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LinkAsia | Apr 10
China is worried about a real estate bubble. Housing prices have been rising by double digits in almost every Chinese city, and in Beijing alone ha...
Opinion polls taken in both China and Japan show that the islands issue has inflamed both nations. In fact, according to a recent survey, 84 percent of Japanese polled have anti-Chinese sentiments. And over in China, 65 percent hold "negative views" of Japan. Our contributor David Bandurski says Chinese opinion has been cultivated over the years by the Chinese government.
China has a complicated relationship with nationalism. As the appeal of ideologies like socialism and Maoism has faded, Party leaders have filled the vacuum with nationalist emotion. Much of it is fueled by the idea of China's victimization at the hands of foreign aggressors: by Europeans in the 19th century and by Japan in the early 20th century. But nationalism, if emphasized too strongly, can become self-destructive -- a fact that has been strikingly evident in China this month.
Scenes like this occurred in dozens of Chinese cities during the worst violence on September 15 and 16. And tensions have continued to run high.
Perhaps most disturbing was the case of Li Jianli, a 51 year-old resident of the city of Xi'an. Li was brutally beaten by anti-Japanese demonstrators on September 15 because he was driving a Japanese-brand car. Li is now partially paralyzed and has trouble speaking. These are images from the scene of the attack, with Li prone and bleeding on the street as the crowd looks on.
Many of the messages borne by protesters have been curiously violent and self-destructive too. This one, displayed outside a car dealership, reads: "Even if China becomes a grave, we must kill all Japanese."
This cartoon by satirical artist Kuang Biao, eventually deleted from social media, cuts to the puzzling heart of this orgy of violence. It shows a distinctly Japanese figure standing atop the disputed Senkaku Islands and looking across to China with horror as sledge-headed figure with the white headband of a nationalist protester inflicts a mortal wound on himself. "We're looking into this case of self-mutilation!" the Chinese figure says. "How things develop depends on what you do!"
So how has China nursed such a raging current of nationalism? The answer lies not just in the real past of foreign aggression but in the way the past has been manipulated by the leadership.
Back in 2006 Chinese historian Yuan Weishi criticized history textbooks in China, saying they oversimplified history and nursed a hatred of foreigners. Chinese schoolchildren, he said, were "drinking wolves' milk." Yuan's more nuanced reading of the history of foreign aggression was not welcome -- especially his well-supported assertions that China's Qing dynasty government shared responsibility. Yuan's essay resulted in the suspension of the well-known journal that printed it.
In the midst of this current Japan-China row, the poison of nationalism has become a part of life and tradition. Like these mooncakes eaten to celebrate the upcoming Mid-Autumn Festival. "Bitter hatred for the Japanese!" reads one. "Bite the Japanese to death!" reads another.
Fortunately, many Chinese have also objected to the hateful and xenophobic tone the protests have taken. "An education in hatred,"sighed this user in response to the anti-Japan mooncakes. "Won't this pervert the minds of our children?" another asked.
A nationalism that is rational and ready to engage with the world could be a healthy, and even necessary, part of China's development.
But if nationalism is built on a political narrative of victimization that manipulates emotions and twists the facts, the Chinese people will only continue to victimize themselves. In Hong Kong, I'm David Bandurski for Link Asia.