Thousands of Chinese protesters besieged the Japanese embassy in Beijing on Saturday, pelting it with stones, eggs and bottles as tempers rose over disputed islands in the East China Sea.
Riot police with shields and batons sealed off the compound, sporadically clashing with demonstrators who chanted and waved Chinese flags and placards. A handful rushed past a police barricade but were quickly removed by plainclothes officers.
Hundreds took to the streets in other cities around China, with reports of attacks on Japanese-owned businesses.
Japan already controls the uninhabited islands, which it refers to as the Senkaku and China calls the Diaoyu, but announced plans to buy them from their private owners this week.
Hundreds of paramilitary police, ordinary officers and security guards initially struggled to maintain order at the embassy in Beijing, but later marshalled protesters into smaller groups that marched up and down the closed-off road, chanting anti-Japanese slogans and pumping their fists. A few in the youthful crowd bore pictures of Mao Zedong and banners and placards ranged from the provocative — “For the respect of the motherland, we must go to war with Japan” — to the more polite: “Behave yourself, Japanese!”
Another observed: “The Japanese people are friendly, the Japanese government are dogs’ dicks.”
Some recalled the atrocities committed by Japan when it occupied China in the 1930s and 1940s.
“We’ve always hated Japan. Japan invaded China and killed a lot of Chinese. We will never forget,” protestor Liu Gang told Reuters.
While China rarely allows street protests, it has a history of tolerating anti-Japanese demonstrations. “I think the government is encouraging this,” one protester, who gave his name as Uda Chen, told Reuters. “They could have stopped all of us approaching when we were at the subway station. The government has taught us to be anti-Japanese at school, so if they want us to stop it would be like slapping their own mouths,” he added.
Around the corner, police guarded Japanese restaurants, which had hung up Chinese flags and signs reading: “The Diaoyu Islands belong to China”.
China’s state news agency Xinhua and Japan’s Kyodo news agency reported sizeable protests in cities, including Xi’an, Nanjing, Qingdao and Kunming. Microbloggers and Japanese media reported outbreaks of violence, including attacks on a Japanese-owned department store in Changsha and restaurants in Hangzhou. In Shanghai, police sealed off the consulate but allowed small groups at a time to approach and protest.
Protests broke out in China last month after Chinese and then Japanese activists landed on the islands. But tensions escalated when Tokyo’s nationalist governor, Shintaro Ishihara, announced a plan to buy the islands and build on them. The central government then said it would buy the group but leave them undeveloped, hoping to stave off conflict with China.
Both governments face popular nationalist pressure, particularly given the impending elections in Japan and this autumn’s leadership transition in China.
But experts say both are keen to avoid a major confrontation. While China sent surveillance vessels into disputed waters on Friday, it withdrew them after a few hours.
Beijing saw small protests earlier this week and there are calls for further demonstrations on Tuesday, the anniversary of 1931’s Mukden incident – the small explosion engineered by Japan as a pretext for invading northern China.
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk
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