XIAN, China — A stone monument dedicated to an eight-century Japanese envoy to the Tang Dynasty in the ancient Chinese city of Xian has been vandalized with paint, a Kyodo News reporter confirmed Sunday.
The incident is believed to have been prompted by Japan’s nationalization in mid-September of the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, which are controlled by Japan but claimed by China and Taiwan, according to local residents.
The monument, which stands about 5 meters tall, was erected in a local park in honor of Abe no Nakamaro, a noted scholar who was a member of a Japanese diplomatic mission to the Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.).
It was unveiled in 1979 to mark the signing of a friendship agreement between Xian and Nara, both former imperial capitals.
Residents in the city said that what appears to be red, black and yellow paint stains on the monument were found Friday.
A kanji character meaning “demolish” has been written in red paint beneath a Chinese translation of a poem by Abe no Nakamaro inscribed on the monument. Meanwhile, a separate poem by renowned Chinese poet Li Po about Abe no Nakamaro, his close friend, has been covered in black paint.
As in many other Chinese cities, massive anti-Japanese protests were held in Xian, the capital of Shaanxi Province, after the government of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda purchased three of the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.
Although the uninhabited isles are under Tokyo’s jurisdiction, Beijing and Taipei started to formally dispute their sovereignty in the 1970s after studies indicated potentially lucrative gas reserves may lie beneath their surrounding waters. The islands are known as Diaoyu in China and Tiaoyutai in Taiwan.
A resident of Xian in his 50s said he can understand why the statue was vandalized, pointing out that the Imperial Japanese Military “killed so many Chinese people” in the last century and that Japan still “has not reflected” on its militarist past. A small crowd of people who gathered as he spoke supported his position.
But a 73-year-old Chinese priest deplored the damage, describing Abe no Nakamaro as “a symbol of friendship between China and Japan.”
“It was probably done on impulse by young people who don’t know much about the two countries’ history,” he said.
A Japanese tourist in his 60s from Osaka who was visiting the park said he had considered Xian a relatively safe city to visit, despite strained bilateral ties and heightened tensions over the Senkakus flareup.
“I’m disappointed this kind of incident has happened,” he said