By Christopher Bodeen, AP
BEIJING — Anti-Japan demonstrations broke out in at least a half dozen Chinese cities over the weekend despite efforts by authorities to rein in the growing protest movement, reports said Monday.
Calls for more protests on Tuesday also circulated widely spread on the Internet, including a planned march to the Japanese consulate in the western city of Chongqing.
The ruling Communist Party newspaper issued an editorial calling the protests “understandable,” but urging demonstrators to plunge into their work and studies rather than take to the streets. The government has encouraged of nationalist outrage over Japan’s seizing of a Chinese fishing boat captain in disputed water, but it also is wary of public protests, which have the potential to spin out of control and possibly even challenge one-party rule.
Chinese protesters gathered Sunday in a number of relatively small cities outside the major metropolises, including Changsha in the south, and Baoji and Lanzhou to the west. On Saturday, hundreds of protesters had rallied in the southwestern city of Deyang.
Japanese television footage showed uniformed and plainclothes Chinese police watching closely and in some cases ripping down banners and escorting people away from the demonstrations. Several hundred protesters joined in, although there were no immediate reports of arrests or property damage.
The protests were sparked by a collision last month between a Chinese fishing boat and Japanese government patrol vessels near a chain of unoccupied islands in the East China Sea, called Diaoyutai by China, that are controlled by Japan but claimed by both countries. Japan detained the Chinese boat’s captain, but released him later.
Marchers carrying Chinese national flags chanted “love China” and “boycott Japanese goods.”
Other signs, however, also touched on sensitive domestic issues ranging from freedom of speech to high housing prices. One particularly bold sign displayed in Baoji called for multiparty democracy, a challenge to one-party communist rule that could confirm fears among the leadership that a protest movement, if left unchecked, could evolve into open confrontation between the people and the party.
“They seem to be organized by ordinary people,” well known Diaoyutai activist Liu Feng told The Associated Press.
“They’re being held in smaller, more remote cities to avoid too much attention and pressure from the central government,” Liu said.
A man reached by phone at the Xinhua bookstore along the protest route in Baoji said the afternoon protest lasted about an hour and broke up peacefully.
“There weren’t that many of them, shouting about loving China and not buying Japanese goods. There were also lots of police,” said the man, who declined to give his name because he wasn’t authorized to speak with reporters.
Hoping to prevent larger protests, authorities in Baoji and other cities extended classes at schools through the weekend and guarded campus gates to prevent large numbers of students from leaving.
In its editorial posted to popular websites, the People’s Daily empathized with protesters but warned against actions that violate laws and regulations.
“Expressing one’s patriotic passions is understandable,” said the paper, whose editorials are vetted at the highest levels of the state propaganda machine.
“We believe that the vast majority will turn their patriotic passions into concrete actions in their daily life, and safeguard the bigger picture of reform, development and stability,” the editorial said.
Similar calls were issued during the last major round of anti-Japanese protests in 2005 that ended with a huge mob laying siege to the Japanese consulate in Shanghai.
It wasn’t clear who was organizing the protests and word of them appeared to have spread online, despite attempts by China’s web police to block postings of the stories and photos relating to the events.