Japanese-made cars overturned by Chinese protesters over the weekend. Photo shared on Chinese microblogging site Weibo.
The most relayed image of this weekend’s wave of anti-Japanese protests in China was that of protesters smashing Japanese made cars – including a police car. As the diplomatic row over the Diaoyu islands (known as the Senkaku islands in Japan) continues, Chinese Internet users are engaging in heated debates as to whether boycotting Japanese products is a viable way to protest.
The islands, which have long been in dispute, are little more than rocks located the East China Sea. However, they are prime real estate, as they are located in an oil-rich area and on an important shipping lane. Japan says it has administered the islands since the late 1890s, but China says they have been part of its territory since ancient times.
The current row began when Chinese patrol boats approached the islands in mid-July. Then, on August 15, Chinese activists landed on the uninhabited islands and were promptly arrested by the Japanese authorities. A few days later, Japanese activists landed on the island and planted their country’s flags there. This set off protests in the streets of several cities across China this weekend, some of which turned violent.
Though street protests have for now died down, more are planned for September 18. In the meantime, Chinese protesters are calling for the boycott of all Japanese products. Of course, there are also plenty of people in China who don’t care about the island dispute, or don’t think this form of protest will work. A poll on China’s equivalent of Twitter, Sina Weibo, asks its members: “Is boycotting Japan a good idea?” Most respondents – over 29,000 as of Tuesday evening – said no. However, those in favour of a boycott aren’t so far behind, at more than 23,000.
Screengrab of the poll on Tuesday evening.
Though the poll, launched by the site itself, remains on Sina Weibo’s front page, users can no longer search for the phrase “boycotting Japanese goods,” which has been censored. Nevertheless, “Will you boycott Japanese goods” ranks as the hottest topic on the site, as of Tuesday evening.
One of our Observers in China, Zhang Jing, weighed in on the street protests and the calls for a boycott:
I understand and support those who demonstrated peacefully. Citizens have the right to express their feelings, but aggressive behaviour in the protests must be stopped. Some people smashed Japanese made vehicles, and stormed Japanese restaurants. I ask, are these people really patriots?
Although many people took part in the demonstration, we can see that most people are just spectators, watching and taking photos, with just a few destroying Japanese made cars. They are relieving their discontent with their own lives, it is an excuse.
I believe boycotting Japanese goods is more of a neat slogan than anything else. We have to use Japanese goods in our daily life. Many TV sets, mobile phones and other digital products are made in Japan - it is impossible to boycott this country.
Here are some of the comments by Weibo users who responded to the poll:
"To those who say we shouldn’t link buying Japanese goods to patriotism: if a seller bullied your ancestor, and plans to plunder your riches now, will you obediently pay him money to buy his goods?"
"Some say boycotting Japanese goods is just starting now. Not for me! Japan never admitted to the Nanjing Massacre – in fact Japanese prime ministers worship the Yasukuni Shrine [the shrine honours the Japanese who died during World War II, including men convicted for war crimes]. I have not bought any Japanese goods for many years!"
"The Chinese landed the Diaoyu islands, then the Japanese arrested the Chinese. Japanese landed Diaoyu islands, then Chinese smashed their own vehicles. Please boycott the idiots first."
"Chinese businesses should work hard and innovate, instead of the Chinese boycotting Japanese goods. Who would choose foreign products over domestic products, if the quality were the same?"
So far, the calls for a boycott do not seem to have affected car sales. Huang Yi, the executive director of Zhongsheng Group, China’s largest seller of Toyota and Nissan cars, told the New York Times it has not yet seen any sign of a drop in sales of Japanese cars.  In the past decade, previous tensions between the two countries, the company reported, had only hurt sales for a day or two at most.
This photo, showing a Chinese protesting against Japan, has delighted many Weibo users, who have pointed out that his camera strap is from a Japanese brand.