The bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade has provoked an eruption of outraged nationalism and anti-US fury on the mainland which last night threatened to slip out of the Chinese government's control. By early this morning, the whole area surrounding the British and American missions in central Peking's main embassy district had been cordoned off, but raucous protesters with Chinese flags and anti-Nato placards still swarmed through the area.
As dusk fell last night, angry Peking demonstrators had broken through police lines guarding the US embassy, hurled rocks into the compound breaking windows, and damaged American cars on the street outside. Police reinforcements were quickly brought in, as hundreds of ordinary Chinese people vented their rage at the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. "Down with American imperialism", they shouted. "Are you American?" they demanded menacingly of Westerners close to the compound.
This unscripted and volatile crowd followed an extraordinary, highly orchestrated, afternoon when 4,000 students from a dozen of Peking's universities were bused in to march past the US embassy, shouting anti-American slogans. A paramilitary police cordon had ringed the embassy, but they did not stop many of the students from throwing water bottles, eggs and pieces of broken paving stones over the main gate. Large numbers of plain-clothes state security officials stood by as the bombardment continued.
With just four weeks to go before the extremely sensitive 10th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, the fact that the authorities would actually organise a huge student street demonstration illustrated the depth of official Chinese anger. The streets around the embassy had been cleared ahead of the students' arrival.
One 19-year-old, from the National Minorities University, said: "I'm very angry. The bombing was not an accident." Like most students, she believed the embassy had been targeted deliberately, but there was also evidence that the protest had been orchestrated. She read a statement from a "protest notice" which had been issued to many students from different universities, and said her group had been organised by the college authorities: "We were notified at 3pm. There are 10 people from my department."
At this stage in events, ordinary Chinese were being kept well back from the embassy. But Chinese nationalism is an unpredictable and powerful instinct, and the government's calculation to permit the students to protest may have unleashed forces which it will find much harder to control.
In the early hours of this morning, demonstrators on the streets said they planned to continue today, with an even bigger protest at the US embassy. "Americans don't be so arrogant. we have 1.2 billion Chinese people and we will not allow you to treat us like this," said one man.Reuse content