- LUSHAN, China -- At first
glance, it seemed authentic: a thatched cottage, more than a century old,
marking the site where the Japanese military won control of a strategic
port in northern China in 1905.
- The cottage had me fooled. But like so many other things
in China, it was a clever imitation. The real cottage - where a Russian
commander had signed a formal surrender to the Japanese army in the port
of Lushun on Jan. 5, 1905 - had been dismantled as war booty and shipped
back to Japan many decades ago. China later built a near-perfect replica
of the cottage and made it into a museum.
- As I gazed at the counterfeit cottage, I was puzzled
at first. Why would China go to such lengths to preserve a symbol of its
national humiliation - its failure to prevent Japan and Russia from carving
up its northeastern provinces in the early years of the 20th century?
- The answer was in the propaganda posters that are prominently
displayed inside the cottage in an effort to provoke Chinese outrage at
the misdeeds of foreigners. Nationalism is a potent weapon in today's China,
and the government can never resist another chance to fan the flames.
- "Two imperialist powers fought tooth-and-nail on
the land of Lushun for the evil purpose of invading and occupying Chinese
territory," one sign proclaims. "We preserve this old site to
teach our descendants to remember history and go all-out to make our country
- As a foreigner in China myself, I've noticed that China
has an awkward love-hate relationship with all things foreign. On the one
hand, the Chinese are fascinated by foreigners. English signs on shops
and restaurants are fashionable and prestigious. American-style housing
suburbs are all the rage. Western sports stars and Hollywood celebrities
have massive fan followings here. After decades of Maoist isolation, the
Chinese are eagerly travelling to foreign countries, studying English,
watching Hollywood movies, eating Western food and listening to Western
- At the same time, the Chinese can instantly turn hostile
to foreigners at any perceived slight. Huge national scandals frequently
erupt when a foreigner is seen as disrespecting China or its people, even
in relatively petty incidents such as traffic accidents or street disputes.
- I suppose the quick anger is understandable. Going back
to the Opium Wars and the foreign-controlled treaty ports of the 19th century,
on through the Japanese invasions of the 20th century, the Nanjing massacre
of 1937 and the American bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in
1999, China has plenty of legitimate grievances against foreigners, and
plenty of reasons to feel suspicious and insecure.
- It is China's relationship with Japan that most often
reveals these raw emotions. Anything that can be portrayed as a Japanese
insult or Japanese arrogance is swiftly seized upon by the Chinese media,
often provoking a national controversy.
- Prostitution, for example, is routinely accepted in every
major Chinese city, with the police turning a blind eye to it - except
when Japanese customers are involved. An incident in the city of Zhuhai
in September, when hundreds of Japanese tourists hired Chinese prostitutes
during a three-day visit, sparked an uproar across the country. Chinese
Web sites were inundated with thousands of furious messages from outraged
citizens who saw it as a national insult.
- There was a widespread belief (without evidence) that
the Japanese had deliberately arranged the incident near the anniversary
of Japan's 1931 occupation of Manchuria in an intentional effort to humiliate
China. The response was swift. Within a few weeks, suspects were arrested,
a trial was held, and heavy prison sentences - including two life sentences
- were imposed on 14 Chinese citizens who had arranged the prostitutes,
while arrest warrants were issued for three Japanese men.
- In a similar incident a short time later, a mob of 1,000
people marched through the streets of the Chinese city of Xian after three
Japanese students had performed a bawdy skit at a local university. The
mob was convinced that the students were somehow mocking or insulting China.
- And when some Chinese were poisoned by Japanese chemical
weapons that were left over from the Second World War, more than 1 million
people put their names on petitions on the Chinese Internet to protest
the incident and demand compensation.
- Even Canadians can be swept up in the anti-foreigner
hostility. In late December, a Canadian teacher in the Chinese island of
Hainan was surrounded by a mob of 500 people when he got into a confrontation
with bystanders after a car accident in which he was a passenger. After
much pushing and shoving, he struck someone and the mob got angrier. Within
a few hours, it was a national scandal. Photos of the Canadian teacher
were posted on one of China's biggest web sites, and more than 1,460 people
wrote angry messages to the Web site.
- "Ugly and arrogant foreigners will be beaten,"
one person warned. Another complained: "There are countless cases
where Chinese people are insulted by foreign dog."
- The incident was compounded by the fact that the Canadian
teacher was black. Many of the comments on the Web site were full of racist
curses. Hundreds demanded that criminal charges should be filed against
- When I spoke to the teacher, he was still shaken by the
fury of the mob. Yet he had decided to stay in China. He had too many Chinese
friends, and everyone assured him that the incident would pass. No charges
were laid. In the complex psychology of China's relationship with foreigners,
the brief moment of fury was over.
- © 2003 Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc. All Rights