In August 2012, the standoff between China and Japan over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands triggered an emotional response from the mainland Chinese public, as we have noted elsewhere. Protests broke out in a number of cities. In Beijing, protesters hurled eggs at the Japanese Embassy. In Xi’an, a man who was driving a Japanese car was attacked by an angry protester with a bicycle lock, leaving him paralysed. People also vandalised Japanese-made vehicles in several other cities, prompting many car owners to apply patriotic bumper stickers in the hope they would ward off attack.
On 18 September 2012, China’s official anniversary to commemorate the Anti-Japanese War, the entrepreneur, philanthropist and tireless self-promoter Chen Guangbiao (see ‘Cross-straits Relations’ in the 2012 Yearbook) offered people whose Japanese cars had been vandalised free replacements — brand new domestically made Geely sedans. On 12 October, at an open outdoor event held in Nanjing, scores of car-owning couples performed rituals, overseen by Chen, in which the wives placed green military-style hats onto their husbands’ heads. Chen, dressed in green from head to toe, also sang songs solo on the roofs of cars and performed bicycle acrobatics. Aside from a symbolic nod to the concept of ‘green commuting’, the green hat was also meant to add a bit of cheekiness to the event — Chinese slang for cuckoldry is a wife giving her husband a green hat to wear (dai lümaozi 绿帽子). In all, Chen gave forty-three Geely sedans to the former owners of Japanese cars.
For several years, Chen has skillfully exploited news events for personal publicity. He first came to popular attention during the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake when he rushed to the quake zone with a fleet of sixty cranes and trucks, doling out cash on the way. He has frequently made front-page news: distributing cash to people in Taiwan, giving bicycles to pedestrians, announcing that he would change his name to ‘Chen Ditan’ (meaning ‘Low Carbon Chen’), eating unfinished dishes left by customers at restaurants and giving away canned clean air in Beijing.