One Forest, Two Tigers

When Japan’s government recently decided to ignore Chinese protests and allow Taiwan’s former president, Lee Teng-hui, to visit Japan, China lashed out at its Asian neighbor, even threatening retaliation. But this latest dispute is characteristic of a remarkable flurry of anti-Japanese activity in China since 2003.

That August, construction workers in Qiqihar mistakenly ruptured mustard gas canisters left from the wartime Japanese occupation, injuring dozens and killing at least one. The reaction by China’s public to the gory photos of the injured was furious. One million signatures were rapidly gathered on an Internet petition demanding that the Japanese government thoroughly resolve the chemical weapons issue, while Internet chat rooms filled with anti-Japanese invective.

Two weeks later, 400 Japanese businessmen hired as many as 500 local Chinese prostitutes for a weekend sex party in a Zhu Hai hotel. Racy reports in China’s press sparked another round of righteous fury, drawing on the trope of China as a raped woman, an image long suppressed under Mao. Occurring on the 72nd anniversary of the 1931 Mukden Incident that led to the Japanese occupation of Manchuria, 90% of Chinese respondents to an Internet poll said they believed that the Japanese businessmen intended to humiliate China.

The following month, at a party thrown by Northwestern University in Xian, three Japanese students and one of their Japanese teachers performed a skit, during which they pranced around the stage with red bras over their t-shirts. In Japan, such skits are apparently regarded as humorous; in China, the skit was seen as lewd and insulting. The Japanese students received death threats. Thousands of Chinese demonstrated on campus and through the city, shouting “Boycott Japanese goods!” and “Japanese dogs, get out!” A Japanese flag was burned outside the foreign students’ dorm. Even though the Japanese students apologized, they were expelled.