Since Japan’s government announced plans Monday to buy and “nationalize” several unpopulated islands near Okinawa that are also claimed by China, officials in Beijing have been issuing stiff, dry statements denouncing the move. The government dispatched coast guard surveillance vessels to the area in a somber assertion of force. State-run TV has even started offering weather forecasts for the small outcroppings, inhabited by goats and birds.
But Chinese citizens have been showing a lot more, ahem, flair in their grassroots efforts to voice their passion -- and cynicism -- over the issue.
Online, blogs and forums have been abuzz over various protests. In Shanghai, an angry man was said to have driven his own Honda Civic to a local dealership and set the vehicle afire; photos of the burning auto, in front of a banner reading, “Don’t forget our national shame,” were circulated on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like service.
In Shenzhen, there were reports of several Japanese-made cars being smashed (though some skeptical netizens wondered whether rival vendors of other auto brands, rather than fervent nationalists, were behind the vandalism).
Tour groups from Hainan and Jiangsu provinces said they were canceling plans to visit Japan in early October, when China celebrates its National Day holiday. A couple in Kunming told the state-run Xinhua news agency that they had canceled a wedding photo shoot because the studio couldn’t meet their demand to take their pictures with cameras not made by Japanese companies.
For those unwilling to set a match to their means of transportation, cancel their vacation plans or alter their nuptials, web users were encouraging fellow Chinese to “show their patriotism” by illegally downloading adult Japanese videos, saying doing so would deprive Japanese smut-sellers of revenue.
A report about a protest at Shangqiu Normal University in Henan province showed demonstrators holding up a red banner on Tuesday with the slogan “Diaoyu islands belong to China only; Aoi Sora belongs to the whole world!” Sora – whose name means “Blue Sky” -- is a Japanese adult video star.
Japan’s government, which has been leasing the islands southwest of Okinawa for years from the Japanese titleholders, said Monday it would buy them. The uninhabited outcroppings are believed to be located near rich natural gas deposits. Taiwan also claims sovereignty over the islands, which Japan calls Senkaku. (Taiwan's coast guard said two of its ships sailed Thursday to waters near the islands to "demonstrate an ability to protect local fishermen.")
A number of Chinese celebrities have taken up the banner of the islands. Actress Li Bingbing said she had skipped the Tokyo premiere of “Resident Evil: Retribution” last week in an expression of solidarity.
“I do not like to break an appointment, but after what had happened to the Diaoyu Islands, I did not feel like going. It is something I cannot stand and I thank the film company for their understanding,” Li was quoted by the Chinese media as saying.
One particularly strident and widely circulated rant against Japan’s moves on the islands, ascribed to high-profile Chinese news commentator Bai Yansong, urged citizens to stop buying Japanese brands, since “every time we buy 100 yuan worth of Japanese products, we are sending five of them to the Japanese government, they can make 10 more bullets, and distort eight pages of text books. If you bought Japanese cars, the Japanese tanks patrolling in the street in China in the future would be made by you.”
The comments were later disavowed by Bai on his microblog, saying “these messages are sent by someone else using my name. It has nothing to do with me.”
All the hype about the distant, depopulated islets was irrating some who regard the froth as a distraction engineered by politicians to divert public attention from more fundamental issues.
The Chinese artist and dissident Ai Weiwei posted a pithy remark on his Twitter account. “Tiananmen Square is not even yours," he said to followers on Wednesday. "What you need the Diaoyu islands for?”
-- Julie Makinen
Tommy Yang and Nicole Liu contributed to this report.
Photo: Sports cars bearing anti-Japanese messages drive past the Japanese Embassy in Beijing as protests continue over the Diaoyu Islands. Credit: Mark Ralston / AFP/GettyImages