Japan takes soccer cup amid din of Chinese boos

Old animosities override calls for sportsmanship

August 08, 2004|By Michael A. Lev | Michael A. Lev,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

BEIJING - The expectant moment came first in the Asian Cup soccer final last night between China and Japan: Would the Chinese fans drown out the playing of the Japanese national anthem with boos and catcalls?

They did, long and lustily, while some Chinese fans sat down as a sign of disrespect, in spite of calls by the governments of both countries to treat the match as a chance to promote sportsmanship.

To Japanese fans this may have been just a game, but it was an opportunity for a small helping of historical redemption for many Chinese, who still feel the wounds inflicted by the atrocities of the Japanese military during World War II.

It was disappointing to the Chinese on both levels, then, that Japan defeated China 3-1 in a game made more tense by the dark sentiment of national resentment felt toward Japan, which has never provided a full written apology for occupying parts of China and killing millions.

Chinese fans made a big show at Workers Stadium of pride and pageantry, with many wearing red, sporting flag stickers and waving banners, some of which read, "Fight for the Motherland." They cheered at pep rallies before the game and belted out the Chinese national anthem inside the stadium.

Anti-Japanese emotions were on rich display at the game, where one unofficial cheerleader got a big rise from the crowd before the game by whooping and hollering while wearing a replica of a gray World War II-era Communist military uniform and brandishing a fake sword on which she had written: "Big knife chops the Japanese heads." It was the title of an anti-Japanese song from the occupation times.

Liu Yong, a 28-year-old lawyer, came to the game with a homemade sign that read: "300,000." This was a reference to the number of Chinese civilians allegedly massacred by the Japanese in Nanjing.

"The problem is they didn't admit what they did," said Zhu Jing Sheng, 40, a bookseller. "As China's economy grows, maybe we can push them to acknowledge."

Yin Wei Xiang, 82, who was selling cold drinks from a cooler just outside the stadium, was too busy to notice who was playing in the game. But when she was informed that it was China playing Japan, she was horrified.

"I hate the Japanese," she said. "I was bombed during the war. My father was killed. Many members of my family lost their lives. The Chinese government says we should be friendly to them, but that's bull. We should kill them. You can never imagine how many Chinese they killed. It was like a river of blood."

To keep the peace at the final, China deployed thousands of riot police outside Workers Stadium, where about 60,000 fans watched the game.

Hundreds of millions more watched on television in China and around the world. Japanese fans at the stadium were kept in two separate sections and given extra police protection.

It couldn't stop the booing. The Chinese booed the Japanese anthem, the announcement of the starting lineup and every time the Japanese offense started a drive.

The only Japanese display that they didn't boo was during a halftime commercial for Nikon.

When the game was over the Chinese booed again, and those still in the stadium booed once more when the Japanese squad received its medals.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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