On Flag-Burners and the National Interest

Posted: August 17, 2012 in Politics
Tags: , ,

For the past few days I’ve been following the latest installment of “China territorial lunacy.” This is where someone goes to disputed rocks barely sticking above the ocean surface (that global warming will undoubtedly soon submerge), at which point opposing country’s authorities throw gas on the fire by ramming a boat or arresting people. Nationalists in both countries proceed to scream for boycotts/military intervention/nuclear annihilation of the other side.

In this particular case, Chinese activists went to plant flags on Diaoyu Island rocks and Japan opted to create martyrs by arresting them.

I don’t have an opinion on ownership of the Diaoyu Islands, nor do I care to form one. But I always take interest in the consistently childish and baffling reactions by the concerned governments and nationalistic citizens.

This also happened in 2010 when Japan arrested a Chinese ship captain who ventured into Diaoyu territory. As it was unfolding, I got on my renren (Chinese Facebook) account and noticed one of my old students had posted a picture of people burning a home-made Japanese flag.

I left a comment on it saying, “Still so much stupidity in the world.”

He responded saying, “Not stupidity. Attitude.”

I’d originally just glanced at the picture and assumed it was something he’d found online, but after he said that, I noticed that he and a few more of my old students were actually in the picture.

I pushed further: “An attitude of ignorance?”

“No. We’re showing them our attitude,” he replied. “About the fisherman and for what they did to us in Nanjing. You’d feel the same way if Japan attacked your country [the US].”

I mulled how to explain all the things that were twisted about that statement, but at that point in my China life I had the sense to realize it was pointless. So instead, over a long series of posts, I basically said this:

Let’s say you’re 100% right on the fisherman issue. Diaoyu 100% belongs to China and it’s the Japanese who are 100% out of line. Let’s ponder what you’ve just accomplished in burning that flag (or for that matter, screaming obscenities, waving hateful banners or throwing things at embassies).

In your mind, do you imagine people in Japan see that and think, “Golly gee wilikers! The Chinese sure are serious about those islands belonging to them… even though we’ve been led to believe our whole lives that they belong to us. Now that they’ve burned the symbol of our nation, let’s capitulate!”

Outside Japanese embassy in Beijing, September, 2010

Imagine seeing them burn the Chinese flag. Of course you wouldn’t think that and neither do they. Seeing their flag in flames only makes them angrier, strengthens their resolve and drives them to take more extreme measures to get their way. No one likes to feel defeated. And if there were any Japanese who didn’t care about the issue before, they’ve now been given reason to care and support leaders who oppose your cause.

Now let’s think about the rest of the world. TV cameras don’t tend to focus on the 99.99% that just stay home and don’t do anything antagonistic. They focus on you flag-burning, banner-waving nationalists because it’s an exciting image. So you’ve just become prominent representatives of China.

Like me, most people outside the two concerned countries couldn’t care less about the Diaoyu Islands. But after they see you hatefully burning a national symbol, those who are indifferent or unknowledgeable about the issue now sympathize with Japan and get the impression that China is a bunch of ignorant crazies. To those who know better, you’ve at least made yourself look incredibly stupid.

So why don’t you try something that requires a bit more intelligence than painting a red circle and setting it on fire? For instance, you could write a calm and well-reasoned commentary, then submit it to outlets where it will be read by Japanese. Then the pressure would be off your own leaders and they too could take a calmer, more peaceful approach.

But no. You took the lazy mindless route and call yourself a patriot for it. Patriots think things through and do things that actually SERVE their country’s interests. People who blindly do things that HARM the interests they claim to fight for are called idiots.

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  1. Markus says:

    The only thing more boring than nationalists… are Asian nationalists.

  2. taichicard says:

    You must have liked this “China” much to have written this blog. It’s a just call. I enjoyed reading it.

  3. James says:

    Seeing people who you know to be rational behaving irrationally is deeply disappointing.

    I had a similar experience with friends in China.

  4. jlemien says:

    Well said, Eric. Hear, hear!

  5. Cliff says:

    Well written. I think some politicians love to see reactions like those of your students. It is easy to understand why some might react this way considering the terrible treatment the Japanese heaped on China prior and during WW2, but your arguments against such action would produce a more positive action to the problem.

  6. FOARP says:

    Burning a flag you made yourself . . . Sorry to go all net-speak on you, but that’s a face-palmesque level of lifefail.

    Let’s break this one down:

    1) You go out to the shop and fork over your (parent’s) hard-earned cash to buy the materials to make the flag of another country.

    2) You sit down at your arts-n’-crafts table and lovingly put together a life-like representation of the flag of said country.

    3) You then meet up with your homieezz and set light to that mo-fo, in an effort to piss off your equally nationalistic counterparts in said country.

    Seems to me you could have short-cutted that one and just burned the ten kuai you wasted making the flag, no?

  7. Edna says:

    Well said. Unfortunate the flag-burning idiots won’t see the logic in this, nor will they be going away any time soon…

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