On Sept.18, as anti-Japan demonstrations in China reached their sometimes-violent peak, about 50 angry Beijingers made their way to the U.S. Embassy. The day’s protests were about Japan, which disputes ownership of some uninhabited islands with China, but the logic of nationalism dictated that America also deserved their anger. When U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke’s car appeared, protesters surrounded it, chanting anti-American slogans and pounding on the hood and windows. Eventually, security forces standing a few feet away intervened and helped Locke’s car move past the crowd.
Damien Ma, a Eurasia Group analyst and sometime-writer for TheAtlantic.com (where I used to be his editor) was also in Beijing that day. He hitched a ride with an “odd” driver who claimed to be one of the embassy attackers. “His eyes seem to be glazed over,” Ma writes:
Driver: Are you guys Americans?Us: Yeah.Silence.Driver: So did you hear about the attack on your ambassador 骆家辉 (Luo Jiahui, Locke’s Chinese name) earlier today?Me: Yeah.Driver: I was the attacker. But the car was very well made, I couldn’t do much damage to it. (pause) You can check it out, they said they have my picture on the Internet now. Do you think I’ll have trouble getting a visa to the U.S. in the future?
Something seemed terribly wrong here, and I was rendered speechless. Was he mentally unstable or telling the truth? But that was irrelevant, we seemed to have been picked up by a criminal who tried to damage our ambassador’s car. My mind raced, we needed to get out of the car. But the tiny jalopy continued to barrel down the wide Beijing boulevard, and I soon noticed that he was not taking us to our destination. There was little I could do but to repeatedly insist that he pull over. To my surprise, after no apparent response after several prods to stop, he eventually did. I threw some RMBs at him and we scurried out.