SHANGHAI — Ever since the 1970s, I have known that the Chinese people are the freest and most democratic people in the world. Each year at my elementary school in Shanghai, the teachers mentioned this fact repeatedly in ethics and politics classes. Our textbooks, feigning innocence, asked us if freedom and democracy in capitalist countries could really be what they proclaimed it to be. Then there would be all kinds of strange logic and unsourced examples, but because I always counted silently to myself in those classes instead of paying attention, the government's project was basically wasted on me. By secondary school and college, my mind was unusually hard to brainwash.
Even so, during my college years, I still hated Japan. I felt that the Japanese had killed so many of my countrymen, the vast majority of them civilians, that it wasn't enough that they had eventually surrendered. It was only after studying Japanese and reading additional historical materials that I gradually understood the true face of history: When the Japanese army invaded China in 1931, Mao Zedong, in those days still a guerrilla fighter, turned and ran. Chiang Kai-shek, China's nominal president at the time, stayed behind to fight the Japanese in his wartime capital of Chongqing, but Mao's Communist Party fled to the north to establish a base of anti-Japanese resistance in the provinces of Shaanxi, Gansu, and Ningxia, where there was no Japanese army at all.
Today's youth are repeating the same growth experience I had, but unlike my generation, whose hatred of Japan remained at the verbal level, they have taken the streets to demonstrate.
Even though China's constitution permits demonstrations, the government prohibits them except in special circumstances. Anyone familiar with Chinese history knows that when Chinese law says one thing, it might mean the opposite. For example, Chinese law says that everyone is equal before the law, but in fact Hu Jintao and his colleagues are more equal than everyone else.
So, Chinese young people today ought to thank the Japanese government, for if it hadn't purchased the Diaoyu Islands, the Chinese government wouldn't have opened the net a little, allowing them to take to the streets last week. The demonstrators chanted monotonous and boring slogans, like telling the Japanese to get the hell out of the Diaoyu Islands; plainclothes cops intermingled with the marchers, keeping in nervous contact through their earpieces. Protesters even carried images of Mao, who died in 1976, though I wish he had died much earlier.
Many of the young marchers were terribly excited. For decades, TV shows about the Anti-Japanese War of 1931-1945 had distorted historical facts and turned the Japanese into a stupid, aggressive, cruel race of cockroaches that needed to be exterminated. Amusingly, the Chinese actors portraying those Japanese devils only spoke Chinese, bowing and scraping shamelessly, their every move no different from those of corrupt officials throughout China today.