Close to the demonstration in Beijing on Saturday, cartons of "free rage eggs" were being given out for protesters to throw at the embassy.
Classy. You don’t get that in Benghazi, I bet.
Anyway, Ishihara got what he wanted. Big time. On current estimates, Saturday saw demonstrations in 40 – that’s four-oh – major cities across China from Beijing down through major provincial capitals to third tier cities. Places affected included Changsha, Xian, Chengdu, Shenzhen and Qingdao, amongst many more.
As well as formal protests against Japanese diplomatic offices, there was also widespread destruction, looting and arson against Japanese owned or associated (ie, Japanese restaurants) businesses and products, which in turn generated a patriotic commercial scramble. Property violence ranged from looting local 7-11 stores and smashing windows to rampaging through department stores and allegedly burning down an entire Japanese owned elevator factory in Shenzhen. So far there doesn’t seem to have been much reported violence against Japanese people: the consulate reported six cases as of yesterday, though there’s been no update on that yet.
Shanghaiist has a comprehensive roundup of the day’s events, complete with numerous videos. The crowds look to be in the 5-10,000 range. Not all that large for cities in the five million plus population bracket, but it’s hard to tell how much of this is formal protest and how much a random agglomeration of wider mob activity. Police behaviour so far has been defensive: fulfilling Vienna Convention obligations to defend diplomatic premises while not taking any more aggressive action to drive the crowds from the streets. There are the usual allegations of official collusion. I really don’t think Beijing would have acted to produce something on this scale. However, it may be instructive to compare police numbers and behaviour today with what happened when activists unsuccessfully called for ‘jasmine spring’ demonstrations a couple of years back. On that occasion there were thousands of riot police aggressively occupying the main shopping districts of major cities in the face of no actual demonstrators at all. The impulse to ‘strike hard’ was clearly absent today.
Elsewhere, there’s been some civic pushback against the rioting across the Sinosphere, though this hasn’t translated yet into anything like a counter-demonstration and its notable that people feel the need to stress their patriotic credentials while condemning the violence. I wonder if we’ll see a groundswell of public opinion urging the authorities to take more severe action against the protestors/rioters? After all, the point here isn’t a protest against Japan that turned violent, but the fact that pretty much every major city in China has had a day of violence.
So, what next? I don’t think the authorities can allow this to continue at its current scale. I’d expect much heavier policing over the next few days and the Party to deploy its usual range of social dampeners: ‘do not participate notices’ to members, extra classes arranged for university students and so on. What happens if the cops shoot a young patriot in the midst of his patriotic looting? Maybe we’ll see. Anyway, as I said yesterday, the date to note is September 18, the anniversary of the Japanese invasion.
Meanwhile, porn star Sola Ao, possibly China’s favourite Japanese import, has called for love, peace and understanding. This is not quite as daft as it sounds: ‘The Daioyus belong to China and Sola Ao belongs to the world’ is a fairly popular nationalist slogan in China. Anyway, good for you, Ms Ao.
Aside from everything else, this all rather overshadowed Xi Jinping’s return to public view: he appeared at an Agricultural University helping to popularize science even as the ‘free rage eggs’ were being handed out downtown. Bill Bishop notes:
In just the last 48 hours The New York Times has reported Xi has had a heart attack or a stroke, Reuters has told us he has a bad back, Fairfax Media has said he is “fine” and The Telegraph has written he has both suffered a heart attack and/or is in trouble with Party elders. These stories were all written by some of the best foreign correspondents in China. They can not all be right, can they?