China tightens control over civil society amid rising nationalism | Asia | An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW

Nationalist sentiment appears to be on the rise in China, at a time when countries in the Indo-Pacific region are already expressing concerns about Beijing’s aggressive military posture.

In the past week, two incidents associated with anti-Japanese sentiments have sparked much discussion on the Chinese internet.

On August 15, a video emerged showing a Chinese woman arrested by police for wearing a traditional Japanese kimono dress while taking photos in the city of Suzhou. She reportedly cosplayed a character from a manga series.

In the video, the policeman was seen yelling at the woman that if she had been wearing Hanfu (traditional Chinese clothing), he wouldn’t have stopped her from posing for photos. “But you wear a kimono. Are you Chinese? If you don’t comply, you cause trouble. Please come with us,” the police shouted angrily at the woman.

The woman, who is an active user of the Chinese social media platform Weibo, later wrote that she had been “educated” at the police station for five hours and that the police searched for content on her phone. She was released around midnight the next day.

Negative sentiments towards Japan on the rise?

Millions of netizens in China watched the video and some wondered if the police overreacted. “I would never imagine that someone could be arrested for wearing a Japanese kimono in Suzhou. This huge country cannot tolerate a woman wearing a kimono,” one Chinese netizen wrote on Weibo.

“Who is the one causing trouble? If it (wearing a kimono in public) causes trouble, should they close all the Japanese restaurants on the street first?” another user wrote.

Hu Xijin, former editor of the Chinese tabloid world timeswrote on Weibo that there is no legal reason to ban a kimono, but he also noted that given growing tension between Japan and China over Tokyo’s close cooperation with states United on Taiwan-related issues, negative feelings toward Japan are growing in China.

While it’s unclear whether the police’s arguments reflect China’s official position, the fact that he hasn’t been punished for overexerting his power shows that Beijing doesn’t want to punish people within. of its own system, said Yaqiu Wang, senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch (HRW).

“In order to ensure the loyalty of people in the system, the Chinese authorities are ready to protect those who have violated the regulations,” she noted, adding, “This is Beijing’s way of protecting the system.” .

The brand apologizes for its alleged attempt to be “Japanese”

On August 18, Chinese retail brand Miniso, which has characterized itself as a Japan-inspired merchandise retailer, issued an apology through a statement after its Spanish Instagram account posted a photo of dolls in which Chinese netizens claimed the brand mislabeled a doll wearing traditional costume. Chinese outfit called qipao as “Japanese geisha doll”.

Facing intense online backlash, Miniso released a lengthy statement, apologizing for “going the wrong way” at the foundation stage with its brand positioning and pledging to “do a good job for the export of Chinese culture and values”.

The latest incidents reflect anti-Japanese sentiment that has existed in China for decades, said Ting Guo, a China studies scholar at the University of Toronto. “It’s not that new, because we’ve seen waves of anti-Japan sentiment come out in China,” she said.

Analysts say the timing of rising anti-foreign sentiment in China likely reflects Beijing’s political needs. “When the Chinese government needs anti-Japanese sentiment as a symbol of its statement to the outside world, it will elicit such sentiment,” said Teng Biao, a U.S.-based Chinese human rights lawyer.

“Even when there is no specific incident, the Chinese Communist Party may need anti-Japanese sentiment to divert domestic political disputes or public attention. It is a common practice in authoritarian regimes and the timing is often chosen carefully,” he added.

Since Miniso released the statement, Chinese netizens have continued to question the sincerity of the brand’s apology. “How about clarifying the brand’s country of origin as well?” Why does a Chinese brand keep claiming it’s from Japan,” one user wrote on Weibo.

“Even though the company thinks that its packaging design based on Japanese style can help its sales, it is only a concept. Please don’t pretend to be a Japanese company. Japanese style is not flawless. Our own culture is more beautiful.” another netizen commented under Miniso’s Weibo post.

Using nationalism to create a social echo chamber

Besides using nationalism to achieve certain political goals, Teng Biao said the Chinese authorities’ attempt to interfere with citizens’ personal choices is a phenomenon that usually occurs in a totalitarian country. “While many people will be unhappy with the government’s intervention, the majority of Chinese are unable to criticize the authorities’ inappropriate behavior,” he said.

“Although many people feel very worried about the logic behind the kimono incident in Suzhou, such thinking and worry will not become commonplace. The fervent patriotism and anti-Japanese sentiment are much stronger,” said added the lawyer.

HRW’s Wang and University of Toronto’s Guo both believe that by stoking nationalist sentiment, Beijing wants to create a social echo chamber in China where there is no room for alternative voices, experts say . “A lot of people are afraid of being targeted by nationalist netizens online, so they choose to keep quiet,” Wang said. “One of the effects of nationalism is the chilling effect.”

Guo said that while support for China’s MeToo movement and other similar issues remains active, government pressure, censorship and control of the public sphere will always turn China into a more monotonous civil society. “It cultivates an awareness of what you can do and what you can’t do,” she said. “It’s one of the by-products of today’s top-down nationalism.”

Teng Biao said that the Chinese government will continue to strengthen nationalism and anti-Western sentiment in the near future, and it also means there will be more government intervention in the daily lives of Chinese citizens, as has been shown. showed the kimono incident. “The authorities will do more to interfere with the thoughts and ideas of the Chinese people, and there will be more of them in the future.”

Edited by: Srinivas Mazumdaru

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