Tag Archives: Protests

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.

Guest Post: Let’s “Occupy Chang’an Avenue”! (Translation)

The following article is a guest translation by Alec Ash. You may remember him as the man behind the excellent (and wholly unique) blog thinksix.net; these days he’d prefer you check out his new writer’s colony, the Anthill.

This is a translation of this article by Wu Yun.

Translation: Let’s “Occupy Chang’an Avenue”!

by Wu Yun

Wall Street used to be full of cash, stocks and bonds; now it is full of tents and banners. America clearly has a problem, but that problem is far from simple. Weak financial supervision, inequitable distribution of wealth, inhibited class communication and the failure of democratic coordination are all the nation’s blight. There are some who look at this and point to America’s decline, but that isn’t my concern. I want to address those who think the turmoil on Wall Street shows up the failures of democracy. I think that’s over the top.

Democracy clearly has its flaws, but OWS shows not the defects of democracy but its advantages. That protestors do not “go missing” is thanks to the benefits of democracy, and the lack of violent conflict or loss of social order is an example of its accomplishments. The US government has not condemned, suppressed or sympathised with the movement, nor have the crowds challenged the legitimacy of the government or the democratic system itself. Rather, OWS is happening precisely within that democratic framework.

In other words: we must change our perspective and see this demonstration as a rational expression of democracy, and the normal activity of a healthy society rather than the upheaval of it.

Anyone with a little knowledge of American history knows that mass demonstrations have been occurring for a long time, and American democracy has never died, only progressed. The women’s suffrage movement in the early 20th century allowed women to vote. The black civil rights movement of the 50s and 60s paved the way for Obama to become president. And marches against the Vietnam war, the Iraq war, abortion, anti-gay prejudice and so on are too many to count. So the Occupy movement is certainly no big deal.

When people feel their votes, petitions and appeals are so useless that they can only make their point with demonstrations, it’s clear that democracy is far from perfect. But experience shows that if you oppose democracy from a utopian or excessively moralistic perspective – treating demonstrations as the enemy of society rather than as giving society a much-needed shock – it is all too easy to become a dictator and create social disaster.

Just because China has no demonstrations like this, it doesn’t mean it has no problems. After the subprime mortgage crisis, the US government had no choice but to bail out the banks – if they hadn’t, the consequences would have been even more disastrous. Some say the bailout was in collusion with financial oligarchs, but we have no cause for complacency because the Chinese economic stimulus cost us just as dear. The difference is: how much money we paid out and where and how it was used was not approved by Congress, let alone made accountable to the Chinese taxpayer.

If you look at the data, of the CCP’s four trillion RMB stimulus, two trillion was invested in northwest rail, roads and airports, more than a trillion in high-speed rail, and another sizable chunk in state-owned enterprises. This is not to say that, considering the economic situation of the northwest, large-scale investment into infrastructure is a waste of money. But even if national strategy is difficult to decide democratically, the people should have the right to express their opinion when it comes to how their own money is spent. Yet we do not.

On Wall Street, angry young men protest the market monopoly of a few capitalist bigwigs, condemning these oligarchical as predators of the economy. Unfortunately, China’s oligarchical establishment far outdoes America’s. The state-owned enterprises that monopolise the Chinese market are for the most part controlled by so-called “princelings” and their relatives. Publicly-owned enterprises nominally belong to the people but in reality, besides raising consumer prices as they like, they have no connection with the people whatsoever.

State-owned banks lent fourteen trillion RMB for the rescue package, which was in turn injected into state-owned companies or private companies with government backgrounds. Some of the US stimulus money was recalled after the economy improved, but the Chinese equivalent is unrecoverable. If it didn’t fall into the hands of the bigwigs – through the well-known efficiency of bonus distribution in state-owned enterprises – it returned to the coffers of government profits.

Financial supervision may be weak in America, but at least the public can protest and Obama can do something about it. In China, the bad debts of banks and levels of corruption among regulators and executives are so dreadful that we daren’t make them public. The inequality gap may be large in America but it pales in comparison to China’s. America may have scant social security but China has virtually no social security at all.

Many Chinese, when they heard of their government’s stimulus package, waxed lyrical about China’s abundant financial resources and strong sense of responsibility – but didn’t call into question its rules of financial regulation or the end results of that stimulus. And now they mock American protests against just such injustices. I find that baffling.

It was American democracy which enabled their problems to be recognised, taken seriously and have the potential to be solved. In China things are murkier. In reality, China faces more serious problems of financial oligarchism, corruption and inequality than America. But “Occupy Chang’an Jie” is no more than a fairy tale – in China a jobless, homeless protester would not reach Beijing before disappearing mysteriously.

The freedom to assemble and demonstrate exists in almost every country’s constitution, but it’s only a few countries where the people can genuinely protest against the government without being quashed. If the OWS movement is a sign of a flawed democracy, I hope China can have some of that flawed democracy too. Because China’s calm is by no means fortunate.

At the time when the American civil rights movement was sweeping the nation, the Soviet Union was calm too, emphasising the disorder of capitalism and democracy in their propaganda, and saying that America was in deep distress. But not long afterwards, American democracy reached a new level and the country is a superpower, while Soviet citizens erupted against the suppression of their voices, to the USSR’s ruin.

Police Violence, Public Anger, and the Local as National

I guess it’s just one of those days. This morning saw the rise of incident 1, which was the most-searched for item on Baidu when I checked. This evening, news of incident 2 is spreading quickly via a Youku video, although it’s clearly in danger of being deleted.

Incident 1: Hunan Traffic Cops Beat Driver for No Reason

This morning, Baidu’s hottest topic was this, a story of completely unnecessary violence on the part of traffic police that finally attracted a mob who flipped a police car in Hunan. I don’t have time to translate the entire article, but here’s the summary of it I wrote this morning for The World of Chinese, slightly expanded:

Traffic cops [交警] in Hengdong, Hunan, appeared at an intersection where they generally do not in large numbers. Several cars passed through the intersection with problem. Suddenly, a BYD F3 drove through the intersection and they flagged it down. The driver stopped on the street on the other side of the intersection, at which point the traffic cops dragged him out of the car and started beating for no apparent reason. When his mother came over, groveling on her knees and begging the cops not to hit him, they started beating her, too. The same thing happened to the driver’s wife when she came out. This attracted a large crowd, which surrounded the cops and asked them to stop. The police then began threatening the crowd, and continued beating until both the driver and his wife had been knocked unconscious.

At this point, someone called the actual police [保安], and the traffic cops told them that the man had been driving drunk, but this was quickly proved to be false. Then the traffic cops said they hadn’t beaten anyone and blamed the violence on a local bully/gangster. Onlookers started laughing at this point, as hundreds of people had seen them beating the man. Although the traffic cops themselves were unharmed, at some point the crowd of onlookers got angry enough to flip a police car onto its side and, from the look of this photo, rip the lights off as well.

Eventually it turned out that the intersection was meant to be closed for the military to pass through, but the traffic police had not informed anyone of this or put up any signs about it being closed. According to the article, the traffic police in this country are already notorious for being unfair, violent, and generally disagreeable.

Incident 2: Harbin Chengguan Beat Street Vendor (?)

Meanwhile, this video is currently spreading through Chinese social networks. It’s a couple days old but appears to be just getting noticed now, approaching 200,000 plays and climbing at a rate of about 10,000 views every 15 minutes at the moment. At the moment, it seems to be spreading mostly through Harbin networks, as the incident happened in Harbin ((I used to live in Harbin and many of my Chinese friends are from the area, which is how I got clued into this.))


The video is extremely chaotic, loud, and shaky, so it’s very difficult to tell exactly what’s happening. The my interpretation is something like this: Before the video starts, Harbin chengguan obviously got into some kind of dispute with the man who they start beating when he follows them at the beginning of the video. Based on some of the comments, it appears the chengguan may have taken the man’s money too, but there’s no clear shot of them doing that in the video. There’s already a large crowd, so obviously whatever they were doing was drawing a lot of attention. Shortly after the video starts, they are clearly gang-beating someone, perhaps several people quite violently, and appear to throw some punches and kicks at onlookers who get too close, although it’s very difficult to see clearly.

The crowd, which is quite large, is mostly hurling abuse at the chengguan. One of the more audible things I heard screamed at one point was “Are you guys chengguan or gangsters?” There were also lots of curses in both Mandarin and in the northeastern dialect.

The chengguan eventually seem to realize things are way out of their control, but the crowd follows them, not physically preventing them from moving but also not letting them get away, and continuing to hurl abuse at them. The video ends when they get to a police station. Several witnesses and victims go into the station to give statements, as does the cameraman. The crowd stays outside the station doors, blocking traffic and watching. A very loud young woman shouts at them repeatedly that “everyone” should go into the station, since they all saw the event, and to ensure that the chengguan don’t “get away.” Unsurprisingly, the police are not big fans of that plan — there’s no way the 1/10th of the crowd could possibly have fit into the station anyway — and try to talk both her and the crowd down. That’s where the video ends.

I have no idea how this situation was resolved, the video cuts off and there don’t appear to be any news stories about this event that I was able to find via Baidu. By tomorrow afternoon, I expect the video will either have amassed half a million (or more) views, or it will be completely scrubbed from the internet.

Translated Comments

These are some comments from the Youku video, so they only pertain to incident 2.

“It’s true, no one has it easy…these days, actually, the situation is that low-level people harass the people who are even lower than them ((This is a reference to social/economic class, not character; what the commenter means is that the chengguan aren’t people with any real status either.))”

“What a tragedy, even the battle-capacity of chengguan has gone done, how are we ever going to retake Taiwan now? There’s so much left to do.” ((This comment is almost certainly sarcastic.))

“Rise, people who are no longer willing to be slaves! ((This is a line from the Chinese national anthem))”

“Whose money are those fucking chengguan taking…”

“I really want to know who that woman [who is yelling in the video] is…especially during that last bit, haha, it’s like that part in Let the Bullets Fly where Jiang Wen is shouting at the mob of commoners, and no one moves an inch, then he says Huang San is dead and everyone goes at once.”

“[In response to the above comment] the People need a wake up call….”

“That woman talking is just a stupid cunt, blah blah, get them, everyone go inside, it’s all just blah blah blah….and that guy next to her, what a lout.”

“After a century of slumber, my countrymen are finally awakening. Watching the girl at the end calling for everyone to go in, and then seeing no one at all enter, my heart grew cold. It’s like in Lu Xun’s story “Medicine” where the numb Chinese watch as the martyr is executed in front of them. Everyone is just watching as though the matter doesn’t concern them. But people are slowly waking up to reality. The first line of our national anthem teaches us this; everyone chants the anthem numbly but have you ever thought about what it says carefully? Rise, ye who are no longer willing to be slaves, let our blood and our bodies become the new Great Wall. ((This comment was originally written in traditional characters, so there’s a decent chance it was written by someone from Taiwan or Hong Kong.))”

“[In response to the above comment] Well said! Are you Chinese? If you are, vote up!”

“To the girl that is talking, are you afraid that China isn’t in chaos? It’s because of people like you that Chinese society is not harmonious.”

“[In response to the above comment] What’s wrong with protecting the rights and interests of citizens? What is called “unharmonious”? She was doing it in the interests of everyone, do you get it? Always standing on the edge, sleeping a deep sleep, that is “harmony” that’s what cowards like you do.”

“The level of a nation’s civilization is not in whether or not it can host the Olympics, whether or not it can put on a World Expo, whether or not it can host the Asian games, or in how much trash American national debt it can buy. It’s not in the number of millions of people who can travel abroad, it is in letting citizens sit at home without fear of burning to death, letting vendors sell their wares without fear of being slapped around, letting people walk without worrying about being run over by Li Gang’s BMW, and letting people eat without worrying about being poisoned.”

My Comments

There are tons more comments on Youku, but that seems as good a place to stop as any. In the time it took me to translate those, views of the video jumped by another 20,000, and another 40 or so comments were posted. Local “mass incidents” like this have been happening for years, of course. The difference is that now they’re all broadcast on the internet, and (mostly) interpreted by netizens within a national context rather than a local one.

Note how many of the comments above — chosen more or less at random, I basically just translated a couple full pages that were at the front of the comments thread — refer to this as though it were a national issue, or indicative of a larger national issue, rather than just a local scuffle ((Comments about the character of Dongbeiren nonwithstanding)). China is big enough that this sort of thing doesn’t happen in one’s backyard too often, but clearly people who surf the net are starting to feel like they’re seeing the same thing over and over again (probably because they are). These “local issue” protests aren’t really local anymore. No one in Beijing is going to take up arms against Harbin chengguan, of course, but the actions of people in Harbin or Hunan are now interpreted as reflecting not just local issues, but national ones.

I believe that is a significant shift from the prevailing mood, say, ten or fifteen years ago, and one that we can almost certainly attribute primarily to the internet. The consequences of this shift in national policy are not yet evident, but I expect them to be. This, I suspect, is one of the things about the internet that makes the government so nervous.

I’m sure I will be accused of taking these comments “out of context” or picking only the ones that serve my Western imperialist agenda ((like all Westerners would do, as we were trained by our Western government.)), but go browse the comments on the Youku video yourself, assuming it still exists by the time you see this — it may well not. There is a very clear mood there that’s reflected in the comments I translated above. I’ll leave the extrapolation and a better explanation of my theory to the comments for now; this post is already way too long.

Tainted Vaccine “Protesters” Beaten, Bones Fractured

Yet another depressing moment in the saga of the families who came to Beijing looking for compensation from the Ministry of Health after their children where harmed by tainted vaccines. Shortly after their first protest, Wang reported via his blog, they were arrested, but were subsequently released and apparently went to protest again yesterday. The results were more dire this time:

When the nine parents of tainted vaccine victims were outside the Ministry of Health appealing for an audience with higher-ups on the morning of the 19th, they were beaten quite severely by a group of people wearing the uniforms of the Public Security Bureau. Of the nine, four suffered serious injury, and Yang Yukui of Liaoning province suffered six fractured ribs on his right side and a fractured little finger on his right hand.

The parents were chained together to prevent being dragged off separately, which made it impossible for them to flee their attackers. After being beaten, the group was locked away and at present has not been allowed to seek medical treatment:

At present, […] the parents are locked in a guarded room in a police substation on Zhanlan Rd. The police there have continually refused to allow them to go to the hospital to receive medical treatment. They have already been locked up for more than 15 hours. Please, everyone, pay attention and lend your support!

The volunteer lawyer I found is already on his way to help.

The Ministry of Health falls under the jurisdiction of the Zhanlan Road police substation. The substation number is 010-68351158, the cell phone number of one of the parents (Yi Wenlong) is 13903572625.

I have posted this news via my microblog five times, but each time it has been harmonized.

In case you’re wondering what their banners say, the first photo reads “Pay attention to the victims of [tainted] vaccines.” The second reads “Pay attention to the interests of all children ((the first line is partially obscured, so I’m guessing a bit here)), [we’re] seeking an explanation from the Ministry of Health on behalf of the children who were victims of vaccines.” On the bottom of the piece of cardboard is a list of the places the various parents are from.

We reported previously on the arrest of Gao Zhanghong, China’s “unluckiest father”, whose two sons fell victim to tainted vaccines and the Sanlu milk powder contamination scandal, respectively. However, it was not clear from the circumstances to exactly how Gao’s arrest related to the vaccine and melamine issues.