Riots as Signals

Instapundit has provided us with pictures of the anti-Japanese riots in China. This news story quotes the Japanese government complaining that the Chinese knew well in advance that these riots were going to happen and “did nothing” to stop them. Japanese understatement at work. The official explanation is that the Chinese people are angry about Japanese textbooks. Maybe. There may be people who are upset about this. In China, however, an organized and disciplined “riot” like this is anything but a spontaneous expression of popular sentiment. The Chinese government is a hard-nosed authoritarian regime that picks and chooses who will get to have a riot and about what. A real riot would be met with immediate and lethal government force. The Chinese government decided to have “riots” after the United States bombed their embassy in Serbia, as I recall, and these were blatantly done with government cooperation and organization. The Chinese government uses “popular” violence as a way to have plausible deniability when it wants to send a violent signal to a foreign government. So why three weeks in a row of anti-Japanese riots? In this case, the Chinese government appears to be sending the Japanese business community a signal that its interests will be damaged if the Japanese government continues down the path of an anti-Chinese military alliance with the United States. China’s communists are well aware of Lenin’s dictum that the capitalist will sell you the rope to hang him with. Lenin was usually right. Why fight the Japanese Navy when you can get its business people to remove it from the fight before the fight begins? Let’s see if the Japanese crack.

UPDATE: Instapundit has an update linking to the email sent around to organize the “riot”.

16 thoughts on “Riots as Signals”

  1. Boyz,
    Instapundit has some pics you all ought to see. Notice the median age of the “rioters.” They all look like freshmen from Bei Da.

    Reynolds links to an on-the-scene blogger who tells us this rabble was roused in Shanghai, and not just in the North. I can’t help but feel that this is an attempt to knit China’s disparate regions together through fright of the “other.”

    Meanwhile, this NYT article (hat tip to Glen) describes spontaneous anti-government protest by an older generation in South East China.

    This multi-national amalgum could be on the verge of falling apart like a 3-dollar suitcase.

  2. Steve: “… on the verge of falling apart” I read this the exact opposite way. The government of China has harnessed public sentiment in ways that are helpful to it and focus anger on foreigners. I don’t see any reason to think this regime is anything but extremely strong and willing to use any means to stay in power.

  3. Lex, we may not know whose analysis is right for awhile.

    But I read the government-sponsored agitation as a sign of weakness Now if the protests had been spontaneous, then they’d represent a real sentiment among the Chinese people.

    But the fact they had to be cajoled, and their coincidence with real, spontaneous protests in the South East that reveal genuine citizens’ displeasure with the regime, both leave me suspicious.

    China’s communists have always relied on nationalism to garner support. My heart tells me these “riots” were staged to create the appearance of national unity, and support for the Chinese Communist Party.

  4. Lex, recently I and some buddies attempted a takeover of our nonprofit home owner’s association board by mailing out almost 400 proxy forms. Our established board majority was so threatened by this exercise in representative democracy that they undertook a concerted telephone campaign to discredit our mailing.

    This is the sort of manufactured “outcry” that the staged protests in China remind me of. So I believe that the more threatened an established power is, the more likely it is it will resort to organized theatrics.

    We only failed in our takeover by 6-bloody votes! So close.

  5. Boxer rebellion, deja-vu? It is blame the foreigner bogeyman a hundred years later.

    Also the Chinese communists are more worried if hundreds of thousands – sorry, millions – of young men (it is usually testosterones at work) who could potentially be without a job and also without a wife turned their anger towards the mandarins of Beijing.

    Folks – I see too much China-wants-to-overtake-America syndrome on this page. China has its own much deeper internal problems — the testosterone problem. China knows it can’t take on America, so it vents its anger on Japan and Taiwan. And given the facts that Japan, unlike Germany, can’t come to terms with her own past and Taiwan’s unique position, it is an opportunity for America to bring the two completely into America’s camp. Here is my suggestion: free trade, including free movement of labor, with both.

  6. The testosterone problem? The one created by the one child per family policy that resulted in 1.2 or more boys per girl? The policy that started in 1980? Let’s see, that means the first beneficiaries of that policy are now approaching 25 years of age. I’ll bet even the illiterate are reading the handwriting on the Great Wall by now. China is just starting to enter its era of testosterone overload.

    And does the fact that the Gini coefficient of China rose from a low level of 0.33 in 1980, to 0.40 in 1994, and to 0.46 in 2000. presage any other type of internal problems?

    How about the internal contradicitions in a government that is ostensibly dedicated to overthrowing the economic system that produced that wealth and inequality?

    And a population that will start declining in a couple of decades while India’s keeps growing?

    They’ve got a lot of problems and the safest thing to do for a governement that hasn’t the slightest idea of what to really do is focus all the frustrations arising from the problems on foreigners.

  7. While I agree that the government is complicit is the protests, they weren’t organized by the government at all. Yes, they can (and do) stop any protest that isn’t in line with Party objectives, but the rallies they create are far too boring.

    These anti-Japanese protests were fairly “spontaneous” in that it was completely student-organized. The Chinese student BBS pages are full of protest information. (These are the same boards where pro-democracy posts immediatley vanish).

    Also, while the hatred of Japanese may be fueled by the Party, the hatred is real. There are tons of stickers and posters here in Beijing that cry for embargos of Japanese goods. A few weeks ago, the subway was covered with old WWII pictures of Chinese heads severed by Japanese troops; the caption read that no true Chinese could buy Japanese products.

    I’ve gone to a few of the protests, but they were tamer than anything I’ve seen reported. The students there were disgustingly anti-Japanese. And yes, it was all 18-20year old male Chinese students (without girlfriends apparently). The anger seems silly to me, as these kids have had nothing done to them.

  8. Check out these photos in BBC. My favorite is picture 8 – the punk with the red Chinese flag(Link). This guy would have been killed (verdict: foreign decadence) by the commies if he was voicing his opinion against Beijing instead of Tokyo.

  9. Richard, Taiwan too is a Chinese society. The Gini coefficients for capitalist Taiwan in 1980 was 0.277, in 1994 was 0.318, and in 2000 was 0.325, all much lower than those in a so-called communist China. In contrast with China, Taiwan allows complete freedom of religion; unlike China, it has a full-blown liberal democracy; and it remains much wealthier and enjoys more economic equality than China to boot. Can anybody who is intellectually and morally honest give a convincing argument why the CCP has any right to continue to rule China? The Japanese killed millions of Chinese a half century ago. That was a terrible crime, and should not be forgotten. But far more recently, tens of millions of Chinese died under CCP rule. I would more impressed by the patriotism of Chinese youth if they asked the CCP to apologize to the nation for its crimes and misrule.

  10. X and Richard, could you provide a link to this “Gini coefficient.”
    It sounds suspiciously like some index of future progress, and is probably ripe for an intellectual deconstruction.

    That being said, X, you are right. The current uprise in anti-Japanese protests reminds me of the anti-semitism nurtured by the autocratic regimes of the middle east. It deflects public scrutiny outwards and away from the failures of the people in power.


  11. Steve, the Gini coefficient is a widely used statistical measure of income dsitribution.

    In an economy where the distribution of income is completely equal, the coefficient would be 0. The old Eastern European Soviet economies tended to have coefficients closer to 0 than to 1. The truly amazing thing was that even while Taiwan was undergoing trememdous bursts of capitalist development and becoming a wealthy economy, it had coefficients that were as low as Yugoslavia’s.

    Where only one person receives income and everyone else has no income at all, the coefficient would be 1. The Gini coefficients for Brazil, for instance, lie much nearer to 1 than to 0. My guess is if things don’t change, Brazil is China’s future.

    Hope this helps to clarify what this term means.

  12. Hey X, or anyone really,

    Do you know if anyone has separated the Urban and Rural sections for China’s Gini coefficient? I’d be really interested to see that. Everyone that’s near a fairly large city’s doing pretty well. But I don’t think it’s the same once you go out a few miles. From what I’ve seen, the people in charge there seem to be in command of a lot of money.

    Also, would the Gini coefficient take into account all the perks that gov’t officials get here? If it’s based at all on GDP then it wouldn’t (since gov’t workers don’t contribute to it). I think it’s a bit more difficult to calculate it for Communist countries.

  13. Folks – I see too much China-wants-to-overtake-America syndrome on this page.

    Sulai, I think you misinterpret some of this. I don’t think anyone here is projecting a war-with-China scenario, or secretly hoping for a war so we can kick some commie butt and show off our missiles & muscles.

    I think we’re all just fascinated with China’s economic growth and the growing contradiction of a communist dictatorship running an increasingly capitalist and decentralized society. How long can that last? What tools will the Chicoms bring to bear to retain political control?

    As we’ve all seen demonstrated so forcefully in the last 20 years, the stresses on a government like that build to enormous levels unbeknownst to outside observers. Then suddenly – crack! – the whole facade crumbles in a matter of days or weeks. Folks like that are capable of all sorts of shenanigans aimed at maintaining control, we all know that. No harm in discussing it. It helps us all see the situation more clearly by seeing it through everyone’s eyes.

    I suspect you see the curiosity, concern and scenario-speculation and mistake it for bloodlust.

  14. What Michael said. No bloodlust from me, either. Nor am I worried about China overtaking America. That is not the issue. A war with China would be a disaster, second only to appeasing China. I’m a Sinophile. I want China to be a prosperous, stable, free country that can live up to the great things in its own history. The biggest impediment to that happening is the current leadership. The founders of a dynasty are tough warriors, their grandchildren are pampered degenerates. The current leadership are the grandchildren of Maos warriors. They need to go. Regimes like this are unreliable and unstable and are capable of making stupid decisions that lead to war. It is up to us to make it very clear that any such war will fail. That way deterrance will hold in a crisis, and if it fails, it will allow us to prevail in the conflict. This regime will not go away, probably, without violence. Home-grown violence, not from us. We need to be patient and forceful about where the lines are, until the day that China can get the kind of government its long-suffering people need. In the meantime, trade, but keep your guns loaded.

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