BEIJING -- Anti-Japan protests spread to dozens more Chinese cities Sunday, as thousands of demonstrators agitated by the Japanese government’s plan to buy several uninhabited islands near Taiwan marched in front of diplomatic compounds, attacked Japanese businesses and burned Japanese flags.
In the southern city of Guangzhou, demonstrators stormed into the first two floors of a complex that houses the Japanese consulate, breaking windows in a hotel and smashing a vehicle. In nearby Shenzhen, police fired tear gas and used a water cannon to disperse a large crowd of marchers. Japanese factories, grocery shops, restaurants and car dealerships were reported damaged in a number of cities, including Qingdao.
In Beijing, more than 1,000 marchers waving flags and carrying banners gathered for a second straight day in front of the Japanese Embassy, hurling water bottles at the building and chanting slogans such as “Knock down the little Japanese,” “Long live the People’s Republic of China” and “China will prevail.”
A number of the marchers, most of whom were young men, carried pictures of Mao Zedong. Others wore shirts urging the boycott of Japanese products. Hundreds of Chinese police and security officers, some in black SWAT uniforms and others in camouflage gear and holding riot shields, lined the protest route and kept marchers circulating back and forth past the embassy building as a helicopter flew overhead. Scores of neighborhood watch volunteers, with red armbands pinned to their shirtsleeves, also patrolled the area.
On a nearby commercial street, Japanese restaurants were shuttered, with some hiding their signs behind tarps. Others hung Chinese flags and banners in front of their stores.
In front of the Kurazen sushi restaurant, which was closed and adorned with a large red banner reading “The Diaoyu islands are China’s,” dozens of onlookers snapped photos. A few doors down, neighborhood watch members used a ladder to cover up the placard of a Japanese BBQ restaurant called Ours.
“The Diaoyu islands themselves are not so important, but I do think Japan is trying to bully China,” said an 18-year-old university student surnamed Wen who came to watch the protest but not participate. “Still, I feel bad about these restaurants because it is Chinese people who work in them.”
Tensions have been rising since Japan’s government announced a plan last week to purchase what it calls the Senkaku islands from the Japanese family that has controlled them for decades. China has protested the move at the United Nations and sent vessels to the area in an expression of force. Taiwan, which also claims the islands, has also sent ships to nearby waters.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, speaking on a talk show on national broadcaster NHK on Sunday, called on China to ensure the safety of Japanese citizens and businesses in China. Japan’s consulate in Shanghai has reported that a number of Japanese citizens have been harassed in recent days, including one who had a bowl of hot noodles with soup thrown at him and another who was kicked on the street. The consulate urged citizens to not take taxis alone and to not speak loudly in Japanese while in public.
The protests are expected to continue at least through Tuesday, when China will mark the anniversary of an incident in 1931 that began Japan's 14-year occupation of the mainland.
Large-scale protests of any kind are rare in China. Although the government basks in such expressions of nationalism, it strives to ensure such gatherings do not morph into larger outpourings of discontent.
In a sign that the protests may be pushing officials toward the edge of their comfort zone, an opinion piece carried by the state-run New China news agency on Sunday counseled that “wisdom is needed in the expression of patriotism” and that “Chinese people should be rational and obey the law when expressing patriotic feelings, and they should abstain from ‘smashing and looting.’”
A number of protesters in Shenzhen and Guangzhou had issues beyond the disputed islands, such as corruption and high housing prices, on their minds. One photo circulated on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like microblog service, showed a man at a demonstration wearing a shirt reading: "I'm willing to feed the corrupted officials and become a housing slave, but I will never give up on the Diaoyu islands."
On Weibo, many users expressed dismay at the destruction of Japanese businesses and property and harassment of Japanese citizens. Reports on Weibo that one of the organizers of the demonstrations in the city of Xi’an was a police officer prompted questions about how involved the government was in facilitating the gatherings.
-- Julie Makinen
Tommy Yang in the Times Beijing bureau contributed to this report.
Photo: Demonstrators outside the Japanese Embassy in Beijing on Sunday. (Julie Makinen/Los Angeles Times)