The Chinese communist youth league is facing the difficult task of trying to instill patriotism while not stirring up sentiment against the Japanese. The problem looms large, as the Communist Party is preparing to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a student protest against Japanese militarism on Dec. 9.
The authorities want to avoid a repetition of the anti-Japan demonstrations that spread to at least four Chinese cities this autumn, following official celebrations in September of the 40th anniversary of China's victory over Japan.
Those demonstrations added new ruffles to Sino-Japanese relations, relations already troubled by a sizable trade imbalance and longstanding political frictions. After Hong Kong, Japan is China's largest trading partner, with a two-way trade for the first half of this year of over $8 billion, and a deficit against China of over $2 billion.
Japanese Foreign Minister Shintaro Abe visited senior leader Deng Xiaoping and other top Chinese officials in Peking last month to help smooth over the problems. Each side promised to respect the other's national feelings and to work toward a better balance in trade and economic relations.
The fact that anti-Japan student protests reached as far as Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province and an area never occupied by the Japanese, indicate how easily Chinese youth can be stirred up these days and how extensive is the network of student activism on university campuses throughout the country.
The protests began at Peking University on Sept. 18 when over 1,000 students marched on Tian An Men Square shouting slogans denouncing Japan's ``second invasion'' of consumer goods, and expressing indignation that China could be humbled by such a ``small island.''
From the students' point of view, the demonstration was a success. The authorities did not try to stop it, perhaps because it coincided with official patriotic messages about the duty of Chinese youth to oppose imperialist aggression as they did decades ago.
``If the students were allowed to demonstrate in Tian An Men Square at the time of the national party conference, it must have had approval at the highest level,'' said one Western diplomat in Peking.
The protestors, however, were also critical of the Chinese government's own modernization policies, and the outburst brought warnings from school authorities and visits to university campuses from top Chinese officials lecturing the students.
But students in Peking sent letters and cables to other cities, and within a few weeks demonstrations also were held in Shenyang, Xi'an, and Chengdu.
In Chengdu, several hundred young people marched through the city's leading schools and then several thousand assembled in the center of the city at People's Square, beneath a statue of Mao Tse-Tung. Some protestors smashed Japanese-made radios and tape recorders, damaged Toyota taxis, and smashed at least one Japanese motorcyle outside a local hotel. The largest demonstration occurred the night before Vice-President George Bush arrived here on Oct. 16 to open the new United States consulate and to give
a speech at Sichuan University.
In a subsequent interview with the Monitor, Yan Guosen, president of the university, said that the anti-Japanese demonstrations showed a protectionist sentiment and were a reaction to the sight of so many Japanese consumer goods in China. He said the students had a misunderstanding about the country's foreign trade policy.
``They must learn that we need advanced technology from Japan and that consumer goods are part of the normal trade between two countries,'' Mr. Yan said.
Authorities in Sichuan reacted to the demonstration quickly. An unspecified number of demonstrators were briefly taken into custody and six young people were sent to a labor camp, according to Sichuan provincial radio. None were students, according to press reports.
Officials in Peking are now careful to avoid a repetition of these events. They say that the celebration of the march of Dec. 9, 1935 by Peking's communist youth is a ``traditional patriotic event.'' But they insist that it is not an occasion for more protests against Japan's so-called ``second invasion'' or for Chinese youth to air other grievances.
The short-lived demonstration in 1935, which called on the Kuomintang (nationalist) government to unite with the communists and to oppose Japan's occupation of China, helped mobilize young communist sympathizers in Peking when the party was still underground.
The event will be marked this year by mass meetings and an extensive publicity campaign. Youth officials in Peking say that the lesson of Dec. 9 is that young people should obey the party.
``If the students want to be in the vanguard of society under China's modernization program, they should do their own jobs well and not go out into the streets,'' said Chen Hui of the Peking Municipal Youth Federation, who is in charge of planning for the celebrations.
They also must understand the party's current policies and the meaning of China's modernization drive, he added. ``We try to prevent any anti-Japanese feeling among young people,'' Mr. Chen said. ``We explain that the situation today is different from the 1930s -- we have good relations with Japan and there is no danger of an invasion.''
``It is narrow-minded to be resentful of Japan's economic progress,'' said Zhou Wei Ping, vice-general secretary of the municipal youth federation. ``We should realize that Japanese technology is very advanced and, if we have much to learn from them, we should do so. We must face the facts,'' he said.
Relations between China and Japan, tied to a Treaty of Peace and Friendship signed in 1978, have improved rapidly in the past seven years. But Chinese officials have urged Japan to speed up the transfer of industrial technology and to invest more in China's modernization program. China has sharply cut the import of Japanese consumer goods this year in an attempt to stop the drain on foreign exchange reserves and to bring unofficial purchases under control.