Origins of the April 2005 Anti-Japanese Protests in the People’s Republic of China
中华人民共和国 在二零零五年四月抗议日本运动的起源

by Aron Patrick


In the month of April 2005, the streets of major cities in the People’s Republic of China erupted in popular demonstrations of anti-Japanese sentiment. The protests began on Saturday April 9 in Beijing where organized crowds estimated greater than 10,000 strong vandalized Japanese businesses, banks, and restaurants,  and attempted to storm the residential compound of the Japanese Ambassador. The following weekend on April 16 in the nation’s commercial capital Shanghai, paramilitary police stood by as an estimated 20,000 protesters overturned Japanese cars, and damaged Japanese shops and restaurants. Demonstrators gathered outside the Japanese Consulate in Shanghai, stoned the building and burned the Japanese flag in the streets outside chanting “Japanese invaders must die.” Other anti-Japanese demonstrations were held in dozens of cities throughout the PRC in this same time period, though some are better described simply as riots rather than manifestations of public sentiment.

State-controlled media incited the people’s fury with subjective reports of Japanese offenses in both the present and distant past. In a confusing fog of facts and fabrication, assertions were made that the Japanese simply “never apologized” for wartime atrocities, are now actively revising accounts of their violent history of aggression against the Chinese people, are seeking permanent membership status in the United Nations Security Council, and are remilitarizing as a threat to Chinese national security. In China’s decentralized neoauthoritarian developmental autocracy, where inequitable development has hardly changed the lives of large portions of the population from those of their ancestors, this renewed “rally around the flag effect” behind the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has served to divert some of the people’s discontent away from the collusive and corrupt misdeeds pervasive among their unelected leadership toward a century-old foreign enemy. The exact extent to which the Party strategically used anti-Japanese nationalism to strengthen the Party’s own legitimacy and to what extent the Party was itself motivated by nationalist passions of the Chinese people will most likely never be known. What is unmistakably clear today in the People’s Republic of China however is that it is still the CCP alone that wields absolute control over the military, media, and all avenues for public discourse. While in the end, the CCP reluctantly called upon the People’s Armed Police to halt the protests so as not to severely destabilize the nation or its economic ties with Japan, evidence suggests that the CCP rekindled the sixty-year-old fires of anti-Japanese sentiment and ignited the dangerous flames of xenophobic nationalism in an effort to bolster the Party’s own legitimacy further ensuring its highest priority of regime security.

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This essay is also cited in:
World Politics, Volume 59, Number 4, July 2007, p. 650

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Copyright © 2006 Aron Patrick