Protests against Japan's provocation over the Diaoyu Islands broke out in several Chinese cities over the weekend. Violent action targeting Japanese products and enterprises happened in places including Xi'an and Changsha, leaving many Chinese nationals to suffer economic losses. The violence was condemned by Chinese media. It appears that public opinion has reached a clear consensus this time.
Since the May 4th Movement of a century ago, mass protests in China have often been accompanied by violence, and unrelated targets can be in the crossfire. Public opinion however often judges violence from a fixed set of values and becomes rather selective in deciding whether to support or oppose it.
Violent protests plague many countries, especially developing economies. Anti-US protests are currently marring the Arab world. China has been making progress in staging orderly protests in recent years. Street protests have not necessarily been disorderly on every occasion. In major hubs such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, protests are often carried out in a more civilized way. Meanwhile, voices against violent protests are on the rise. This time is no different. Violence cannot be tolerated simply because the protests are aimed at Japan.
Mainstream society clearly opposes violent protests this time. There is no reason to suspect that the government is turning a blind eye to the violence seen over the weekend. This is simply the view of those who make a habit of criticizing the government.
Meanwhile, demonstrations against the government are also on the rise and mass protests are emerging repeatedly. There has been a tendency among these to turn violent, for which public opinion is more supportive only because the government is targeted. To be sure, some of the opponents of violent protests against Japan were supporters of previous mass protests that turned nasty.
Violent protests should never be condoned. There is no condition under which they can be accepted. Chinese society must be firm in pouring more pressure on street violence and working to end it.
Violence can only weaken the current campaign against Japan. China will bound to face more conflicts in the future. We have to respond with the proper means and thus win respect from competitors.