There are a few islands on the northeast side of Taiwan called the Diaoyu Islands, if you’re Chinese. But if you’re Japanese, you call it the Senkaku Islands. Both China and Japan claim the sovereignty of these islands, not only for national dignity but also the rich deposits of natural resources. Last month, Chinese entrepreneur Chen Guangbiao published an expensive ad in The New York Times declaring that the islands have been China’s territory since antiquity, and calling on the US government to condemn Japan’s “provocative behavior.”
Much like the Spratly Islands dispute, China makes its claims over the territories very clearly and loudly. The government, obviously, is not the only loud speaker on territorial issues. Patriotic Chinese, such as (obviously) Chen, is even louder and possibly more effective in getting the word out. Microblogs on popular Chinese websites like Sina Weibo are almost unanimous in support of Chen. To Chinese patriots, Chen is viewed as a hero who is speaking on behalf of the country and its people. Through such public displays, the Chinese people gain a sense of solidarity and historical patriotism.
Several cultural factors — new and old– in China explain the turmoil over the islands. The first is the increase of economic freedom in China: People now have so much financial flexibility that they can utilize their money as a tool of influence. The second shift is the new freedom of expression: Although China is still a heavily censored nation, citizens are much more comfortable sharing and voicing their opinions without fear of prosecution.
The cultural factor that is constant, however, is the historical patriotism that remains firm in the heart of every Chinese citizen. To them, China will always be the Middle Kingdom and they will always come to its defense.
Of course, the Japanese have their sincere and intense patriotic feelings, too. Therein likes the problem.
See Jeremiah Farjado’s article, Japan: A Brewing Tempest of Tension.