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Nationalist fervour runs amok

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The nationalism has become so virulent that it even questions China's economic reforms. Several recent Chinese books have denounced globalization as an evil U.S. plot and an attempt to imprison China. Chinese trade negotiators were called "traitors" for leading China into the World Trade Organization. One analyst said the nationalists were reviving the spirit of the Boxers — the xenophobic rebels who slaughtered hundreds of Christians and others with alleged foreign connections in a famous revolt in 1900.

Mr. Gries argues that the Maoist "victor narrative," which glorified Communist victories over Japanese and Western imperialism, has been replaced since the mid-1990s by a new "victim narrative" that emphasizes China's suffering at the hands of Japanese and Western occupiers during a "Century of Humiliation."

While the anti-American feelings of many Chinese first exploded into the world spotlight in the violent protests against the U.S. bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999, most of the nationalist hostility today is aimed at Japan.

Even after decades of normalized relations and billions of dollars in Japanese economic aid to China, there is a mounting fury against Japan that goes beyond the historical memories of the Nanjing massacre and the Japanese invasion of the 1930s. In one recent survey, 53 per cent of Chinese respondents admitted to hating the Japanese.

"After a quarter-century of unprecedented economic growth, most Chinese no longer fear Japan, and a long-suppressed anger at Japan has resurfaced," Mr. Gries wrote. "Chinese animosity towards Japan is unquestionably out of control. . . . The Japan-bashers are ascendant. A winner-takes-all, show-no-mercy style reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution is prevalent."

The mood was symbolized by a 2001 incident in which Chinese actress and model Zhao Wei was photographed in a short dress with a large imperial Japanese flag imprinted upon it. The dress was created by an American designer and the photo was taken during a fashion shoot in New York, but none of that mattered to the enraged Chinese patriots, who used bricks and bottles to assault Ms. Zhao's house. One man assaulted the actress on stage during a New Year's Eve show, pushing her over and smearing her with excrement. "I don't think I did anything inappropriate," the man said later.

When liberal journalist Ma Licheng wrote an article in an academic journal in 2002 that criticized the anti-Japanese mood and called for rapprochement between China and Japan, he was immediately condemned as a "traitor." He suffered death threats, and his home address and telephone number were posted on the Internet, along with a call to burn down his house. He was obliged to quit his job and move to Hong Kong.

Other incidents swiftly followed. In 2003, the Patriots Alliance organized the first-ever attempt to send Chinese activists to land on the Diaoyu islands, a cluster of small volcanic islands controlled by Japan but claimed by China. (They are called the Senkaku islands in Japan.) The alliance also organized a Web-based petition against a Japanese bid to provide high-speed railway technology to China.

There was another outpouring of anti-Japanese rhetoric on the Internet in 2003 after a group of Japanese businessmen hired hundreds of Chinese prostitutes during a visit to southern China. And a few weeks later, when three Japanese students performed a risqué drag show during a university party in the city of Xian, there was an angry demonstration by 7,000 Chinese protesters who demanded an apology for the perceived insult to their national dignity.

Then came the violence of the China-Japan soccer match this summer, where fans burned Japanese flags, smashed the car window of a Japanese diplomat, waved theatrical swords, and sang martial songs with lyrics such as, "A big knife chops off the heads of the Japanese devils." China was forced to mobilize 12,000 soldiers and police officers to prevent rioting.

All of this is adding fuel to the campaigns of nationalists such as the Patriots Alliance. In an interview in a Beijing coffee shop, Mr. Lu wore a black T-shirt with a nationalist rallying cry in small white characters. "Protect the Diaoyu islands," the slogan proclaimed.

Despite a strict ban on political activism in China, the patriots have been free to display their slogans on their chests. "Nobody tells us not to wear such T-shirts," Mr. Lu says.

He sees the rise of China as a rightful return to its place as the dominant force in the world.

"The United States is afraid of our long history," he says. "China has had over 5,000 years of history, and our backward period was only the past 200 years. During the rest of our history, we were the world's leader."

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