This year’s celebration, though, will carry ugly undertones of real war in the midst of rising tensions with neighboring Japan. On sale on the city’s streets in advance of Saturday night’s festivities is a box of pyrotechnics called “Tokyo Explosion.”
Most fireworks here bear more benign names. “Golden Snakes Dancing Crazily” is expected to be popular, as Chinese welcome in the Year of the Snake. “Wish You Get Rich” and “Billionaire” play to traditional desires.
But some manufacturers are seeking to profit from a seething undercurrent of anti-Japanese sentiment that has bubbled to the surface as a dispute with Japan over ownership of a group of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea grows increasingly bitter.
“I Love the Diaoyu Islands” is one such product, referring to the Chinese name for the islands. In Japan they are known as the Senkakus.
Tensions around the islands edged up another notch this week, when the Japanese government revealed that a Chinese naval frigate had “locked on” to a Japanese vessel with its missile-guidance radar system.
On Wednesday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called the incident a “dangerous” and “provocative” act “that could have led to an unpredictable situation.”
On the Chinese Internet, however, angry micro-bloggers hailed the Chinese action.
“We should shoot at Japanese vessels before we warn them,” advocated Li Xu on Sina.com’s popular Twitter-like Weibo platform. “The only way to punish Japan is to annihilate all Japanese,” added another commentator calling himself Truelove Leo.
The aggressively named fireworks reflect an anti-Japanese mood that the Chinese authorities sometimes seem eager to feed. Government and ruling Communist Party officials orchestrated anti-Japanese demonstrations last year when the island dispute broke out, and Chinese TV is flooded with drama series – one much like another – set during the Sino-Japanese war (1937-1945), featuring inhuman “Japanese devils” as the popular Chinese phrase has it.
There is even a theme park in Shanxi Province where tourists can dress up as soldiers in the Eighth Route Army, the Communist Party’s main military force during the war, sing anti-Japanese war songs, and join in mock guerrilla battles against the Japanese invaders.
A public opinion poll released at the end of last year found that 87 percent of Chinese had a negative opinion of Japan, up from 66 percent a year earlier. And the feeling is mutual. A Japanese government survey in December found sympathy for China at a record low, with less than 20 percent of respondents reporting an affinity for their giant neighbor.
Not everybody buys into the prevailing atmosphere, however. When one Chinese blogger posted a screenshot from a recent TV drama capturing a particularly gory and ludicrous scene of a Chinese man tearing a “Japanese devil” in half with his bare hands, most of the comments were scathing.
“Another brainwashing drama,” scoffed one. “The Communist Party is unparalleled in this field.”