Various editorials published yesterday and today in state media newspapers have slammed the recent protests in China against American brands like KFC and Apple as being “irrational” and “disruptive” — rather than “patriotic.”
Nationalistic sentiments have been running high lately, following the installation of the THADD missile defense system in South Korea and the South China Sea ruling in The Hague. Hostility towards the US has been on the rise as many Chinese citizens believe that the Americans are pulling the string behind said events.
Last week, photos of smashed iPhones went viral on Weibo as some netizens vowed to boycott American goods. Customers on Taobao also started to boycott mangoes imported from the Philippines. In Dalian, a man even went on the attack inside the subway after noticing a fellow commuter sporting a pair of Nike sneakers. Last but not least, protesters across several Chinese cities directed their anti-American sentiments towards KFC. Protests against the American fast food brand have sprung up in at least 12 cities in China.
Some protesters have even taken their campaign against American, Japanese and Korean goods to the streets:
In response to all this fervent nationalism, various state-owned news agencies have dismissed these so-called “patriotic” protests and warned its readers about the potential dangers of radical nationalism. “Any action that promotes national development can rightfully be called patriotic. But so-called ‘patriotism’ that willfully sacrifices public order will only bring damage to the nation and society,” reads one editorial published by People’s Daily.
Xinhua also slammed protesters, pointing out that “destroying the property of your own countryman is not patriotism.” Even the Global Times, a nationalist tabloid run by People’s Daily, also criticized the protesters in a recent editorial, while cautioning that “a few ridiculous incidents are not representative of Chinese people’s patriotic sentiments.”
The Chinese government has a history of achieving its political agenda by manipulating nationalism and populism. Large-scale protests broke out in China in 2012 with tens of thousands of angry citizens taking to the streets to protest Japan’s claim over the Diaoyu Islands. Many analysts speculated that the protests were organized and permitted by the government as a way to distract people from the ongoing political scandals involving senior politician, Bo Xilai. However, rising populism around the globe and its devastating consequences have alarmed Beijing, pushing them to adopt an agenda that also suppresses nationalism when the time comes.
Since the beginning of 2016, Xinhua and People’s Daily have started a wide-ranged campaign to condemn populism politics around the globe. The Global Times has called Donald Trump a “populism devil,” while Xinhua has bashed the Brexit movement as a “victory for right-wing extremism.” Right after the Hague court’s ruling against China’s South China Sea claims, Chinese censors began working overtime to control the conversation online. Mostly, they focused on deleting ultra-nationalistic posts that called for war against the Philippines and the US.
Currently, it’s unclear how good of a job the government is doing with stamping out radical nationalism and populism among its citizens. It seems that the situation may require more work than just a few editorials.
Which is why the police have been called out to scatter protesters. On Tuesday, one incident between police and protesters turned violent outside a KFC restaurant in Qinhuangdao, Hebei province. While shouting “Patriotism is not illegal,” a mob of “patriots” attacked one officer who was trying to take away their banners.
State media reports that police from across China are now calling on citizens not to protest or boycott foreign brands in “radical” or “illegal” ways. Looks like they’ll soon be stopping by one company headquartered in Zhejiang.
— Shanghaiist.com (@shanghaiist) July 19, 2016