April 30, 2005

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A Look Back at Anti-Japanese Protests

Simon's itching to return and clamp down on our vibrant and sexually confident guest blogging movement (J/K), so before he gets here, I thought it'd be appropriate to bring a fascinating analysis of the whole anti-Japanese protest movement and the domestic political ramifications for the People's Republic:


Ming Pao: Iam Chong is an assistant teaching fellow at the Department of Cultural studies at Lingnan University.

Anti-Japanese protest demonstrations have returned to quiet, as authorities again use heavy language to discourage citizens from going onto the streets. Sporatic arrests have also begun in major cities throughout the country. Some say this is to avoid the upcoming May Fourth anniversary, as well as the sensitive months of May and June.

When the demonstrations were red-hot, some people in Hong Kong were still discussing whether they were self-organized or planned by the authorities. It appears that such discussion is no longer necessary. From the perspective of the authorities, they first generously tolerated, and even assisted, the demonstrations, and then followed with social control. The political powers of the country no longer embarrassed themselves in front of the world's media, like in 1989, when their spectacular methods turned them into oppressors. Hu [Jintao] and Wen [Jiabao] today, as well as local governments, maintained a superficially open attitude, as well as the magnanimity of a great nation.

In this series of protests, not only have the authorities grown smarter, but the public has changed as well, demonstrating a new political relationship: let me use an anecdote to elaborate.

A friend in Beijing told me that there was a pop music awards ceremony at the Great Hall of the People. Singers from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the mainland gathered, as well as throngs of fans. A passionate group of fans near the Great Hall unfurled a banner toward the [Tiananmen] Square to support some singer. Some were even distributing pamphlets. Public security immediately confiscated the pamphlets and dispersed the fans, dampening spirits. Another group of “smarter” fans wearing identical uniforms unfurled a banner as well, but faced against the square and toward the Great Hall at a 45 degree angle. Public security did not intervene at all, and things ended happily.

Many self-motivated individuals have worked with the authorities long enough to know their bottom line, and have a firm grasp on how to find the possibility, time and space for group activities. They also are self-restraint in the extent of their words. The authorities have also learned that the key to controlling society is to not casually show their ugly side and use violence to intimidate.

Demonstrators threw bottles at Japanese restaurants and legations. Public security gently used dissuading words, and the crowds replied, “ we are not contesting the government!” Shanghai public security announced “walking advance paths” to direct the protesting crowds. As the tone of the authorities tightened, the Internet became quiet over the past few days. For example, anti-Japanese messages have disappeared from the front page of “Blog in China” for some time, probably the result of self-restraint and self-examination by the people.

Will this year's May Fourth be like that of sixteen years ago? I am not optimistic that the people will rally forth: today's China can no longer be understood by the idea of two contesting elements of “society” and “the regime,” and the political powers no longer rely on “unitary systems” to directly control society. New power networks are developing in Chinese politics, and minor transgressions and resistance are swirling and struggling in these networks. Apparently passionate anti-Japanese protests appear to be only a minor test of the hidden and secure power networks, and cannot be said to be confrontation and subversion.
posted by Kelvin on 04.30.05 at 04:00 PM in the Blogging category.


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