QINGDAO, China ( Caixin Online ) — Recent anti-Japan fury spurred angry crowds to march through streets in cities across China. The protests sometimes turned violent, as when a vicious rampage in Xi’an, in the northern province of Shaanxi, left a father paralyzed.
Li Jianli, 50, was on his way home after a day out with his family on Sept. 15 when a group of people nearly beat him to death. The incident began when anti-Japanese protesters spotted Li, his wife, son and son’s girlfriend in his Toyota. Seeing that the group was targeting Japanese-branded cars, Li got out and tried to dissuade the mob from attacking his car.
“I am Chinese and a Diaoyu activist, too,” Li said.
But before he could continue, he was hit on the head with a heavy lock. The severe blow fractured his skull and sent shards of bone into his brain. Doctors say Li is partially paralyzed and were unsure if he would be able to speak or use his right limbs again.
Li was the victim of the intersection of two brands: Toyota, and the Diaoyu Islands.
The Diaoyu Islands are a handful of uninhabited rocks about 400 kilometres east of Mainland China, and roughly 400 kilometres west of Okinawa Island, Japan, which just happens to house 32 US Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine bases.
Japan siezed the Diaoyu Islands in 1895 during one of the long, long series of wars between China and Japan, and they’ve been tussling over it ever since, under the theory that periodic wars over useless rocks is good for morale. Like any territorial dispute, plenty of excuses have been forwarded for why a war should be fought over them. Supposedly there are oil deposits in the region— because oil companies really are chomping at the bit to invest billions in islands being disputed by three nations. The only real commercial value the islands have is as fisheries, which isn’t a very sexy casus belli. The only continous human habitation of the islands was a Japanese fish processing plant in 1900, though this was presumably just an excuse to burnish the Japanese territorial claim, like the Chilean “town” in Antartica.Eventually the Japanese government got tired of subsidizing it, and the islands were abandoned in 1940. The Japanese don’t call them the Diaoyu Islands, of course. Japan calls them the Senkaku Islands.
And that’s where branding comes in.
A modern nation, like a corporation, is a machine made of humans. Its genetic code is ideas, encoded as words on paper.
Such immaterial entities are exquisitely sensitive to language, and how it’s used. Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can kill a nation.
So the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands are purposely branded so that there’s no way to refer to them without implictly taking a stand. Like how the abortion debate is framed as “pro-choice/pro-life”, except that both sides in this argument have nuclear weapons. Even slash notation, as used above, is problematic: the Chinese are exquisitely sensitive to word order.
It’s tempting to spit and say, “Politics!” as if manouvering for higher social status is somehow a recent innovation. Since time immemorial, politics has existed. Humans have probably had poltics longer than we’ve been “human”— a compelling theory for why we have large brains at all is due to social competition with other humans.
But political brands have a power corporate ones don’t. Coke can get you to spend money on flavored water, but it can’t get you to get you to cross an ocean to be shot at by Germans. The widespread conclusion is that the Chinese leadership is using the Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute to distract from China’s increasingly omnious future by blowing off some tension in China’s terrifyingly large population of young, poor, unmarried males, the “terrorist demographic”, known in China as “bare branches”. Get enough of them together, and you spontaniously get a new government,as well as a whole lot of dead bodies. The Chinese have been closely watching the Arab Spring, and they’re worried. Thus, they’re using some of that surplus anger against groups they don’t really care about— but on a tight leash: they want riots against Japan, but not riots against the government.
So not only does branding pervade the enviroment, and determine what we buy, but branding can kill, too. Watch your back. And buy American.
Just to put it out there - Armchair Brandology picked up its first real submission from a real writer, whom you may or may not know already from his layout-crushing antics. We’ve got a couple more posts in the pipeline - musings on Dr. Pepper 10’s “It’s Not For Women” campaign, and deviantART’s overall branding are on the way. Stay tuned! Or. Don’t. It’s the Internet. Nobody can tell you what to do.
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