals, that is obviously something I am very conscious of. However, it’s not something I worry about at all in what I write here because (a) this site is blocked in China and (b) my windbag-esque writing style means that it is pretty tough for the vast majority of Chinese to read. Moreover, for those Chinese that do read the site, I would prefer to put my trust in their judgement and give them all the information I have, rather than making decisions about their safety for them without their knowledge and witholding what I know to be accurate information for that reason. They’re adults and just as capable of differentiating an anecdote from an official report or assessing my trustworthiness as you or I. I think suggesting that anything I write here is going to overwhelm any locals into doing something they otherwise wouldn’t is giving me far, far too much credit.

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