Football hooliganism and nationalism create a witch's brew that, until lately, has rarely been sipped in Asia. That changed at the recent Asian Football Cup. Wherever Japan's players went, they were met by hostile crowds, which culminated in the championship match with China before a huge - and hugely hostile - crowd in Beijing. This is especially worrisome because, unlike elsewhere in the world, official manipulation helps fan the flames of nationalism in China.
Young Chinese have been thoroughly indoctrinated with anti-Japanese sentiments. China's former President Jiang Zemin systematically and relentlessly pursued a "Resistance and Victory-over-Japan Campaign" throughout the 1990's - a sinister device used to divert popular grievances and to legitimize continuing Communist rule by making the Party appear to be the defender of Chinese honor.
At the same time, the ancient sense of cultural superiority that runs in Chinese veins makes feelings of inferiority hard to bear. With China's growing sense of itself as a superpower, resentment about the country being poorer and less admired than some other nations has become intolerable.
Now the young people who make up the vanguard of China's economic modernization are also nationalist-minded football hooligans. Instead of providing an early showcase of decent spectator manners for the Beijing Olympics of 2008, the Asian Cup provided a glimpse at the rage that seethes beneath China's economic boom - and exposed the government's inability to control its increasingly restless people.