Japan embassy attacker reveals family’s wartime suffering

By Liang Chen Source:Global Times Published: 2014-7-18 5:03:01

Incendiary Patriotism

Liu Qiang. Photo: Courtesy of Liu Qiang

Liu Qiang, in his tailor-made military uniform, has appeared in front of the gate of the Japanese Consulate in Guangzhou at least once each month since February in rain or shine, in a regular act of protest against the Japanese government's denial of the invasion of China during World War II.

Liu said he wanted to strengthen public patriotism and confidence by pressing the Japanese government to apologize and give compensation for the victims of the invasion.

Liu has done more than protest: He set fire to the Yasukuni Shrine in 2011 and threw Molotov cocktails into the Japanese Embassy in South Korea in 2012. He was then arrested in South Korea and thrown into prison for several months. The Japanese government had wanted to extradite him from Seoul in order to try him in a Japanese court. The case became well-known worldwide, and the South Korean government eventually denied the request.

Both accidents have brought him great fame and controversy, as well as set his life onto a totally different path that he "had never planned."

Previously an English teacher, the training school where he worked cut ties with him after he was released by South Korean authorities and returned to China. He has been unemployed after he was released in January 2013.

His regular protest in front of the consulate has been criticized by some Net users as being "a piece of performance art." He is also estranged from his family, and some grass-roots pro-democrat Diaoyu activists who used to be close to him also distanced themselves after he gained increasing media attention.

Despite so, he said he has never felt any regrets. "I found my destiny - asking for justice from the Japanese, as a descendant of revolutionaries," Liu, 40, told the Global Times.

"The Japanese government should repay their debts by giving compensation to these victims and apologizing for what they have done."

'Return my mountains and rivers'

On June 11, Liu appeared in front of the consulate as usual. This recent visit was his sixth since February.

Paying no mind to the sweltering heat, he held a banner saying "return my mountains and rivers" and also sang patriotic songs.

He argued with a guard who came to interrogate him and tried to get him to leave. Sometimes, they physically clashed.

Afterwards, Liu took off his clothes and displayed a patriotic tattoo on his back that said jingzhong baoguo, which means "repaying the country with supreme loyalty".

"My principle is to protest without violence, not to stir things up," Liu said. Liu said he never gathers crowds to cause chaos, but just wanted "to express my complaints peacefully and rationally."

Due to his frequent visits, Liu has become a familiar face with the guard and policemen. Each time, he is taken away by local police, questioned at the police station and then released.

History of devastation

Born in Shanghai in 1974, Liu was born into a revolutionary family. His grandfather was a household colonel in the Red Army, who led troops in the anti-Japanese War and the Civil War, and eventually died under the gun of the Kuomintang.

His grandmother, Yang Ying, revealed a secret to Liu before she died. Yang, a Korean, was captured and brought to China to work as a "comfort woman" by Japanese soldiers during the war, then stayed in China after the war and married. Yang's father was tortured and killed by Japanese soldiers.

Despite Liu's family being devastated by Japanese soldiers, Liu said the seed of hatred for Japanese had never been planted in his heart.

Then, in the second year of middle school, he read a book titled "Ugly Chinese" written by Bo Yang. In the book, Bo lambasted Chinese people as "no more than a plate of sand" and called them cowards who did dare not to stand up and fight.

He was awakened and inspired by the thought of fighting back.

"You have to know who they are in order to beat them," Liu said. 

Liu began to learn Japanese when he was 18 years old and made his first Japanese friend in the language training school.

Liu insists that since the beginning, he has made a clear distinction between the Japanese people and the militarism promoted by some of the ill-intentioned Japanese. "Japanese are Japanese. Militarists are militarists," Liu said.

After college, he went to Guangzhou, found a job in a foreign company and lived an ordinary life. He also went to Japan in 2005 for the first time and sang an army song in front of the Yasukuni Shrine.

Liu had never thought he would do something radical like set fire to the Yasukuni Shrine. He even worked as a volunteer in Japan for half a year after the devastating tsunami and earthquake of 2011.

Liu's mother said he went to Japan to "render good for evil".

Then, changes happened. When he offered volunteer work in Japan, he enrolled in a local Japanese language school, where he found that teachers were polite to students from other countries, except the Chinese. He felt humiliated. Sometimes, he even clashed with teachers when arguing about the history of World War II.

On December 18, 2011, Liu became enraged when he read in a newspaper that the Japanese government had rejected a request proposed by then South Korean President Lee Myung-bak to squarely face the issue of comfort women.

"It reminded me of the humiliation of my grandmother, who was forced to be a comfort woman," Liu said.

Fire of hatred

The fire of hatred burned and Liu attempted to set fire to the Yasukuni Shrine with four barrels of petroleum on December 25 of that year. He then fled to South Korea.

Recalling these acts, Liu said he has no regrets.

But he used to feel depressed when he was imprisoned in the Seoul prison. "I feel like I was abandoned by my family, by the country. I felt helpless," said Liu, adding that he thought about committing suicide for the first time.

After returning to China, Liu never went back to an ordinary life. His income was cut off.

He devoted most of his time to participating in various activities reminding the public of the history of invasion: He is a member of a choir made up of the descendants of the Red Army in Guangzhou. He is often invited to attend commemorative events in consulates and various patriotic activities.

Liu's provocative acts have divided opinion, with some Net users saying he has gone too far and criticizing him for "acting to get famous" while others said Chinese people should be more tough.

Facing criticism over his provocative acts, Liu's friend Lei Ting told the Beijing Youth Daily that "Liu was a person filled with positive power and most of the time, he would inspire people to make breakthroughs."

Liu said he has never cared about people's criticisms of him. "What I know is I can never return to the old days and live an ordinary life like others. This is my destiny," Liu said.

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