Shanghai’s Anti-Japan Protests – Seen from the streets

Unless you’ve been living under a rock the past week or so, you’ve probably heard something about a tricky little island group called, depending on who you ask, the Senkakus or the Diaoyu Islands.

The Diaoyu Islands (don’t take this as a political statement – this is a China-centric blog, so we’ll call them by their Chinese name) have been included in maps by both Japan and China as far back as the 15th century, but were uninhabited and not claimed until January 1895, when the government of Japan formally claimed the islands. From the website of the Japanese MOFA:

From 1885 on, surveys of the Senkaku Islands had been thoroughly made by the Government of Japan through the agencies of Okinawa Prefecture and by way of other methods. Through these surveys, it was confirmed that the Senkaku Islands had been uninhabited and showed no trace of having been under the control of China. Based on this confirmation, the Government of Japan made a Cabinet Decision on 14 January 1895 to erect a marker on the Islands to formally incorporate the Senkaku Islands into the territory of Japan.

To the best of my understanding, this action was completely in compliance with international law at the time regarding acquiring unclaimed territories. However, China claims that at the time, the Diaoyu Islands were already territory of the Qing Dynasty:

Ever since the early period of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the Diaoyu Islands have been clearly included in the territory and maritime defense sector of China and China’s sovereignty over the islands was recognized by Japan, which used Chinese names to identify the area, until modern times.

Before the middle of the 19th century, various maps published in Japan used the same color to mark China and the Diaoyu Islands.

At the same time, related documents and maps of Britain, France, United States and Spain also showed the Diaoyu Islands belonging to China.

Whichever side is correct, the islands were ceded to Japan in May 1895 as a result of the Treaty of Shimonoseki, which ended the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95, along with Taiwan and various other subsidiary islands – a fact that both the Japanese and Chinese governments recognize.

During World War II, leaders of the United States, Britain, and China (at the time, representatives of the Republic of China led by Chiang Kai-shek) signed the Cairo Declaration, which stated that all Chinese territories seized by Japan should be returned to China. In 1945, the Potsdam Proclamation which was signed by the US, Britain, the ROC, and the USSR, stipulated that the Cairo Declaration should be carried out.

All fine and dandy – according to these two documents, the islands should have been returned to China after Japan’s surrender along with Taiwan, the Pescadores, Matzu, Jinmen, etc. However, in 1951 the US and Japan signed the San Francisco Peace Treaty, which officially ended World War II, the islands were to be dealt with as the government of the United States saw fit. The US saw fit to administer the islands as part of Okinawa Prefecture until 1972, when control of the islands was returned to the Japanese government. It is important to note that neither the government of the Republic of China nor the People’s Republic of China were signatories to the Treaty of San Francisco.

The debate over whom the islands should belong to rests on the disagreement between China and Japan over historical control of the islands. China claims that the islands were historically part of China because old documents (including some Japanese documents) say so; Japan claims that the islands were unclaimed before they claimed them in 1895.

The recent attention centered on the islands is the result of the Japanese government’s purchase of the islands from private (Japanese) citizens who owned the islands as a result of having purchased them from the government in 1931 (ownership was returned to the descendants of the original purchasers in 1972). In other words, the islands were Japanese territory that was owned by a private citizen, and the government bought them and made them public land. And, just like that, faster than you can say “wei, guang, zheng,” anti-Japan (反日) protests ignited across China.

Last Monday, I heard about anti-Japan demonstrations that were planned in Shanghai the following day, which was the anniversary of Japan’s occupation of Manchuria in 1931 (which, for China, was the real start of World War II).

The above image was shared on various Chinese websites to promote the demonstrations.

I was cautious about attending the demonstrations – over the days leading up to this, there had been dozens of reports of demonstrations turning into riots, with rioters destroying/setting fire to Japanese restaurants, stores, and factories, and even attacking foreigners (particularly those who looked Japanese). However, my curiosity to see a demonstration in China won out, particularly because this is likely the only chance to see one, as demonstrations on other topics are usually illegal. Luckily, the anti-Japanese protests here in Shanghai were very orderly (see this report from the Wall Street Journal or this report from China Digital Times).

I arrived at People’s Square around 9:45 to find people starting to gather and a heavy police presence. By 10:00, police had started to move the crowd away from People’s Square (click on pictures to expand them).

Police head off on buses, presumably to somewhere further along the parade route. A few moments earlier, police had shunted some demonstrators onto buses heading to the Japanese embassy.

Large crowd gathering near People’s Square

The crowd starts out, a few banners and Chinese flags unfurled.

Along the way, police would routinely be lined up, blocking demonstrators from walking through, but wouldn’t really stop demonstrators if they just walked around the police. Lots of cries of “愛國無罪” (“Patriotism is not a crime”) from demonstrators whenever they saw police, occasionally a “警察讓路” (“Police, let us pass”) as well.

Bus the police had come in

The head of the march. At this point, there were several hundred demonstrators present. The man on the left was a reporter – I’m not sure which paper he was from. There was also a foreign reporter following the march, snapping lots of pictures. A few people asked me if I was a reporter as well.

Marchers carrying a banner reading: 捍衛釣魚島 抵制日貨 打倒小日本 (Defend the Diaoyu Islands, Boycott Japanese goods, Down with little Japan)

Throughout the march, there were lots of cries of 愛國無罪 (Patriotism is not a crime), 打倒小日本 (Down with little Japan), 保衛釣魚島 (Defend the Diaoyu Islands), 愛我中華 (Love our country), 中國萬歲 (Long live China/10,000 years to China), and 抵制日貨 (Boycott Japanese goods). Also lots of people singing the March of the Volunteers.

 Police lined up to stop demonstrators. Again, they weren’t really stopping them, rather just controlling traffic and making sure the demonstrators went the direction the police wanted them to.

There was a brief scrum with police when demonstrators in the front just tried to push through. The police held them back, so the demonstrators just walked around the police.

While the demonstrators remained very calm, that’s not to say some of the things they were saying were not provocative. Above, two demonstrators hold up Japanese flags with the words 杀 (“kill”) and 滚 (“f*** off/scram) written on them.

Eventually, the police just started walking around the demonstrators.

As we approached the consulate, military police came into view. I’m not sure why the military guy in the back is filming.

Trucks the military police came in on (and the fact that I couldn’t get a picture of them without police blocking the shot really underscores just how many police were there).

 The military had set up metal barricades in the streets in the blocks leading up to the Japanese consulate.

They would let 50 people or so through at a time.

In the distance you can see one of the more provocative banners I observed: 向小日本开爆 (Fire at little Japan)

After they let a group through, the military would close back up.

勿忘國恥,保衛釣魚島 “Don’t forget our national shame, Protect the Diaoyu Islands”

I didn’t get a picture of it, but there was a banner declaring 殺光日本人 “Kill all the Japanese”, which was probably the most extreme thing I saw while I was there.

The police blocked people off here (still a small distance from the consulate) for about 15 minutes, at which point I decided to head home.

As I said before, the overall tone was very calm. I had a few people ask me if I’d come out to also “抗日” (“resist Japan”) to which I replied that I wasn’t, I was just interested in seeing people demonstrate. A few people asked me what my thoughts (on the Diaoyu Islands issue) are, to which I just replied that I thought the best thing would be if both sides talked it over in a rational manner. Someone asked me if I would hold their “打倒小日本” sign so they could take a picture, and I didn’t feel like saying no, so there’s probably a picture of a goofy-looking white guy holding a sign going around Weibo.

At this point, another guy came over and started talking to me in English, saying that “You can’t say the truth here” (presumably about what my real feelings about Japan/the Diaoyu islands/the protesters are), then started grumbling (in English) about the government a bit. He also complained that Chinese people aren’t very civilized and that most of the demonstrators probably didn’t know anything about the history of the Diaoyu islands and hadn’t done any research before coming out. He ended by saying that he thought it was funny that this was the only kind of march that is legal in China, and that he wants to move to America and become a citizen, but that it’s impossible to do so.

Most of the demonstrators I talked to, though, while they may not have been as informed on the issue as the anti-government fellow (and it’s hard to be, with internet censorship and government controlled education and media), did seem very proud of the fact that they were demonstrating peacefully (as opposed to rioting, as had happened in most other cities). One demonstrator proudly told me how “we Shanghainese are very civilized (文明).”

Ultimately, it’s important to remember that these protests are not only some of the only protests allowed by the authorities to really gain momentum, but they were practically endorsed by the authorities (for example, here in Shanghai the government organized buses to take demonstrators from the start of the marches to the Japanese consulate). Why? Protests such as these – at an issue that the government has made a central part of its identity – not only build support for the party, but also act as a social “release valve,” allowing dissatisfied to vent their anger over taboo topics by joining an endorsed protest. Furthermore, these protests serve as a smokescreen for issues the party doesn’t want the media (domestic and foreign) to focus on, such as the Tuesday trial of former Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun. Check out this great post from China Digital Times for more on this topic.

To close, I’m just going to leave you with this video from the ever-amusing Next Media Animation of Taiwan:

China-Japan island dispute: patriotic protests backfire on Beijing


EDIT (00:05, 24.9.2012): I just saw a tweet that reminded me of another indicator of official endorsement of anti-Japan protests that I had forgotten to mention. All this past week, the term “反日” (anti-Japan) had not been blocked on Sina Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter. Typically, when demonstrations become widespread, the government asks Sina and other social media companies to censor certain terms (such as 示威, demonstration), but these terms remained uncensored all week, until “反日” was finally blocked today, now that everyone’s been able to have their fun demonstrating.

EDIT (00:27, 24.9.2012): Contrary to last edit, “反日” appears to still be unblocked on Sina Weibo.

A Taste of Central Perk in Shanghai

Central Perk is a small coffee shop hidden behind a plain white storefront on Ha’erbin Road in the Hongkuo district. Some customers may instantly recognize the café’s logo from the hit series Friends, a popular American television sitcom (1994-2004). As a long-time fan of the show, I enthusiastically accepted my roommate’s invitation to visit Shanghai’s Central Perk this weekend.

Shanghai’s Central Perk is a replica of the Central Perk café featured in almost every episode of Friends. Although Jennifer Anniston isn’t the barista on staff, this café has the ambiance of Ross, Monica, Phoebe, Chandler, Rachel and Joey’s favorite hangout spot. The signature orange couch, green marble café counter and black-and-white tiled floors made me feel like an extra on set. On the wall is a television playing commercial-free Friends episodes, with Mandarin subtitles of course. Additionally, drinks are served in plain mugs decorated with the show’s most famous quotations and sayings.

Before entering Central Perk, I was expecting a coffee shop full of westerners sipping lattes and cappuccinos. But, the café was packed with youthful Chinese locals socializing, reading and watching the screening episode. The café was completely full, and we had to wait around twenty minutes to find an empty table. Despite the unexpected wait, the time we spent in Central Perk was cozy and enjoyable.

Later during our stay, Ali, Charlotte and I asked the manager, Steven, what day of the week we should return. We were hoping to avoid the large crowd during our next visit. He informed us that Shanghai’s Central Perk has only been opened for about a month and has yet to experience a slow business day.

So, what makes Central Perk so appealing to Chinese consumers? Is it the Friends inspiration or delicious coffee attracting customers? Have the customers even watched an episode of Friends before visiting this western influenced café? These were just a few of the questions running through my mind as I sipped my iced mocha and observed the bustling shop.

During a lecture I attended at the Harvard Career Discovery program in 2010, one architect credited Friends for making setting an important trend for urban living. According to her, the hit series made moving to the city “cool and hip” in the eyes of America’s young adult population. Along the same lines, young adults, college graduates, and minorities in China are moving to large cities, like Shanghai, with hopes for economic success and a cosmopolitan lifestyle. China’s population is in the midst of a massive rural-to-urban migration. It is estimated that “more than 120 million internal migrants have headed into Chinese cities” in the last twenty years (Wasserstrom 2010: 122). It would not surprise me to learn that Chinese mass media and popular culture promote the ideal big city life.

Additionally, Central Perk displayed the young urban generation’s obsession of technology, social networks and communication. Although western social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, have yet to permeate through the “Great Firewall of China,” the continuous sounds of IPhone cameras snapping photos suggested that the Chinese customers were, indeed, recording and sharing their daily events online. Of the ten tables inside, at least one picture was taken at every table during my stay. Customers happily posed with their drinks, desserts and a duplicate of Joey’s favorite stuffed animal, a penguin named Hugsy.

As the world’s people, information and ideas become more connected through globalization, the east and west will continue to share cultural sensations. One example of this exchange is PSY’s hit song and music video “Gangam style.” This Korean pop song gained international fame through YouTube, and PSY appearance on last week’s episode of Saturday Night Live is a clear illustration of eastern and western world interactions.

As for Friends in Shanghai, I will be back to Central Perk before the end of the semester. I was envious of the customers seated at the iconic orange couch this weekend. In my opinion, that seat is symbolic of living the city life with your best friends.  I just hope “the” orange couch is open during my next visit.

Niggas in Shanghai: And they’re going Pandas!

I normally pride myself on being the objection of everyone’s attention with my impeccable smile, smooth face and (although slightly loosening) solid body. Now, while many may reserve such egotism, I ardently embrace mine and profess it proudly to the world… Let’s face it, I’m vain. However this narcissistic sentiment quickly changed to uneasiness, perhaps frustration as I unremittingly endure awkward smiles, confused glances and uncouth rubbernecking by 上海人 (Shanghainese), and it’s not just because I am 老外 (foreigner). To put it simply, I’m Black in the city of Shanghai, and even though China is experiencing an unprecedented rise in foreigners, visiting Blacks (any and all kinds) add little chocolate to the endless yellow sea of Shanghai.

This is the second consecutive semester where I once again label myself as the anomaly and I once again I find myself inquiring on the Black Identity in the international scene. With more fervor, I look, listen, and live the ever-changing regional media to catch glimpses of anything reminiscent of Blackness. Discounting the one billboard that we saw in Tianzifang, I was immediately mortified (and oddly humored) by the other discovery in the Wanda Plaza shopping center: two stiff, choad-shaped manikins personifying what I assume the media depicts about Black people; and apparently we’re Cyclopes! Henceforth, those two will be known as Bonquiqui and Tyrone and this unique pair can be seen on display at a little boutique called Devilnut,

To be forthcoming, the images of the pistol, the unreal incisors and thug living passed on as a la moda fashion in the Black community is asinine; and the two Cyclopes’ attire of sagging jeans, bandanas and gaudy jewelry passed on as modern and cosmopolitan is a lie. All of these would have been acceptable if they weren’t coupled with the superfluous use of menacing tattoos, in particular the overt inscription of the word “NIGGAZ” on Tyrone’s chest, which is both ignorant and offensive. As if the three eyes and distasteful attire weren’t enough…

Whether by divine intervention or happenstance, I find it very enlightening to have discovered these two just hours after Fuji’s foretelling condemnation of my router’s name. The juxtaposition of those two occurrences allowed me to decipher Black images in the local media more clearly and rationally – couldn’t have me getting ghetto in China! Having seen Bonquiqui and Tyrone, I was immediately overwhelmed with more than one gut reaction, but due to both Fuji’s earlier objection and many of the China Urban articles on modernization in post-Mao China, calling the society racist was no longer one of them. Instead, I will say that this Chinese quest for modernity and cosmopolitanism has revealed to me two things: (1) there is an international image for Black people and it has infiltrated Chinese culture (so much that it is at the point where the word “nigga” in not only known, but has become a socially accepted term) and (2) they’re not at fault for adopting these images… we are.

I wouldn’t conclude by saying that when I am gawked and giggled at that the 上海人 are subconsciously (or God forbid, consciously) categorizing me with Bonquiqui and Tyrone because I don’t think that I embody anything that the mainstream media depicts about Blacks. (Plus with my high sex appeal and metrosexual tenets, I am undoubtably classier than those two monstrosities… but I don’t judge.) Confronting the transnational image that I’m compared to and thus competing against only reinforces my sentiments of being black abroad. As I informed Shanel, since the preconception of Black is skewed, it is our responsibility to serve as the iconoclast of the vulgarities that we’re associated with and create a new definition for Black.

Consumerism in Shanghai: A Universal Love for High Heels

I HATE dirty, unkempt feet. And yet, I am always looking down to observe foot-statuses. While feet range from aesthetically pleasing to outright monstrosities, I have involuntarily witnessed several offenses, much like the subconscious yet obligatory need to watch a car accident: regardless of how awful the scene, you still can’t help but take a peek. There is something emblematic about the condition of feet in relation to the sociocultural status of an international metropolis such as Shanghai.

Within the first 24 hours of landing, we found ourselves commuting everywhere, by foot. Just like millions of other pedestrians, we marched across the cobblestone pathways, which after miles of treading did much damage to our feet (well at least mine). Sore, dirty, and bruised, I couldn’t fathom how people, on a daily basis, were traveling much farther than us, and maintaining such an elegance and resilience about them. While on the other hand, after only a few hours, I was ready to throw in the towel.

But what really astounded me were all the women, who fashionably strut their stuff in high heels and wedges, as if the Shanghai streets were their own runways. In all honesty, the constant sight of well-dressed women in heels had me envious, and soon on the look out for sales at boutiques and stores that carry such delicious merchandise.

But wait, there’s a reason why I didn’t bring such shoes to begin with…they aren’t practical! If I am dying in flip flops and Sperry’s, what is the logical reason to purchase items I have at home? Clearly I have been sucked in by the dangerous allures of consumerism. Shielded by the Davidson Bubble, I have been largely estranged from shopping culture since I left Chicago. And while, yes, there are malls (somewhat) near Davidson (about 20-30 minutes away by car, of which I lack), the convenience of living in such a mega metropolis has truly enabled my inner (and outer) diva to indulge in consumer goodies.

The best (and worst) part is that there is no language barrier in shopping. You want; you buy (that is, unless you are shopping at boutiques and small markets where you must negotiate to avoid being suckered out of a good price). It intrigues me that the malls of Shanghai are so internationally diverse (more than 80 percent of the stores there, I had never even heard of, mostly because they are European). The variety of international brands and stores available, along with numerous fashion-forward models strutting across the city truly speaks on the image-conscious state of Shanghai. According to Lousia Schein, Shanghai has “an acute commodity desire linked to social status.” Susan Brownell further equates this desire to be seen as fashionable, urban, and modern to China’s yearning to take “it’s place on the cutting edge of global culture and style.”

So as I continue to attempt to subdue my fetish for high heels and wedges, at least I know I am not alone. Whether you want to strut your stuff across the city in banging heels, or rather rock Adidas; keeping up with your feet is a tell-tell sign of sociocultural status. To all you young urbanites, you are not alone! This is a global struggle! Victimizing young city goers everywhere, one consumer product at a time. Flashy advertisements of idealized models, athletes, and stars strengthen this dangerous allure. And while I am intellectually aware of such perils, the “glittering” Shanghai markets still captivate me.