Wearing a kimono could get you arrested in China, as anti-Japanese sentiment rises

Domestic News

“Picking quarrels and provoking trouble” is routinely used as a reason to detain Chinese journalists, activists, and those who dare to speak out against Beijing’s norms. Last week, it was used to detain a woman wearing a kimono amid a tide of anti-Japanese sentiment in China.

Illustration by Nadya Yeh

A Chinese woman was detained by police and questioned for hours on August 10 for wearing a kimono and taking photos in Suzhou last week.

The woman, an active cosplayer on Weibo under the nickname “Shadow not Self” (是影子不是本人), wore the traditional Japanese garment while dressed as a popular character from the manga series Summer Time Rendering. She was questioned last Wednesday for hours by Suzhou police: “If you came here wearing Hanfu, I wouldn’t say this. But you are wearing a kimono, as a Chinese. You are a Chinese! Are you?” an officer said. (Hànfú 汉服 is a clothing style modeled on Chinese traditional apparel, and has nationalist associations.)

  • “Has even cosplay become dangerous now?” said commenters per What’s on Weibo, while others called the actions by the police “scary.”
  • “It’s just cosplay!” said one person. “How did she break the law?” wrote another.

The woman was accused of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” (​​寻衅滋事 xúnxìn zīshì), a broadly defined charge routinely used by Chinese authorities to punish dissent, which often ensnares the likes of journalists, activists, and petitioners who speak out against official narratives in China.

  • Calls to release journalist Máo Huìbīn 毛慧斌 have grown, after he was arrested and detained by police on August 9 for posting questions online (now scrubbed) about the whereabouts of the victims of a June 2022 attack in the northeastern city of Tangshan, where a group of men assaulted four women who rejected their sexual advances at a barbeque restaurant.
  • Freelance reporter Zhāng Zhǎn 张展 has been on a hunger strike for more than a year, after she was sentenced to four years in prison in 2020 for reporting on the early days of the epidemic.
  • An Dong, an employee for the EU delegation, was detained in May, likely for posting politically risky content to Chinese social media, but it is unclear what led the security services to detain and charge him.

The charge “really got a lot of play since the rise and fall of [civil society] activities” in the first decade of this century. “It’s what they call a koudai zui (口袋罪 kǒudài zuì), a term I translate as ‘portmanteau crimes,’” scholar Geremie Barmé told SupChina in May.

The cosplaying woman’s detainment comes amid a wave of anti-Japanese sentiment in China, despite the upcoming 50th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic ties this September. Tensions between the two nations have grown in recent years, exacerbated by the fallout from U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan.

  • Beijing summoned the Japanese ambassador to China, Tarumi Hideo, on August 5 to oppose the statement issued by the G7 foreign ministers condemning China’s response to Pelosi’s trip.
  • At least seven Chinese cities have canceled Japanese-style summer festivals, known as Matsuri, last month due to public pressure.
  • Despite global outpourings of grief, some Chinese internet users lauded the assassination of former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe. Many such postings remain up on China’s social media platforms.
  • The Chinese government commemorated the end of “Chinese People’s War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression” yesterday “as the whole nation marked the 77th anniversary of Japan’s surrender.”
  • Chinese state media also condemned Japanese politicians who visited the controversial Yasukuni Shrine yesterday to mark the same anniversary.