BEIJING — THE Chinese government, as part of a long-running dispute over islands in the East China Sea, recently declared an “air defense identification zone” in the area, raising tensions with Japan and the United States. In my view, the significance of this step is not the warning to Japan, but the patriotic stance it represents. For a long time a strain of popular opinion in China had criticized the government for being weak on the issue. The new stance can be seen as a response to these sentiments. In this connection I am reminded of a pair of incidents last summer. On July 17, in the town of Linwu in Hunan Province, in central China, a melon farmer, Deng Zhengjia, and his wife had a dispute with municipal officials by their roadside watermelon stall. Several officers beat Mr. Deng, and he fell to the ground and died. According to witnesses, he had been struck on the head with a steelyard weight before he fell.