September 18, known as the “Day of National Humiliation,” marks the anniversary of the “Mukden Incident” in 1931 which precipitated the Japanese invasion of northern China. With anti-Japanese sentiment in China already high from Japan’s planned purchase of the disputed Diaoyu (Senkaku) Islands, protesters again took to the streets in force on Tuesday. But according to reports, authorities took stronger measures to prevent violence and looting than on previous days. From the New York Times:
The protests were large and sometimes angry, but appeared much better controlled than those over the weekend, which included extensive rioting and vandalism. Many Japanese businesses closed for the day, and a strong police presence seemed to prevent damage.
The Japanese companies that closed included the 7-Eleven convenience store chain, which is Japanese-owned in China. The company said it would reopen Wednesday. Several other large companies, including Mitsubishi and Canon, gave their employees the day off.
Despite the calls for peaceful protests, scattered violence was reported. The Italian consul’s car in Guangzhou was attacked, according to diplomatic sources who asked to remain anonymous.
The same New York Times report describes the scene at the protest at the Japanese embassy in Beijing:
As the day progressed, crowds threw rocks and water bottles at the well-guarded embassy compound. Some of the banners were crude, with sexual undertones that might have reflected the Japanese military’s brutal wartime treatment of Chinese, including the systematic rape of Chinese women during its 14-year invasion and occupation of parts of the country. One banner showed a Chinese soldier castrating a Japanese soldier, while a popular image depicted Japan’s national flag as a white sanitary napkin with a spot of blood in the middle.
CNN reports that several Japanese manufacturers have temporarily closed operations in China during the protests:
Rowdy demonstrations also took place near Japanese consulates in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenyang, according to CNN affiliate I-Cable. The protests appeared to be much more orderly than those that took place in many cities over the weekend, some of which turned violent.
But they spurred some of Japan’s biggest manufacturers — Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Mazda, Panasonic and Canon — to halt production at some of their plants in China. Panasonic reported Monday that it would stop work at three Chinese plants after two of them were damaged during Saturday’s protests.
China normally clamps down on public demonstrations, but has allowed the protests to go ahead. Protesters carried banners that read “Don’t Forget the National Humiliation,” according to photographs distributed by the state-run news agency Xinhua.
In Hunan, Japanese cars were banned from the road to avoid any accidents or vandalism in case protesters targeted them for attack. Business Week looks at the market implications of the protests for Japanese car makers, and says it may prove to be a bigger disaster for them than last year’s tsunami:
As violent protests over control of islands claimed by both nations flare up, China’s Passenger Car Association predicts Japanese brands will lose their lead over German nameplates in the country for the first time since 2005.
“The repercussions for Japanese carmakers are very serious and will last for a long time,” said Cui Dongshu, deputy secretary general of the Passenger Car Association. “There are plenty of choices. Why bother with Japanese brands if there are concerns of safety due to anti-Japan sentiment?”
Consumers shunning Japanese models may turn to market leaders General Motors Co. (GM), which this year has sold 1.84 million cars in China under brands including Buick, Chevrolet and Cadillac, and Volkswagen AG (VOW), whose two joint ventures have sold a total of 1.49 million vehicles this year. The Japanese leader, Nissan, has sold some 485,000 vehicles in China so far this year.
Moving along the sidewalks with the protesters and onlookers and police, I was struck most of all by how hard the Chinese government was working to keep its people happy, to show them that it is doing what they want. Nationalism is a volatile force, and it would be easy for protests to expand into criticism of the state. Chinese authorities have no choice but to let their people blow off steam over Japan, but they are determined to keep them on message.
While protesters’ anger toward Japan was virulent and often violent on the streets around China, Chinese netizens took a more satirical view by mocking the official media’s coverage of the issue.