A cosplayer in the eastern Chinese city of Suzhou was detained by authorities last Wednesday for wearing a kimono in public, sparking a debate about nationalism going too far.
The young woman donned a floral kimono and a wig to play Ushio Kofune, a character in the Japanese manga “Summer Time Rendering.” She had just completed a photoshoot on a Japanese-themed street, which was designed to resemble Japan and featured many Japanese restaurants and bars, when she was confronted by angry police officers.
The encounter was captured on camera and posted on the Chinese social media platform Weibo, where a relevant hashtag drew 250 million views.
“I wouldn’t say anything if you were wearing hanfu,” a police officer said in the video, referring to a type of traditional Chinese garment. “But you are wearing a kimono, as a Chinese,” he shouted.
He proceeded to arrest her for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”—a vaguely defined crime Chinese authorities often use against dissidents and activists. According to a now-deleted post by the woman on Weibo, she was detained and interrogated for five hours until past midnight. Besides lecturing her, officers went through her phone, deleted her photos, and confiscated the kimono.
She was also ordered to write a 500-word letter of self-criticism, she said in an earlier post on the social media platform Qzone. “I feel like I have no dignity,” she wrote. “I like multiculturalism. I like anime. Is it wrong of me to like anything?”
“I used to love the country and I believe in the police… But I am very disappointed. It turns out I have never had the freedom to wear and say what I want,” she added.
On Weibo, some supported the police’s action and said they found the woman’s choice of clothing offensive, citing the Japanese Imperial Army’s war crimes in China in the 1930s.
However, many also came to her defense and considered the arrest an overreach of power. “By the same logic, if China goes to war with the U.S., we would be criminals for using iPhones,” one user wrote.
Police officers have no right to intervene and arrest citizens simply because they disapprove of their behavior, unless the citizens broke the law, said Wang Fei, a criminal defense lawyer based in Beijing. “It’s extremely dangerous if law enforcement is based on moral judgment,” he wrote on Weibo.
Wang Ke, a professor at the Graduate School of Intercultural Studies at Kobe University in Japan, said it is not necessary to take the online nationalist sentiment seriously, as they ebb and flow according to bilateral relations, and would eventually subside.
“It is definitely supported by the Chinese government, which is fanning the flames of nationalism to send a political message,” Wang said, citing Beijing’s fury over the support Tokyo has offered to Taiwan.
Japan has stepped up joint drills with the U.S. in the region after U.S.-China tensions rose over House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s recent visit to the self-ruled island, which is claimed by China as its own.
Proving Wang’s point, Hu Xijin, former editor-in-chief of the state tabloid Global Times, has seized on the incident to cast blame on Japan.
Kimonos should be allowed in China and it is not outlawed in any way, he wrote online. “In reality, bilateral relations between China and Japan have been tense. Japan has intensified their anti-China policies, cooperating with the U.S. to contain China and thus stirred anti-Japan sentiment among the Chinese public,” he added.
But such warnings would only fall on deaf ears as foreign governments have grown used to the bellicose rhetoric from China. “Japan is very confident about the charisma of its own culture,” Wang said. “And frankly, it does not care.”
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