Why a stolen Japanese bike caused such a stir in Wuhan


“Give us back our bicycles” is a favourite chant at Holland’s football matches with Germany – referring back to 1940, when invading troops confiscated thousands of Dutch bikes.

In China a lot of bicycles go missing each year too – though common thieves rather than soldiery are more to blame. According to the China Daily, more than 4 million bikes are stolen annually. But when Kawahara Keiichiro lost his bike in Wuhan, it became headline news across the country.

Who is he? The 28 year-old Japanese nurse quit his job and became a volunteer in the clean-up after the Japanese earthquake and tsunami in March last year. He then started travelling the world by bicycle on a fundraising tour, passing through 18 countries before reaching China on February 3.

Then his bike was stolen from a Wuhan parking lot. Kawahara enlisted the help of a friend, who suggested that he put news of the incident on Sina Weibo. He posted: “This bicycle is like my girlfriend. I’m so sad for losing her. Hope Chinese friends here can help me to get her back.”

Unexpectedly, his post became a sensation. TV stations began to cover the story and netizens forwarded his post. There was plenty of sympathy for his plight. “Lucky that you have already been to a dozen countries. Had you come to China straight from Japan, it would have been the only country you had visited,” one cynic wrote.

Another netizen in Wuhan commented: “I feel really bad. After such a thing happened, what would people think of Wuhan? What would international people think of my hometown? I feel shameful.”

One of the most widely forwarded posts announced: “One Japanese lost a bicycle but all of us Chinese lose face”. Fortunately, two days later Wuhan policemen were contacted by a man named Wang who bought it on the black market. They returned it to it Kawahara.

While this can be counted as good news, the Wuhan police then became a target for criticism from some quarters for giving special attention to Kawahara’s case.

A typical comment on weibo: “Why has the police become so efficient when a foreigner loses his bicycle? What were they doing when so many Chinese people lost their own bicycles?”

Another posted on Tianya: “I lost three bicycles, a motorcycle and a scooter in the last four years. The surveillance camera even caught the thief stealing my scooter. I went to the police station, reported the crime and went home to wait for news. But news never came.”

In an editorial, the People’s Daily also sided with the netizens: “While Kawahara has won our respect, we should also reflect on the omissions in public security, which permit so many bicycle thefts in urban areas. We should also ask if the authorities take seriously their duty to help ordinary citizens recover their stolen property.”

And then there’s the Sino-Japanese relations angle, with some questioning what would have happened if a Chinese tourist lost a bicycle in Japan.

And Sino-Japanese relations hit another bump last week when Kawamura Takashi, mayor of Nagoya, told a visiting delegation of Chinese Communist Party officials from Nanjing that he doubted that Japanese troops had massacred Chinese civilians in 1937.

While such denials aren’t uncommon among some Japanese conservatives, they are rarely raised in such a public manner or directly to Chinese officials.

The Japanese government was soon scrambling to head off a wider diplomatic quarrel over the unfortunate remarks, with an officialspokesmen reasserting Tokyo’s admission that the massacre did, in fact, take place.

Not quickly enough to contain Chinese anger, though. Kawamura’s declaration was soon fuelling a wave of anti-Japanese sentiment online.

Perhaps the 28 year-old cyclist should count himself lucky that his bicycle was returned at all…

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