The 81st anniversary of a Japanese invasion brought a fresh wave of anti-Japan demonstrations in China on Tuesday, with thousands of protesters venting anger over the colonial past and a current dispute involving contested islands in the East China Sea.
Outside the Japanese Embassy in Beijing, thousands shouted patriotic slogans and demanded boycotts of Japanese goods. Some threw apples, water bottles and eggs at the embassy, which was heavily guarded by three layers of paramilitary police and metal barricades.
Japan's Kyodo news agency reported that protesters were throwing bricks and rocks at the Japanese consulate in Shenyang in China's northeast.
Similar protests took place in Guangzhou, Wenzhou, Shanghai and other Chinese cities as the country marked the anniversary of a 1931 incident that Japan used as a pretext to invade Manchuria before World War II.
In many provinces, including Liaoning, Gansu, Yunnan, Sichuan and Anhui, local governments sounded sirens at 9:18 am to mark the Sept. 18 anniversary, the official China News Service reported.
Many China-based Japanese businesses were shut Tuesday as a precaution, after several days in which anger over the island dispute produced occasional outbreaks of violence, including the torching and looting of Japanese-invested factories and shops.
Tensions have been growing for months in the dispute over ownership of East China Sea islands called the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China. The disagreement came to a head last week when the Japanese government said it was purchasing some of the islands from their private owner to thwart a Japanese politician's plans to buy and develop them.
Protests since then have been the largest anti-Japanese demonstrations since 2005, reflecting ever-present anger toward Tokyo that periodically bursts to the surface.
China's authoritarian government rarely allows protests, and the wave of anti-Japanese demonstrations clearly received a degree of official approval.
In Beijing, streams of people marched past the embassy in orderly groups of about 150 people, herded by police who urged them to remain calm and peaceful. Some toted posters of Chairman Mao Zedong, and many shouted slogans such as: "United, Love China, Never forget our national shame."
Sun Chao, a 26-year-old employee for a Beijing tutoring company, said he was given the day off and came to demonstrate with about a dozen other friends and colleagues. He spent around 150 yuan (US$24) on apples and bottled water that he was handing out to others on the demonstration route and encouraging people to hurl them at the embassy.
"I want to knock down the Japanese national flag," Sun said.
Wang Guoming, a 38-year-old retired soldier and seller of construction materials, said he came to Beijing from his hometown of Linfen in Shanxi province to vent his frustration.
"I came here so our islands will not be invaded by Japan," said Wang. "We believe we need to declare war on them because the Japanese devils are too evil. Down with little Japan!"
The government itself has responded angrily to Japan's purchase of the islands, which Tokyo has administered since 1972. Beijing has sent patrol ships inside Japanese-claimed waters around the islands, and some state media have urged Chinese to show their patriotism by boycotting Japanese goods and canceling travel to Japan.
Japan has seen its own surge of nationalism. Its coast guard said Tuesday that it was questioning two Japanese who landed on one of the islands. Coast Guard official Yuji Sakanaka said it was unclear why the two landed.
A Coast Guard vessel issued a warning to a Chinese vessel near the islands early Tuesday. But officials said they could not confirm reports in Chinese state media that more than 1,000 Chinese fishing boats were headed toward the East China Sea island group.
Numerous Japanese factories, shops, restaurants and schools in China were closed Tuesday after some were targeted by looting protesters over the weekend. The China Daily newspaper reported Mazda halted production at its Nanjing factory for four days, Canon closed three factories and gave 20,000 employees two days paid vacation, and Fast Retailing shut 19 of its Uniqlo clothing store outlets in China.
The paper said more than a dozen Yokado supermarkets and 198 7-Eleven convenience stores under Japanese management were also temporarily shuttered.
Near the Japanese Embassy, the Japanese school in Beijing was closed Monday and remained closed Tuesday, said a teacher reached by phone who spoke on condition of anonymity because she wasn't authorized to speak to the press. Administrators have not yet decided what to do for the rest of the week, the teacher said.
The demonstrations come amid a three-day visit by U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who U.S. defense officials have said will press China to seek ways to peacefully resolve its territorial disputes with Japan and other neighbors.
Japan has claimed the islands since 1895. The U.S. took jurisdiction after World War II and turned them over to Japan in 1972. But Beijing sees Japan's purchase as an affront to its claims and its past calls for negotiations.
The United States says it is not taking sides in the dispute and is urging China and Japan to resolve it through dialogue. Japan is a staunch U.S. ally, but Washington does not want to further strain its own relations with China.
Some protesters vented anger at the United States for boosting its military presence in East Asia, a move they say emboldened Japan and other countries to be more assertive in staking rights to territory also claimed by China.
"Wherever America goes, there will be turbulence," said retired Beijing teacher Sui Xueyan. "Their crimes are no less than Japan."
Though there have been protests in many Chinese cities, turnout has been mixed. In Shanghai, just a few dozen protesters gathered at the downtown People's Square, where security was heavy.
Liu Qiming, 21, a recent college graduate looking for work, said he came after reading about the protests online and was committed to boycotting Japanese goods as a way of showing his solidarity.
"So far our government has been saying a lot but there's been no decisive action," Liu said. "That's really a shame."