- By Isaac Stone Fish
Isaac Stone Fish is associate editor at Foreign Policy. Previously a Beijing correspondent for Newsweek, he wrote stories on such subjects as the Dalai Lama’s effect on international trade, China’s love affair with rogue states, and crystal meth in North Korea. His articles have also appeared in the International Herald Tribune, the Economist, and the Los Angeles Times.
China’s 2-week New Year festivities kick off this weekend. Hundreds of millions of Chinese people will travel home and an obscene number of fireworks will be set off, causing cities throughout the country to sound like warzones.
The fireworks on sale to the general public range from cheap spinners to extravagant Olympics-grade pyrotechnics. These include a $200 66-pound package called Tonight Is So Beautiful that fires red and green bursts several stories high, writes David Pierson in the Los Angeles Times.
The most controversial fireworks this year are ones that reference Japan, including "I Love the Diaoyu Islands," about the small islands in the East China Sea administered by Japan (which calls them the Senkakus) and claimed by China, and the less subtle "Tokyo Big Explosion." For $54 "you can blow up Tokyo," the news portal China News Web said, explaining why the fireworks were so popular in Beijing. China-Japan tensions are worsening; the latest sign, in, early February, was when Japan said that a Chinese military vessel focused a radar used to direct weapons on a Japanese naval vessel near the islands.
But Beijing seems to have cracked down on the sale of anti-Japanese fireworks: a manager of the company selling them told the Associated Press that the government said to company that "China is a peace-loving country and should not do something damaging to the China-Japan friendship."
Why does this matter? Cracking down on sales of patriotic fireworks doesn’t mean that Beijing’s going to try to reduce tensions.
Rather, it’s a nice illustration that China’s non-democratic government is more restrained than the people it represents with regards to Japan. Chinese grass-roots hatred of the Japanese runs deep; officials can harness this hatred and allow protests against Japan, like they did in September, while keeping tensions in check. Sadly, if many Chinese had their way, "blowing up Tokyo" might be more than the name of a firework.