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Have anti-Japanese sentiments gone too far in China in the wake of the intensification of the Diaoyu Islands controversy? Some Chinese writers think so. After Japanese activists landed on the islands to reassert Japanese ownership following Hong Kong activists’ landing, protests were sparked throughout China, and some protesters smashed Japanese cars.
Liu Wending, in a column that was published at China.org.cn, a website published by the State Council Information Office, wrote that “some [protesters] threatened Japanese businessmen and some even smashed Japanese-brand cars owned by Chinese people.” While supporting people’s right to protest, Liu criticized the extremists who have been smashing cars and threatening Japanese people.
Some would argue that I am being unpatriotic. But what on Earth is patriotism, exactly? Are hurling abuses, destroying goods and shouting slogans patriotic behaviors? Actually, patriotism is not a kind of spirit. It’s an instinct. Loving one’s motherland is like loving one’s family. No country has elevated patriotism to the level of importance that China has. However, at the same time, the government has not clearly defined what it means to be patriotic. This is why some people behave improperly and damage national interests in name of patriotism.
If you are a real patriot, you should continuously work hard for China’s progress and to make her an ideal destination for immigrants instead of a country where many of her people wish to emigrate. When that happens, neighboring countries which have territorial disputes with China will rather be conquered by China’s charm.
Sun Xingjie, a writer for Elite Reference, echoed that sentiment in a column that was published in Elite Reference and then republished in the September 5 issue of Blog Weekly. He said that there are some problems with protests descending into extremism.
A translation of column appears below, as in appeared in Blog Weekly:
Defend Diaoyu, But First Learn How to Protest Rationally
On August 19, after Japanese people landed on the Diaoyu Islands, there were protests in many Chinese cities. The scale was large, and China’s foreign affairs office has also sternly protested Japanese actions. Defending Diaoyu requires the Chinese people’s strong support, but some aspects of these protests reflect many people’s private worries that cannot be ignored.
There were varying size and scopes of protests, and many of the protests went smoothly, but there were also some cases of Japanese cars being smashed. From the photos that have been spread of the demonstrations, you can see that a lot of the protesters have never studied how to rationally express their message. A modern nation requires a strong public opinion foundation with a rational and self-controlled public. When demonstrations become venues to exert angry and destructive urges, the result will hurt the country’s image rather than help it.
Public demonstrations are an important part of the public sphere. They train communities to give voices to a public opinion. Protests can not only express opinions but also construct opinions. Thus, for any protest issue, organizing a protest group requires a certain level of skill. Because public protests are actions of the masses, they can quickly get out of hand, and group passion can overpower reason, especially with people focusing on the actions and slogans of the most extreme elements. This time, at some of the protests there were signs using the words “China’s empire.” Some people at the Diaoyu protests were excited by sentiments of the Han and Tang dynastic empires, but after World War II, the era of empires ended. Putting the Diaoyu Islands and China’s empire of old together is too overdramatic. The changes in the East Asian order have been brought about by the death of two empires. China’s empire declined when colonial powers exploited our weakness, and after Japan’s empire perished, a global era of interest in protecting national sovereignty began. History cannot be turned back. Imperialistic slogans not only put on display a long-discredited ideology, they also reflect a poor level of organization of the protests.
Demonstrations should be constructive activities. But this kind of protest can allow for people to think the defense of national sovereignty is connected with violent and destructive acts. There’s nothing wrong with boycotting Japanese products to express a viewpoint, but the act of smashing Japanese cars to vent an opinion has far exceeded the bounds of protesting, and it also threatens law and order. Public society requires building a foundation of private property rights. Smashing people’s cars and storefronts in the course of a protest is an attack on property rights.
Demonstrations should be orderly peaceful affairs in accords with law and order. If a protest turns into an unorganized, unprincipled display of pure anger, that is a big mistake. The public (公民) and the mob (暴民), although there is just a one character difference, are not the same. In a country with a long tradition of revolution, training the citizens in public decorum and protest is a long process.
Defending Diaoyu is a starting point for training and developing a public sphere. The demonstrations are part of the learning process. Naturally, in this course, public education and rule of law should not be lacking. A country and its people should understand, only with rule of law and protection of individual liberties, can we protect our sovereignty. At any time in history, mob behaviors must not stand.
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