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Unease over China's Angry Youth

After several months of investigations and interviews, on November 7 the weekly Oriental Outlook published a report on a group of people causing some concern in China known as Fenqing – a word derived from the phrase "angry youth."

Usually extremely nationalistic and patriotic, a large number of them are male undergraduates aged below 30. They are often adept at using the Internet to debate and promote their views, which often center on negative attitudes towards Japan.

The label was first used to refer to reformers in Hong Kong in the 1970s, but more recently it has become widely used online for people with strong and emotionally-founded reactions to issues relating to Japan, Taiwan or the US.

Most have never met a Japanese person, according to Oriental Outlook, and their views, based on ignorance and expressed offensively, have earned them a new name meaning "shit youth" that is pronounced the same way as "Fenqing" in Chinese.

As such, the term for some has moved from being a badge of pride to an embarrassing accusation.

Song Qiang, author of the 1996 book The China That Can Say No, said he always considered himself to be a Fenqing. But it was increasing Internet use, especially of bulletin boards, that popularized their ideas more recently.

Many postings on Fenqing bulletin boards contain calls for war among other things, and the accusation of being a "Chinese traitor" is used against those who don't agree with them.

One such comment reported was: "Everything I do is for loving our country. I'm absolutely right. Who dare say no are f****** traitors."

Sun Fengyu, born in 1981, told Oriental Outlook that his life is very relaxed, and that he logs onto the net each day to debate with "right wing rivals."

He has taken part in online debates since 2002 and said that, though he didn't live through many of China's modern turning points, he has studied them hard. His postings are peppered with words relating to "nation," "democracy," "national interest" and many "-isms," but he said he's never participated in any offline events.

"Oxaradona," who uses an ID mocking the soccer star Maradona, became a Fenqing in the first half of this year through campaigns opposing Japan's bid to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council.

He launched a blog called "Anti-Japan Base: Love China and Don't Forget National Humiliation" in March that has since recorded over 230,000 hits.

He told Oriental Outlook that at first he was a very angry young man who made contact with many like-minded people online and posted anti-Japanese messages. But he added that he has learnt more and now has a fuller picture of the situation, and his blog now also contains stories on Japanese culture, politics and the economy.

"How could an island country invade so many others? How could it rise from total ruin after World War II so fast? We should learn more about this nation," he said.

In contrast, the magazine also spoke to Guo Quan, a 37-year-old associate professor at Nanjing Normal University's Literature School who achieved online fame when he and a colleague desecrated the Japanese-built tombstone of a Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) merchant charged with being a traitor.

"I am an original Fenqing and a real Fenqing," Guo said.

When Guo graduated from university in 1990, he started a campaign of destroying Japanese products, starting with his own watch. "Take them out, smash them!" he demanded of his students.

He said being anti-Japanese has become a part of his life, and vowed to continue "until Japan surrenders China's Diaoyu Island."

Feng Zhaokui, of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Institute of Japanese Studies, said Fenqing calls to boycott Japanese products were unworkable.

"This is an era of economic globalization, and production can take place in more than one country. You cannot clearly tell 'Made in China' products from Japanese ones. Besides, trade between China and Japan is so important, if they boycott each other, they will surely hurt themselves."

Despite this, on September 18 last year over 10,000 people signed a petition to boycott Japanese products.

Yang Kuisong, a professor at Peking University's History Department who has been studying nationalism, expressed his unease: "There is ultra-nationalistic emotion among Fenqing. They are so critical and furious about any foreign issue, or area of compromise or exchange. They easily call others 'traitors' and strike, smash, and burn anything they want if there's a chance. That is why so many people are concerned about them."

(China.org.cn by Zhang Rui November 17, 2005)

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