We're Rational Critics, Not Angry Young People
As anti-Japanese demonstrations erupt across mainland China, Hong Kong netizens prefer a cooler approach.
Ever since the renewed conflict over the Diaoyutai Islets, anti-Japanese demonstrations have exploded in mainland China. Anti-Japan sentiment abounds at websites such as the Strong Nation Forum, indicating the presence of a subtle interaction between the Chinese government and its citizens that is both cooperative as well as oppositional over nationalism...
Actually, many Hong Kong netizens (including those who are pan-democrats) do not agree with the anti-Japanese reasoning of mainland Chinese netizens, with many describing themselves as "moderate anti-Japanese elements". Most of them regard themselves as "rational critics" and they label the rabid mainland nationalists as "angry young people" and "shitty young people".
They do their best to show their difference. Hong Kong netizens like to compare the mainland Chinese angry young man with the Japanese right wingers. One netizen wrote: "Perhaps the angry young men and the ultra-rightists are very similar types of people. They start off from their nationalist sentiments and they attack people because of who they are and not what the facts are. The only difference is that they hold different positions on certain things...people who don't even want to think for themselves are the same everywhere."
The Strong Nation Forum, which is a frequent target of sarcasm from Hong Kong netizens, represents the nationalistic sentiments of certain netizens. They reflect the fact that netizens are dissatisfied with government policies. They also have functional capabilities, such as mobilising anti-Japan activities. Several years ago, the Strong Nation Forum issued this broad invitation: "The United Nations Secretary-General Annan has clearly expressed his support for Japan to become a permanent member of the Security Council. We invite compatriots to sign on to protest...even if you won't sign, you can pass along this message and do your bit."
As a result of the current Diaoyutai incident, there have been repeated calls to boycott Japanese goods. In 2005, there were anti-Japan demonstrations in Shenzhen, Beijing and other places. Recently, there were anti-Japanese activities in Chengdu, Xian, Mianyang and other cities. All these activities showed the impact of the Internet.
In Hong Kong, even though Internet mobilisation has matured especially with the July 1st marches over the years, there has been no active use of the Internet to organize anti-Japan demonstrations. Hong Kong netizens are proud of their highly civilized manners at demonstrations and they regularly regard anti-Japan demonstrations as unruly and uncivilized, causing more negativity than positivity: "Those from Hong Kong and Taiwan who want to defend the Diaoyutai Islets are patriots, too. Have the mainlanders considered what the effects of their demonstrations are? Will their loud noises make the Japanese government abandon sovereign rights over the Diaoyutai Islets? They ought to come up with better ways. Nationalism is not extremism!"
There are many reasons why Hong Kong netizens are cool towards anti-Japan nationalism. Many people think that the Hong Kong Internet is monopolised by pan-democrats and therefore lack nationalistic sentiments, but this is wrong. On the contrary, the Hong Kong pan-democrat netizens are the ones who are saying that China is inadequately defending the Diaoyutai Islets.
Hong Kong netizens have not resorted to rabid anti-Japanese nationalism over the Diaoyutai Islets because regular Hong Kong citizens have deeper understanding of the Japanese position than mainland netizens other than individual intellectuals. For example, when Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi went to pay his respects at the Yasukuni Shrine, opposition came from the top leaders down to regular netizens in China. At the Strong Nation Forum, many mainland netizens think that the tribute was to Class A war criminals like Hideki Tojo out of religious reasons.
But many moderate anti-Japan Hong Kong netizens believed that this type of tribute was just "normal activity" for the Japanese and they did not impute any political significance: "I am not defending Japan. In truth, it was is easy to understand why people would pay respect to the souls of war heroes. Whether or not they are Class A war criminals is not the issue. The only issue is the social status of Junichiro Koizumi. If he were an ordinary citizen, everybody can accept his act. Right or not? If so, then why are we still arguing over this endlessly?"
Japan is Hong Kong's third-largest trading partner after China and the United States. Conversely, Hong Kong is Japan's ninth-largest trading partner. Being anti-Japan is trendy in mainland China and some mainlanders repel Japanese culture (interestingly, they become more amenable to South Korean idols). Hong Kong and Japan have intensive financial and trade ties. Since the 1970s, Japanese culture has formed organic ties with the home-grown Hong Kong culture. Japanese films, idols, music, television shows and games are part of the local Hong Kong identity. Even during the Defend Diaoyutai Movement in Hong Kong in the 1970s, the Hong Kong people were not re
ally opposing Japan; instead, they were seeking affirmation of their own Hong Kong identity.
Interestingly enough, this is also a time when Japan trend is booming in Hong Kong. The co-existence of anti-Japan politics and pro-Japan culture makes Hong Kong people cognizant of the de-linking of politics from economic and cultural issues. So when mainland netizens call to boycott Japanese goods, that is incomprehensible here in Hong Kong.
Source: Yazhou Zhoukan
This post was originally published on ESWN in October 2010.