A skit reenacting former Japanese President Shinzo Abe’s assassination—staged during a high school field day in Zaozhuang, Shandong—has reignited online debate over rising anti-Japanese sentiment in China. Abe’s assassination in 2022 shocked the world; the Chinese government’s official statement mirrored that sentiment. But on Chinese social media and in some offline corners of the country, a much different sentiment predominated: glee. On Weibo, some hailed Abe’s assassin as a “hero of the Anti-Japanese War” (as World War Two is referred to in Chinese), and at least one restaurant offered an “Abe Banquet Meal Deal” on the food delivery app Meituan in celebration. A wave of anti-Japanese incidents followed, including the arrest of a woman who paid for memorial tablets for Japanese war criminals in a Nanjing temple, the cancellation of a series of long-running Japan-inspired festivals, and the arrest of a woman in Suzhou who wore a kimono in public. Anti-Japanese sentiment perhaps reached a new apogee with the release of treated wastewater from the Fukushima nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean in late August 2023. The Shandong students who performed the skit reenacting Abe’s death drew a connection between the two unrelated events—Abe’s assassination and the Fukushima wastewater release—by unfurling a banner that read, “Two Gunshots Leave A Cold Corpse, Wastewater Release Leaves A Long Aftermath,” at the moment of the actor-Abe’s collapse. Video of the incident was posted to X, formerly known as Twitter:
On Weibo, reactions to the skit were mixed. Some celebrated the skit, others laughed it off, some made ghoulish jokes about Abe’s lack of response, and a small minority wrote of how it left them troubled:
@大风吹奏: “Japanese devils, take a cold sip.
If they’re on a train, hope their legs are shattered if they slip,
If they’re at sea, hope they go down with the ship”
We grew up singing songs like that. What’s so wrong about some kids putting on a skit? For those criticizing the kids, where were you when Abe visited the “Yashitkuni Shrine?” [Editor’s note: OP used a scatalogical near-homophone to refer to Yasukuni Shrine.] All actions have causes and consequences. If Japan hadn’t invaded China, would we hate them? We don’t teach hatred but forgetting history would be a betrayal.
@苏堤柳_WKLY：Abe himself has no comment on the matter, so why should we give a crap?
@手掰蒜头子: What’s there to investigate? It was just a skit. No reason to elevate it into a political struggle.
@裤衩都特么笑掉了：YES! What’s wrong with the skit? This hatred runs in the blood of our nation. The children did well.
@月为2011：Everyone in the comment section supports them. That’s pretty scary. Remembering history is not equivalent to unfiltered hatred.
A hashtag related to the skit rose to number two on Weibo’s trending chart before a curiously sharp decline in engagement, indicating that Weibo censors may have aimed to “control the temperature” on the debate. The chart below shows the hashtag’s precipitous rise and fall, within a matter of hours:
Although it is impossible to ascertain whether certain comments were deleted by censors or upon second thought by users, at least one popular comment was deleted after it went viral. The Weibo account @浙人无为 opposed the skit, intimating that Japanese students might mimic it by replacing Abe with Xi Jinping: “I’m opposed to the skit. Too many people are ignorant and short-sighted. If we do this to them, won’t they do the same to us? How would you feel if some Japanese people put on a skit about the assassination of China’s _ _ _? If you curse out another kid’s parents, naturally the other kid is going to get mad and curse your parents back, get it?”