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by Antoaneta Bezlova

Chinese Unite to Defend Olympic Torch

(IPS) BEIJING -- When the Eiffel Tower was lit up in red to celebrate the Chinese New Year in 2004 during the year of China in France, Chinese people generously professed their love for all things French. "The warmth the Chinese felt could not be described in words," gushed the People's Daily.

Nothing could be more different from that mood today as the mainland public vents its fury over the perceived insult to China's Olympic torch caused by pro-Tibet demonstrators during its relay in Paris and other world cities.

Over the weekend, hundreds of protesters gathered in front of stores belonging to the French supermarket chain Carrefour and the French embassy, waving Chinese flags and calling for a boycott of French products.

Protesters held red banners displaying "Carrefour out of China markets!" and "Come on China, come on Olympics." They circulated text messages with lists of products and brands to boycott, such as Louis Vuitton and Carrefour which are perceived to be supporting the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader.

Televised scenes of aggressive protests that have accompanied the Olympic torch relay in Paris have sparked an outrage among Chinese bloggers and people on Internet forums. While the relay had attracted anti-China protests in London and San Francisco too, the chaotic scenes in Paris where pro-Tibet demonstrators were seen attempting to grab the flame from Paralympic fencer Jin Jing had inflamed the biggest anger.

"Boycott Carrefour! Slap them in the face and let the beast vanish from Chinese territory," read one posting. State media has alleged that a major shareholder in Carrefour had financed the exiled government of the Dalai Lama -- a charge denied by Carrefour. Chinese public has also been angered by reports that French President Nicolas Sarkozy intends to skip the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics as a show of support for Tibetan protesters facing a Chinese crackdown.

"If foreigners are calling for a boycott of the Olympics, then naturally Chinese people have their own right to launch a boycott of Carrefour," says journalist and blogger Chang Ping.

The protests started in Beijing on Saturday and spread to five other major cities -- Qingdao, Wuhan, Hefei, Kunming and Xian. Bloggers have called for bigger demonstrations and more boycotts during the Labor Day holidays when retail outlets like Carrefour usually see their biggest turnouts of customers.

France is not the only target of virulent anti-foreign sentiments. Chinese blogs and chat rooms have unleashed tidal waves of criticism at western media for its perceived bias in reporting the Tibetan riots in mid-March. Commentators have alleged that western media had overlooked the assaults on business people from the Han and Hui ethnic groups while trumpeting the grievances of Tibetans.

"Don't be too CNN, fire to the Western media," appeals one of the biggest Chinese language online portal sites, The site has also launched a petition against the western media, attracting millions of signatures.

"Rise Chinese people all over the world! Oppose firmly any attempts to disrupt the relay of our Olympic torch! Oppose any speeches, events and violent acts aimed at splitting the motherland! Protect the torch by signing here," the petition reads.

The Tibetan protests and the subsequent global demonstrations against China's lack of democracy and its human rights in ethnic-minority regions like Xinjiang and Tibet have all been perceived here as a great plot to embarrass China as it prepares for its Olympic party.

With the state propaganda perpetuating the idea that the Olympics would crown the achievements of the communist party over the last 30 years of economic reforms, disruptions of the Olympic torch relay have been seen here as malicious attempts to constrain China's rise.

"I don't believe that all the protests we have seen on TV are motivated by pure human rights concerns," says Sun Yonggeng, who works as a teacher in one of Beijing's international kindergartens. "Why protest now? Why didn't they protest last year or the year before? Of course it is normal to assume that some people are envious of China's rapid development."

The protests come to reveal a large gap between China's own perception of itself and foreign views of China. Protests abroad have gathered momentum highlighting the less salubrious side of the country's economic success story such as shoddy goods and ecological degradation and criticising the government for the lack of democracy and its support of unsavoury regimes in Sudan and Burma.

Beijing by contrast, had all along described the country's emergence as a great power as a "peaceful rise" and its astonishing economic growth as conducive to the global economy. That view is supported by the vast majority of the Chinese population with whom issues of concern to foreign campaign groups such as Tibet, Xinjiang and Sudan, find little resonance.

At schools, young people are taught a sanitized version of history, which glosses over the political purges and the famine inflicted by the communist regime but accentuates the humiliations suffered by China at foreign hands. In public surveys the majority of China's urban population has shown it is at one with the government in hoping that the games will bolster China's international standing.

"Instead of sowing discord between the average Chinese and their government, the series of events following the riots in Lhasa have rallied the multi-ethnic Chinese, at home and abroad, more tightly together," said an editorial in the China Daily last week. "More important, the unprecedented solidarity has demonstrated universal spontaneity," it added.

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Albion Monitor   April 21, 2008   (

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