XI'AN – Protests against Japan's recent efforts to buy the disputed Diaoyu islands spread to cities across China Saturday, and in some places turned violent.
Here in Xi'an, protesters marched to the city's central intersection at the bell tower, and by the afternoon, a large crowd had begun to amass in front of the Bell Tower Hotel, one of the city's upscale hotels. A mob of people had smashed the windows of the hotel and were hurling bottles and other hard objects at police who had gathered to block access to the hotel.
According to a high school student who had joined the protests and would only give her English name Kristen, some of the protesters had attacked the hotel because there were Japanese staying inside. It was not clear who the guests were or if they were being kept inside for their safety. Some of the protesters had been arrested, according to the girl, and a sign hung on the hotel's entrance read "release the prisoners." She told me that while she had joined the protests because she was interested to take part, she was very disappointed in the violence that was happening, calling it "useless and not productive."
But the arrest of demonstrators and the decision to call in security forces in Xi'an showed that when things get out of control, authorities are just as willing to call in troops to restrain order. By and large, most people protesting were peaceful, waving Chinese flags and a few holding signs to encourage boycotts of Japanese goods. Around the city, Japanese-made cars were destroyed and turned over, passing crowds gathering at times to take photos using their iPhones.