With the annual meeting of China’s parliament about to begin in smoggy Beijing, the Chinese government is in desperate need of a distraction. The pollution in the capital has been especially thick over the past week, obscuring the city’s skycrapers just as delegates from all over the country arrive for the opening of the National People’s Congress. The country’s pollution has become “unbearable,” Li Junfeng, director general of the National Center for Climate Change Strategy and International Cooperation, said at a conference in Beijing on Sunday.
So what better time for the Chinese government to ramp up its campaign against Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, an enemy even more despised than smog? China has been feuding with Abe since he took office in late 2012, with the rhetoric between the two sides becoming increasingly vitriolic. Now China is taking its anti-Japanese campaign to a new level. One item on the agenda this week for lawmakers at the National People’s Congress will be a proposal to commemorate the country’s long and ultimately victorious fight against the Japanese Empire in World War II.
If the proposal passe—and there’s little doubt about that for what amounts to a rubber-stamp legislature–China will have not one but two national holidays that can easily turn into Hate-on-Japan days: One, on Sept. 3, to be called Victory Day of the Chinese People’s War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression, will mark the end of the “World Anti-Fascist War.” Then, on Dec. 13, there will be a national memorial day for the victims of the Nanjing Massacre, the 1937 atrocity by Japanese soldiers in the former Chinese capital. China puts the death toll at more than 300,000 over some six weeks.
Changing the calendar is particularly significant in China, whose government is notoriously stingy about giving days off to its people. This year, for instance, the Lunar New Year’s Eve was a regular work day, even though it had been an official day off since 2007. That was too much even for the People’s Daily, with the newspaper reporting a poll on Chinese portal Sina.com showing that over 88 percent of respondents opposed the switch.
Many workers get no paid annual leave, so the only time they have to travel is over long “Golden Week” holidays–one around Lunar New Year, another to mark the Oct. 1 anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic. What the government gives, the government takes back, with the state requiring China’s workers to make up some of what it calls “borrowed” work days by surrendering some of their weekends before the long holidays start or after they’re over.
The timing of the proposal might seem odd, coming so many decades after the end of the war. It’s as if Israel got around only now, rather than in 1951, to instituting Yom HaShoah, the memorial day for victims of the Holocaust. The Chinese government, however, is furious with Japan’s refusal to negotiate over the disputed rocks in the East China Sea, called the Diaoyu Islands by the Chinese and the Senkaku Islands by the Japanese, and the new holidays will be convenient ways to turn up the heat.
By proposing the new holidays commemorating Japan’s aggression in World War Two, the Chinese government will have regular, formal occasions to keep the focus not only on what the Japanese did in the 1930s and ’40s but on the threat posed today by Abe and his resurgent nationalist allies. Or, as a Chinese official explained in the China Daily, the holidays will help express “China’s stance of safeguarding national sovereignty, territorial solidarity and world peace.”