Political protests have rarely happened in China since the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre. If it does, foreign countries are the targets, such as the United States or Japan. This time, France has become the unlucky one.
Because of the Beijing Olympic Torch Relay boycott in France, mainland Chinese started the boycott of French Retailer Carrefour a week ago and the boycott reached its peak last Saturday (April 19).
During the morning of April 19, about ten demonstrators held banners such as “Shut up France, Tibet is part of China!” outside the French Embassy in Beijing. That afternoon, streets near the French embassy were sealed off by the police.
According to Japan's Kyodo News, by 10 am on April 19, about 15 vehicles with banners such as “Tibet is part of China,” “Support the Olympics,” drove by the French embassy while a police vehicle followed. Protestors waived the Chinese national flag and sound their horns loudly. The activity lasted for about 15 minutes. Kyodo News commented that political protests were rarely seen in Beijing. The government must have consented to it tacitly.
Demonstrations Throughout China
On the same day (April 19), demonstrations in cities such as Beijing, Wuhan, Hefei, Qingdao, Kunming also blocked the front entrance of Carrefour in their respective cities.
In east China's Hefei City, dozens of heavy vehicles blocked the front door of the Carrefour supermarket. Slogans of “Love our China, Against Tibet Independence” were painted on the wall of the supermarket. There were students shouting “Maintain Our Country's Unification, Oppose Tibet's Independence” and Carrefour customers were also being blocked by demonstrators from shopping.
Also in the eastern coastal city of Qingdao, a group of people burned the French national flag outside of a Carrefour supermarket.
In southwest China's Kunming City, residents had protested at the local Carrefour for three consecutive days. Over two hundred people used a huge five-star Chinese national flag to block entrances and expressed contempt for those who entered or exited the supermarket.
One Carrefour customer on site, Mr. Zhu questioned demonstrators, “Why are you resisting Carrefour where most merchandise is made in China…. very irrational.” Before he finished his sentence, the crowd scolded him loudly, “Traitor! What are you talking about?” and pushed him on the ground, some even threw water bottles at him.
According to Tanwai's Liberty Times report in central China's Wuhan City, several hundreds surrounded Carrefour on April 19, shouting “Boycott Carrefour. The demonstrators also held up a portrait of Chairman Mao. Some people painted Nazi symbols on the French national flag. Media estimated several thousand university students participated in the protest.
Official and Press Responses
French ambassador to China, Herve Ladsous held a press conference on April 18 and criticized the protests saying, “Carrefour” has tens of thousands of Chinese employees, “boycotting Carrefour is equivalent to boycotting the Chinese public.”
Radio Free Asia quoted former senior Chinese reporter Ling Cangzhou, “There are people criticizing CNN, but we think this is because most of them have been unable to watch CNN. If they were able to actually watch CNN, they might not be so biased.”
Even though the regime's official media is the one fueling the current “patriotic” demonstrations, in the evening of April 17, Xinhua News Agency published an article without an author's name criticizing the boycott of French merchandise, especially Carrefour, “…revealed some people's patriotic sentiments, but they should have used a more rational, practical, and mature approach to express their feelings, because in this age of global economics, resisting a certain country's products…is very unwise…and will eventually hurt their own benefits.”
Concerns for the Beijing Olympics
Experts believe that the authorities are also worried that the situation may get out of control and thus endanger the Beijing Olympics. The article was a signal that the authority was attempting to cool down this round of “patriotic” actions of protesting foreign merchants. According to a Radio Free Asia report, mainland universities have already received orders from upper authorities to closely monitor student activities and stop them from going to the streets again.
On Monday (April 21), the majority of Carrefour supermarkets in China were back to business as usual. In Shanghai, many people were even attracted by the discount sales of French brand Lafuma in the Westgate Mall in Meilong District.