Kimono Detention Latest Incident of Anti-Japanese Sentiment in China

Police detained and interrogated a young woman for wearing a kimono in Suzhou, the latest apparent example of a surge in anti-Japanese sentiment across China. The woman posted a video of her detention to Weibo, capturing the moment when police accused her of “picking quarrels and provoking troubles” and yelled: “If you were wearing hanfu, I would never speak like this, but you’re wearing a kimono. Speaking as a Chinese person… you’re a Chinese person! Are you Chinese?” The street upon which she was arrested, Huaihai Road, is lined with Japanese restaurants and is a popular spot for cosplayers. At CNN, Nectar Gan reported on the incident and the woman’s posts detailing her disillusionment after a five-hour interrogation

The woman said in the Weibo post she was interrogated at the police station for about five hours until 1 a.m., during which she said her phone was searched, her photos deleted, and her kimono confiscated. She said she was also “educated” and warned by the police not to talk about her experience on the internet. 

[…] In an earlier post on Qzone, another Chinese social media platform, the woman said police also asked her to write a 500-word letter of self-criticism.

“I feel like I have no dignity right now,” she said in the Qzone post on Friday. “The police said what I did was wrong. I feel powerless … I like Japanese culture, European culture and I also like traditional Chinese culture. I like multiculturalism, I like watching anime, is it wrong that I like anything?”

“I have always been very patriotic — or rather, I had been very patriotic and trusting of the police, until now … I can only say I’m very disappointed, it turns out I never had the freedom to wear or say what I want.” [Source]

Her detention follows a number of similar incidents this past summer: the arrest of a Buddhist practitioner who paid for a Nanjing temple to erect memorial tablets to Japanese war criminals, the cancellation of Japanese-style summer festivals and anime conventions, complaints about a mural in a Beijing subway that critics said looked too similar to Japanese woodblock prints and, most notoriously, jubilation on the Chinese internet about Shinzo Abe’s assasination. While the exact origin of this latest wave of anti-Japanese sentiment is difficult to pinpoint among the protean stew of nationalism, Wang Ke, a professor Kobe University in Japan, told Vice News: “It is definitely supported by the Chinese government, which is fanning the flames of nationalism to send a political message.”

Fashion can be a flashpoint and this is not the first time kimonos have pricked at nationalist sensibilities. Last August, a woman was turned away from a mandatory coronavirus test for wearing a kimono, an incident which went viral on Weibo. Earlier this year, nationalist students accused Dior of cultural appropriation for a skirt they held mimicked a mamianqun, or “horse-faced skirt,” popular among those who wear hanfu. A professor at Peking University told Global Times: “by using elements of the horse-face skirt while claiming their design is original, Dior has shown cultural arrogance and disrespect for Chinese culture.” 

Online many expressed disgust with the “cultural witch hunt” that has leaked from the internet into daily life. Some pointed out the hypocrisy of nationalist Weibo commentators who have egged on anti-Japanese sentiment by highlighting posts in which the nationalists had shilled Japanese condoms and, in one case, the joys of eating sushi while wearing a kimono. Online comments collected by CDT, a selection of which are translated below, reveal widespread dissaproval of the policeman’s actions and a wariness towards cultural nationalism

@解雪時_:Everybody knows that Old Fogey knows no rule of law, he acts on the authority [given him] by the ghosts of the descendants of Yan and Huang.

@雾绘:The cultural witch hunt is not restricted to the internet, alas. This is but a first taste of the bitter fruit that comes from whipping up nationalism.

@内向红红:“When a brave man is enraged, he draws his sword on someone stronger; when a cowardly man is enraged, however, he draws his sword on someone weaker.” Abuse of power that results in a major loss of public property or seriously damages the national or public interest is punishable by up to three years of imprisonment or detention. Reject campaign-style law enforcement. When law enforcement is not constrained by the law, nobody is safe. Today, you can get arrested for cosplaying in public. Tomorrow, you might get beaten for watching anime on the subway. I hope that all law enforcement personnel will give serious thought to the fact that justice lives in the hearts of the People.

@卧龙岗的风花雪月:If wearing a kimono is illegal, then wearing pretty much anything can be construed as a crime. Suits pander to foreigners, hanfu hints at feudal restoration …

@魔法瓶子99:I recommend we cancel suits. In the future, the cops should arrest every suit-wearer they see. And why would true sons and daughters of China want to wear the garb of European and American powers, anyway? It’s really very hurtful to the public’s feelings. [Chinese]

The kimono incident was doubly heartbreaking, argued one WeChat essayist, because it showed the limited results of decades of backbreaking work to establish the substance and awareness of rule of law in China

The girl’s voice was even quieter and less confident while asking her second question: “On what basis?” In other words, she was asking the policeman the legal grounds for his behavior. He understood her perfectly and answered loudly: “You’re picking quarrels and provoking trouble.”

That second question reveals that she understood her due rights under the law. In fact, that timid question encapsulates the blood, sweat, and tears of countless educators, legal professionals, and journalists—it is a microcosm of two decades of work establishing the rule of law in China. Every step in our society’s progress is built, in some form or another, on the behavior of “our children.”

Yet as we have seen, her voice was too soft, lost in the wind, destined for oblivion. She was taken to the police office and only released five hours later, after having written something akin to a self-criticism.

This is truly heartbreaking. It is for precisely this reason that I hope Suzhou police will make a public apology. You’ve not simply repressed one girl, but also three decades of progress for China’s civilization. [Chinese]

Censors did not allow free discussion of the incident. A WeChat essay reflecting on the “quotidian terror” of living in a society where anyone can be stripped of their freedom on any pretext was taken down by censors:

First they came for the people wearing kimonos. Next they’ll come for the people watching anime. Then those who watch Japanese dramas. After that it’ll be those who read Japanese. Finally, it’ll be everyone who has ever interacted with foreign cultures. Considering the degree of China’s current openness and connection to the world, it’ll be hard for any one of us to escape. One netizen left a comment on Weibo arguing that it was a good thing the girl was arrested. Then someone pointed out that Resident Evil, the commenter’s profile picture, was a product of a Japanese gaming company.

This is a perfect metaphor for “quotidian terror.”

You believe that you’ll never break the law, or wear a kimono, so this sort of thing will never happen to you. You’re just like her when she headed out that morning, as happy as could be, never expecting that she’d be detained. Perhaps it was brief eye contact, perhaps the officer was in a bad mood, perhaps it was something else (there are so many possibilities), but in a single moment, her destiny was altered. She lost her freedom, the contents of her phone (including her chat records) were scrutinized, and her personhood and privacy were peeled away for all to see.

Similarly, one day you might be wearing an item of clothing adorned with words or symbols you’ve never taken much notice of, or you might happen to be driving to work in an American car on a certain sensitive date. If wearing a kimono on a Japan-themed street can get you detained and your phone searched, then a simple question such as “How dare you drive an American car (or a Japanese, German, or Korean one) on a day like today?” might cause you to lose your freedom, or even become a victim of violence.

This indeterminate terror stalks every one of us. [Chinese]

State media made little, if any, comment on the kimono incident amid a blitz of coverage on the 77th anniversary of Japan’s unconditional surrender in World War II. State media coverage focused on memories of the Nanjing massacre, including the assembly of thirteen descendants of survivors of the massacres whom the Memorial Hall of the Victims of Nanjing Massacre by Japanese Invaders have deemed the “first batch” of “inheritors of historical memories regarding Nanjing Massacre.”


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