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China Reins in Nationalistic Anger

April 27, 2008

Government Stifles Anti-West Protests; Olympics Play Role

and LORETTA CHAO in Beijing
The Wall Street Journal
April 24, 2008; Page A6

The Chinese government is moving to tamp down nationalistic anger over
Western criticism of Beijing's policies in Tibet.

In the latest sign, authorities informed participants in a major music
festival that the event would likely be postponed to avoid providing a
venue for new demonstrations of patriotic or anti-Western sentiment.
Already, they have been cracking down on student protests and online
videos of demonstrations have disappeared from Chinese Web sites.

It is a familiar pattern: Chinese nationalism rears up, sometimes with
what seems to be tacit government backing, only to get reined in before
it threatens to spin out of control -- in this case, before it can mar
preparations for the summer Olympic Games in Beijing.

At Nanjing Normal University, researcher Guo Quan says counselors have
been told to "manage student sentiment." On Monday, he says,
universities around China were told by the central government to stop
all protests.

Such fervor that has generated protests against French retailer
Carrefour SA in nine cities and cyberattacks on American media.

"The Chinese government is trying to cool patriotic fervor now, because
it believes that it has already achieved the desired goal: to tell the
world that Chinese are protesting against the French," says Mr. Guo.
"We're in a time when there are lots of other social problems such as a
troublesome stock market, and rocketing commodity prices might drive
people's anger to a larger scale."

The student crackdown appears to be particularly strong in the city of
Hefei, in the eastern province of Anhui, where on Saturday, thousands
protested outside a Carrefour store near the city's university district,
waving red flags and chanting "love China, boycott Carrefour." On
Sunday, universities there suspended classes and asked students to stay
on campus, students say.

The Communist Youth League, a division of the Communist Party with a big
presence on Chinese campuses, has been arranging meetings and
distributing propaganda to calm nationalistic sentiment, say students.
The Anhui branch of the Communist Youth League declined to answer questions.

"The atmosphere here on campus is a bit intense at this moment," said a
Ph.D. student surnamed Shen from Hefei's China Technology and Science
University. "Those who went out for the weekend protest were called for
a talk in counselors' office this week," she said.

Some Chinese have reported difficulty sending text messages such as
"boycott Carrefour" and "don't shop at Carrefour" on the cellular
network run by China Mobile Ltd., the country's largest cellphone
carrier. Rainie Lei, a spokeswoman for China Mobile, said the company
wasn't blocking any such messages.

In Beijing, participants in the Midi Music Festival that had been
scheduled to start May 1 were informed on Wednesday that the event
likely will be postponed to October due to safety concerns. Zhang Fan,
the festival's director, said he thinks the authorities are "afraid that
the participating music fans and young people will conduct Tibetan or
anti-West" demonstrations.

Last month, Icelandic singer Björk declared "Tibet! Tibet!" at a
concert in Shanghai, embarrassing authorities.

"It's very regrettable," said Mr. Zhang, who noted that some foreign
bands are already in China for the show. "Midi is a very good
opportunity to show the world that Chinese society is happy, equal and
free. Western media always says China suppresses people, but Midi shows
that China's young people are so happy, so looking forward to welcoming
the Olympics."

Kou Zhengyu, a guitarist who planned to play at the Midi festival, said
while he felt "music has nothing to do with politics," he also "could
understand the government decision. The government must worry about the
safety issue."

After initially trying to play down coverage of Olympics torch-relay
protests in London and Paris, the Chinese government went on a public
relations offensive. Jin Jing, a wheelchair-bound torch bearer in Paris
who was attacked by a protester, became a Chinese hero. An April 11
editorial by Xinhua, the state-run news agency, said "Chinese people are
seriously disturbed and hurt" by the incident involving Ms. Jin. French
President Nicolas Sarkozy later apologized to Ms. Jin personally over
the matter.

Some Chinese started calling for a boycott on French products, and in
particular Carrefour, which has a significant presence in China.

But late last Thursday, the government's rhetoric began to change, with
a call from Xinhua for "patriotic zeal to concentrate on development."

A news editor at Phoenix Television, a Hong Kong-based Chinese news
broadcaster with ties to Beijing, said news, pictures and video of the
anti-Carrefour protests weren't allowed on air. Xinhua reports said the
protests were targeted against "Tibet independence," not against
foreigners. (News Corp., owner of The Wall Street Journal, owns a
minority stake in Phoenix.)

China has periodically seen major student outbursts of patriotism. In
1999, after the Chinese embassy in Belgrade was bombed by a North
Atlantic Treaty Organization mission, students across China engaged in
occasionally violent protests against "American hegemony." (NATO
contends the bombing was accidental.) After a few days, during which
students vented their anger, the government told the students to stop
protesting and go back to school.

This time, China can't afford to let the backlash continue too long
without poisoning the atmosphere for the Beijing Olympics, which is just
over 100 days away. The event is expected to bring throngs of visitors
to China, including 25,000 foreign journalists.

Nationalism and sports have proven to be a volatile mix before in China.
After a 2004 Asian Cup soccer final between China and Japan held at
Beijing's Workers' Stadium, hundreds of Chinese fans rioted, throwing
bottles and yelling at police. China had lost the game 3 to 1.

Another factor that separates the recent spate of nationalism from past
student uprisings is the Internet, now a major cultural force in the
lives of young Chinese people. According to official Chinese data, the
country has more than 210 million Internet users, the majority of whom
are under the age of 30.

The Internet developed into a significant platform for organizing
protests and venting anger with foreign attitudes toward China. Users
created countless patriotic videos detailing the crimes of the West
against China. Millions of people using the MSN messaging program
promoted their patriotism by adding a heart symbol and "China" next to
their names.

There have been some efforts in recent days to curtail online displays
of nationalism. Some videos of the Carrefour protests available earlier
on sites such as are now gone. A Tudou spokesman declined to
comment, but Chinese Internet-media companies routinely remove content
that violates their antiviolence or antipornography-service agreements,
or which they feel may be objectionable to the government.

Moreover, some Chinese hackers who had planned a significant attack on
the Web site of Time Warner Inc.'s CNN, a major source of nationalistic
resentment over its coverage of the recent unrest in Tibet, appear to
have withdrawn. While did experience an attack that affected
users in Asia last Friday, hacker Web sites in China had promised much more.

The posts by some organizers of the attack calling for disbandment have
an edge of "fear" to them, says Scott Henderson, author of the book Dark
Visitor, about Chinese hackers. One in particular "could not have added
many more exclamation points in his announcement," he said. "It was a
'PLEASE DO NOT HACK!!!!!!!!!' sort of plea."

Write to Geoffrey A. Fowler at geoffrey.fowler@wsj.com1, Juliet Ye at and Loretta Chao at loretta.chao@wsj.com3
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