Diaoyu Islands

Mainland media's protest coverage looks inward

Protest coverage ran from calls for rational behaviour to tough questions on patriotism

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 September, 2012, 3:16am


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On Tuesday morning, CCTV's 9am newscast began with footage of the streets of Shenyang, the capital of Liaoning.

Traffic in the city - formerly known by its Manchu name, Mukden - ground to a halt at 9.18am as air raid sirens and car horns wailed in remembrance of the 1931 Mukden Incident, which marked the start of Japan's invasion of northern China. Work stopped and people bowed their heads to observe three minutes of silence. The newscast then switched back to the studio, with the anchor announcing that "National Humiliation Day" had started in a "solemn and silent" mood.

Before Tuesday, protests against Japan's claim to the disputed Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea had already swept across much of China. Demonstrators attacked Japanese department stores and car dealerships.

Authorities grew concerned the demonstrations could boil over, raising the risk of emboldened protesters turning on the government. CCTV sought to turn down the heat by encouraging mainlanders to "hold the bottom line" in "patriotic" demonstrations.

Bai Yansong, a popular commentator, said the violence on China's streets was upsetting. "This isn't the right way to show your love for this country," he said. "We need to love the country rationally."

It was a sentiment echoed by most of the mainland media, with The Beijing News saying "patriotism should be separated from irrational behaviour".

In an editorial, the newspaper - under the control of Beijing's city government - said the central government had already imposed several effective sanctions against Japan. However, resolving the matter would "still require a long process due to the complexity of the issue, and one cannot expect the whole task to be accomplished at one stroke".

It said shouting was no way to solve a territorial dispute and the focus should be on "making the nation stronger".

The China Youth Daily agreed, saying "self-improvement is the best response".

Both papers failed to mention some protesters not only shouted but also torched Japanese-branded cars.

Shenzhen's Daily Sunshine said on Tuesday China needed "more rational citizens" and carried a front-page appeal from Shenzhen police calling for people to act with maturity.

"Remember the humiliations, love China, unite together," it said. "But no more beating, smashing or looting."

The Southern Metropolis News went further by linking anti-Japanese sentiment to democratic aspirations. It warned that if society's passions were aroused too much, social order would collapse.

"Let's come back from the irrational demonstrations to reality," it said. "We should spend more time thinking about how to perfect our reforms … on a day of humiliation like this, we should understand a powerful China can only be created if reforms continue.

"We cannot give up the islands, but we need to build a great country with powerful citizens."

When editors of online news portals saw traditional print media boldly talking about reform and questioning the protesters' tactics, they realised they could do the same thing.

Tencent.com published an article that said: "Creating an atmosphere of panic is not patriotism."

It analysed nationalism on the mainland, suggesting the poor, the less educated, migrant workers and party members were more nationalistic than others.

Shen Gezhi , a popular young writer, wrote on his microblog the protesters' violent behaviour should be forgiven because nationwide demonstrations were rare on the mainland and must have had official sanction.

"Chinese people don't have much experience of protesting; they need some time to practise," Shen wrote.