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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Indignant Chinese Urge Anti-West Boycott Over Pro-Tibet Stance

April 21, 2008

The New York Times
April 20, 2008

BEIJING — Armed with her laptop and her indignation, Zhu Xiaomeng sits
in her dorm room here, stoking a popular backlash against Western
support for Tibet that has unnerved foreign investors and Western
diplomats and, increasingly, the ruling Communist Party.

Over the last week, Ms. Zhu and her classmates have been channeling
anger over anti-China protests during the tumultuous Olympic torch relay
into a boycott campaign against French companies, blamed for their
country’s support of pro-Tibetan agitators. Some have also called for a
boycott against American chains like McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken.

On Friday and Saturday, protesters gathered in front of a half-dozen
outlets of the French retailer Carrefour, including a demonstration in
the central city of Wuhan that reportedly drew several thousand people,
according to Agence France-Presse. On Saturday, about 50 demonstrators
carrying banners held a brief rally at the French Embassy here before
the police shooed them away.

For the moment, however, most of the outrage is confined to the
Internet. More than 20 million people have signed online petitions
saying they plan to stop shopping at the Carrefour chain, Louis Vuitton
and other stores linked to France because of what they see as the
country’s failure to protect the torch during its visit to Paris last
week. In a survey released on Friday, China’s state news agency, known
as Xinhua, said 66 percent of those who responded said they would stay
away from Carrefour during a monthlong boycott planned for May.

Public indignation has also been directed at Western news outlets, which
are blamed for one-sided coverage of the torch relay and for
anti-Chinese bias in their reporting on the disturbances in Tibet. In
recent days, foreign news outlets here have been swamped by angry phone
calls; two music videos circulating on the Internet blast CNN with
expletives and lyrics like, “Don’t think that repeating something over
and over again means that lies become truth.”

Like many young people, Ms. Zhu, a student at Beijing’s prestigious
Foreign Studies University, said she had been infuriated by what she
described as unfair attacks on the country’s image. “China used to be
known as the sick man of Asia,” said Ms. Zhu, 19, who has been sending
out tens of thousands of pro-boycott messages through a popular online
chat service called QQ. “We were separated like sand. But this worldwide
show of support by Chinese all over the globe illustrates we have
solidarity on this issue. After 5,000 years, we’re not so soft anymore.”

The boycott call, spread through millions of text messages and postings
on the country’s most heavily trafficked Web sites, provides a window
into the technology’s growing power to mobilize a country whose
political passions are usually kept in check by tight government control.

Although Communist Party officials have the ability to block text
messages and Internet traffic they find objectionable, the censors have
until now given boycott organizers free reign. In many ways, they have
been feeding the outrage by publicizing the threat by the French
president, Nicolas Sarkozy, to skip the opening ceremonies and by
repeatedly calling on CNN to apologize for remarks made by Jack
Cafferty, a commentator who called the Chinese government “goons and
thugs.” The network has expressed regret for offending the Chinese
people but officials here have dismissed the response as insincere.

But in a sign that the government may now be worried about the intensity
of popular passion, Xinhua said on Friday that it was time to curb
nationalist zeal. While it lauded the boycott crusade, it advised people
not to complicate the government’s aim of encouraging foreign investment
in China.

“Patriotic fervor should be channeled into a rational track and must be
transformed into real action toward doing our work well,” the agency said.

On Saturday, it issued a stronger warning, highlighting government
concern that anti-Western sentiment could affect public attitudes during
the Olympics, when 1.5 million people are expected to arrive here.
“Every son and daughter of China has the responsibility to show to the
world in real action that China welcomes friends from all countries with
open arms and will deliver an outstanding Olympics,” it said in an

In the past, the government has encouraged nationalistic outbursts and
then quashed them when passions grew too inflamed — or when the protests
had achieved the political purpose officials envisioned. In 1999, the
authorities gave free rein to a brief spasm of anti-American protest
after the accidental bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade; in
2005, they allowed even larger anti-Japanese demonstrations, which were
fueled by anger over textbooks glossing over Japan’s wartime atrocities
in China.

During marches in several Chinese cities that year, the police stood by
as eggs and rocks were thrown at Japanese consulates. A few weeks later,
officials pulled the plug by shutting down the organizers’ Web sites and
filtering out anti-Japanese messages.

Mindful of how a public grief following the death of a party official
morphed into the pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square, the Chinese
government recognizes that vitriolic campaigns against outsiders could
easily pivot toward the Communist Party.

Fang Xingdong, who runs, a hub for Chinese bloggers, said
that he thought the government would not stand in the way of the boycott
but that it would intervene if the anti-Western campaign became too
disruptive. “If the irrational mood and behaviors among netizens are
getting more and more intense, it will be very dangerous,” he said,
using the term for the community of bloggers and message-board users.
“But I think this will not be beyond government’s control.”

If the protests on Saturday are any indication, official tolerance for
unsanctioned demonstrations is wearing thin. According to witnesses and
news reports, most of the Carrefour protests were quickly dispersed by
the police. In Beijing, a rally that drew about 50 people to the French
Embassy and a nearby French school lasted an hour before riot police
shooed them away. By 3 p.m., dozens of uniformed officers had sealed off
access to the streets surrounding the embassy.

In a country where the press is tightly controlled, the growing
popularity of high-tech communication has made such protests possible.
Some 229 million people have Internet access in the country, compared
with 217 million in the United States, and usage in China is growing by
30 percent a year, according to BDA China, a research firm. Cellphone
text messaging is ubiquitous here, with more than 98 percent of the
country’s 400 million cellphone owners regularly using text messages.
Another 300 million people are registered on instant messaging networks
like MSN and QQ. Ms. Zhu, for one, says that instant messaging is an
effective way to reach thousands of people with a few keyboard strokes.
“I don’t send e-mails to individuals,” she said. “It’s inefficient — you
can reach a lot more people by e-mailing groups on QQ.”

In a demonstration of the Internet’s viral prowess, some 2.3 million MSN
users have attached “I Love China” icons to their online profiles as an
expression of solidarity against “Tibetan separatists.” A Google search
for “Carrefour Boycott” in Chinese yielded over 2.4 million Web pages,
most of them created in the last week.

Many of the messages accuse Carrefour executives of providing financial
support to pro-Tibetan advocates, a charge the company denies. Others
say American fast-food chains should be boycotted as a punishment for
the recent meeting by the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, with the
Dalai Lama.

In the past, boycott campaigns in China have largely come to naught.

On Wednesday afternoon, as she sat in a cafe sipping a can of Coke, Ms.
Zhu said she thought the boycott would be a success. “Tibet is our
country’s territory. You have no right to interfere in our interior
affairs,” she said, adding, “A boycott may not be the right long-term
solution but we have to give the French people a lesson.”

Huang Yuanxi contributed research.
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