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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

It's been a weekend of huge anti-Japanese protests in more than 50 cities across China. Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets to denounce Japan's purchase of a disputed chain of uninhabited islands in the South China Sea, prompting Japan's prime minister to urge China to protect Japanese citizens and companies.

NPR's Louisa Lim reports from the Beijing protests.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHANTING PROTESTERS)

LOUISA LIM, BYLINE: This is the second day of massive protests on the streets of Beijing outside the Japanese Embassy. Thousands of people are marching, waving Chinese flags and calling for China to declare war on Japan. But in a country that does not normally allow protest, the fact that these protests have been allowed to go ahead all over China is sending a very clear message.

DONG XIAORONG: (Foreign language spoken)

LIM: The government must support us, says one marcher, Dong Xiaorong, because the islands are Chinese.

There's huge public anger about Japan's purchase last week of the disputed islands, known as Diaoyu by China and Senkaku by Japan.

MU PEIDONG: (Foreign language spoken)

PROTESTERS: (Foreign language spoken)

PEIDONG: (Foreign language spoken)

PROTESTERS: (Foreign language spoken)

LIM: Mu Peidong is at the head of one column of marchers. I ask what his aims are.

PEIDONG: (Foreign language spoken)

LIM: Kick the Japanese out of China, he says, and declare war. Although China is a peaceful country, he goes on, our territory cannot be invaded.

(SOUNDBITE OF AIRCRAFT)

LIM: There are helicopters flying low down one of Beijing's main thoroughfares. There are hundreds and hundreds of policemen, and anti-riot police, and paramilitary troops on the street. The city looks very different from normal today.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

LIM: Recorded messages urge protestors to respect the law and remain rational, though many throw bottles at the Japanese embassy.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTESTERS)

LIM: Elsewhere, there has been violence. In Changsha, protesters raided a Japanese department store. In Qingdao, a dozen Japanese-run factories were attacked. Recent statements by China's Foreign Ministry spokesman leave no doubt as to its stance. Hong Lei speaks through an interpreter.

HONG LEI: (Through Translator) China has sacred sovereignty over the Diaoyu Island and its affiliated islets. The Chinese people and government are firm and resolute in defending their territorial sovereignty.

PROTESTERS: (Singing in foreign language)

LIM: The protesters sing the Chinese National Anthem even as they call for war, showing how patriotism and anti-Japanese nationalism are intertwined. This bitter hatred of Japanese has historical roots. But it's fanned by China's state-run media, with one paper even calling for nuclear war on Japan. This Tuesday is the anniversary of Japan's wartime occupation of China; the authorities may find such vitriolic anger, once stoked, is difficult to control.

Louisa Lim, NPR News, Beijing.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WERTHEIMER: You're listening to NPR News.

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