Even as trade between China and Japan has more than doubled over the past five years, Lu and other young, educated firebrands are showing how little their politics have been influenced by economics. Sony may be the brand Chinese trust the most, according to marketing firm ACNielsen, but a China Youth Daily poll among 100,000 interviewees with an average age of 25 found that 56% of those surveyed most associate the personality trait "cruel" with the Japanese. No surprise, then, that in this year alone, Lu has organized seven demonstrations in front of the Japanese embassy in Beijing, protesting everything from Japan's bid to secure a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council to Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visits to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, where several top World War II criminals are commemorated. Last year, after coordinating an online petition that collected 82,700 signatures in just 10 days, Lu's team forced the Chinese Ministry of Railways to reconsider giving a $16 billion contract for a high-speed Beijing-Shanghai train to the Japanese Shinkansen group, designer of Japan's famous bullet trains. "We changed government policy," says Zhao Zhongchen, a property developer who signed the petition and who tracks his antipathy toward Japan to family stories about his grandmother being beaten by Japanese troops during the war. "Foreigners might not understand, but it's rare that individuals can band together and create such a result."
Fifteen years after the youthful activism of Tiananmen Square, a new breed of young Chinese agitators is finding its voice. Its mantra, though, is not democracy but the promotion of Chinese nationalism. Well-educated and united by the Internet, today's activists want China to flex its muscle against any foreign power they feel is holding back their resurgent nation. And their main target is Japan, which they feel has not adequately apologized for its egregious wartime past. Nor do they believe that Tokyo handled sensitively enough the death last year of a construction worker in northeastern China who unwittingly opened a canister of mustard gas left by the Japanese during World War II, or a 2003 orgy by hundreds of Japanese businessmen in the southern city of Zhuhai that ended on Sept. 18, the exact date Japan invaded China more than seven decades ago. China's young patriots claim there has been a rise in nationalism among Japanese youthevidence, they say, that their island neighbor is turning back to imperialism. "We have to fight back," says Lu. "Textbooks in Japan ignore all the terrible things they did to us, so young Japanese don't feel any guilt and they want their government to remilitarize. We cannot allow that to happen."
China's leaders clamp down on most forms of political expression, but in the past few years they have given anti-Japanese rabble-rousers a relatively long leash. "The [central] government understands that people today want a way to express themselves, and nationalism is a good safety valve," says Yu Hai, a sociology professor at Shanghai's Fudan University. Though Beijing security officials have regularly nixed university students' plans to hold demonstrations against the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq, Lu and his cohorts have held repeated anti-Japanese protests without any official interference. "The Chinese government believes that Japan needs China more economically than vice versa," says George Wei, an associate professor of history at Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania, who has co-edited two books about Chinese nationalism. "That makes it easier for China to take a more aggressive stance against Japan than it does with America."
At first glance, all this is very odd. Why haven't China's young professionals, grooving to Japanese pop and tapping on Toshiba notebook computers, shed the country's anti-Japanese reflexes as easily as they have discarded socialism for capitalism? Somehow, these twenty- and thirtysomethings seem to share a collective memory of Japanese occupation that is intensely vivideven though they never experienced any of the outrages firsthand like their grandparents may have done. In part, the fervor directed against Japan is the creature of official dogmaa deliberate attempt by the authorities to replace socialism as a guiding ideology with nationalism. After 1989, when the Tiananmen massacre exposed the fissures in an increasingly restive society, the Ministry of Education increased the classroom intake of what it calls "patriotic education," much of which focuses on the terrible things Japan did during the war. Nothing is mentioned about how Japan contributes about $1 billion in direct assistance to China annuallyin effect, a form of war reparationor that the Beijing and Wuhan airports were built with Japanese aid. "Our history education is focused on teaching hate," says Ge Hongbing, a Shanghai-based novelist who addresses how nationalism has affected the country's youth in his writing. "All that hate is directed outward toward foreigners, especially the Japanese."
One junior high school textbook put out by the Shanghai Education Publishing House, for instance, devotes 28 pages to the "Anti-Japanese War," as World War II is called in China, while fewer than two pages are spent teaching students about the Cultural Revolution, which had sent the nation into a decade of chaos. Epic disasters like the Great Leap Forward, which resulted in a famine that killed some 20 million Chinese, are summed up merely as "a waste in agriculture and industry." Little wonder, then, that teenagers at a ceremony earlier this year in Shanghai honoring Chinese who died in the war had a skewed sense of history. "Many Chinese were killed by the Japanese," said Chen Tingting, a cheerful 14-year-old. "But during the Cultural Revolution, only a few cultural people died."