Tea Leaf Nation

A Day to Watch in China: September 3, 2015

It will mark a nationwide holiday to remember victory over Japan. Visitors from Japan may wish to steer clear.

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In an historic first, Chinese authorities have designated September 3 a day of nationwide remembrance — and vacation. It will mark the 70th anniversary China’s own V-J day, or what authorities are calling “The 70th Anniversary of Victories in the Chinese People’s War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression and the World Against Fascism.” Despite the breathless name, online reaction has evinced scant nationalism. Most are simply complaining the break isn’t longer.

On Weibo, China’s pre-eminent public-facing social media platform, the news came via state-run China Central Television, which posted cheerily, “The entire country will have vacation on September 3!” The time off, the announcement read, will “make it more convenient for citizens to participate in memorial activities.” The break period will span three days, from Thursday, Sept. 3 through Saturday, Sept. 5. It appears some of this will be a tiao jia — not a vacation, but a re-adjustment of off days. This means it’s possible workers will be asked to work on the weekends before and after, legerdemain Chinese authorities frequently use to reduce the true number of effective idle days.

Chinese social media often serves as China’s proverbial id, where nationalists congregate to vent their spleen. But the response to the latest announcement is less celebratory than cantankerous. The CCTV announcement has already garnered over 103,000 shares and 16,500 comments; a related hashtag has 130,000 mentions. The most popular posts seemed less interested in excoriating Japan than in pushing for more days off, complaining about make-up days, and kvetching about how the holiday will be useless to students still on summer vacation. The most up-voted reads, perhaps humorously, “One day is not enough to commemorate — because we truly hate Fascism!” Other popular posts made a similar joke, one calling for eight days of vacation, one for each year of war against Japan. Some made more earnest patriotic appeals to “remember history keenly” or “never forget our national humiliation,” but they were, as of this writing, far between.

That does not mean the threat of violence is non-existent. One popular comment asked presciently whether Japanese businesses in China will be given the day off. Another wrote, “I’m guessing our hospitals won’t have a vacation.” Last year’s anniversary passed without major incident, but September 2012 saw widespread anti-Japanese demonstrations after Japanese authorities had nationalized ownership of what they call the Senkakus and Chinese call the Diaoyu, a collection of small, barren islands in the East China Sea. Chinese protesters, some bussed in with government assistance, threw debris at the Japanese embassy in Beijing, vandalized Japanese cars (regardless of the nationality of their owners), and attacked Japanese businesses and even Japanese nationals. Most Chinese did not support the violence, but that did not stop those determined to inflict it.

The upcoming commemoration will mark only the second time that China has treated the anniversary as a national holiday. Last year’s memorial activities included silent tribute by the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee, China’s most powerful policy-making body, at a flower-laying ceremony in Beijing’s Museum of the War of the Chinese People’s Resistance Against Japanese Aggression as well as an address by Chinese President Xi Jinping at a Beijing symposium to mark the occasion. According to Hong Kong-based Phoenix media, the upcoming holiday will mark the first time since 1949, the actual victory day, that the entire country has been given that day off. (State media has also announced that the governments of Chinese territories Hong Kong and Macau have also announced a “one-time special holiday” for September 3.)

In the short term, the declaration is unlikely to make the already-frosty relationship between China and Japan any warmer. Chinese resentment over Japanese World War II-era atrocities still lingers; more recently, in November 2013, China thumbed its nose at Japan when it declared de facto control over air space in the East China Sea. Behind the scenes, the two governments lack robust communication, although Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Xi shared an awkward November 2014 handshake, then met bilaterally in April during the Asian African Summit in Jakarta. That last meeting was significant because it happened at all, but it was otherwise uneventful. Many around the world are surely hoping the first Thursday in September unfolds similarly.

Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian contributed research. 

Correction: In September 2012, protesters threw debris at the Japanese embassy in Beijing. an earlier version of this article erroneously called it the Chinese embassy in Beijing.

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David Wertime is a senior editor at Foreign Policy, where he manages its China section, Tea Leaf Nation. In 2011, he co-founded Tea Leaf Nation as a private company translating and analyzing Chinese social media, which the FP Group acquired in September 2013. David has since created two new miniseries and launched FP’s Chinese-language service. His culture-bridging work has been profiled in books including The Athena Doctrine and Digital Cosmopolitans and magazines including Psychology Today. David frequently discusses China on television and radio and has testified before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. In his spare time, David is an avid marathon runner, a kitchen volunteer at So Others Might Eat, and an expert mentor at 1776, a Washington, D.C.-based incubator and seed fund. Originally from Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, David is a proud returned Peace Corps volunteer. He holds an English degree from Yale University and a law degree from Harvard University.

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