Accessibility links

Chinese Nationalism May Tarnish Beijing Olympics


Chinese people, around the world, are increasingly showing their dissatisfaction with what they perceive to be Western China-bashing, in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics. Stephanie Ho reports from the Chinese capital.

So far, France has borne the brunt of domestic Chinese anger, following a particularly chaotic leg of the Olympic torch relay in Paris, earlier this month. In one highly publicized incident, Jin Jing, a wheelchair-bound Chinese fencer, clung to the Olympic torch while a pro-Tibet demonstrator tried to snatch it away from her.

Saturday and Sunday, thousands of Chinese people, in cities around the country, protested in front of the French retail giant, Carrefour's, 122 stores in China.

When a Carrefour boycott was called last Thursday, one Carrefour shopper said he would definitely support it.

He says he wants to participate in the boycott, because he believes there are many people in the West who are not friendly to China.

Thousands of ethnic Chinese, in cities around the world, have held demonstrations to criticize what they see as unfair media reporting on China and to show support for the Beijing Olympics.

The Chinese nationalist uproar boiled to the surface after deadly riots broke out in the Tibetan capital Lhasa, last month. The chaos in Lhasa followed days of peaceful protests against Chinese repression in Tibet.

Chinese nationalism has been further fueled by public anger over protests along the Olympic torch route, overseas. Demonstrators have criticized Beijing's human rights record, heavy-handed rule in Tibet and close dealings with authoritarian governments.

Now, with pro-China demonstrations spreading, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu says the Chinese protesters are determined to safeguard China's national interests.

She says she believes the patriotic enthusiasm displayed by Chinese people is "encouraging" and "touching."

Melinda Liu, president of the Foreign Correspondents' Club of China and longtime "Newsweek" China reporter, has a different explanation. She says she believes the current fervor is largely the result of state control of Chinese media.

"This nationalistic and maybe even jingoistic explosion that we're seeing now is partly a legacy of government censorship, Internet policing, selective reporting," she said.

In an apparent effort not to be seen as opposing public sentiment, the Chinese government has acted with a relatively light hand against nationalist demonstrators. Beijing-based China analyst Russell Leigh Moses, says this zeal can become dangerous, if it is allowed to simmer for too long.

"The government here is running a risk to not clamp these protests down, because what are essentially protests aimed at foreign forces, currently, might easily transform themselves into, 'why isn't China, as a government, standing up and standing strong?'" he explained.

Another question is whether extreme Chinese nationalism will have any effect on the Olympics. Daniel Bell, a philosophy professor at Beijing's Tsinghua University, says he hopes Chinese nationalist sentiment will subside in time for the August games.

"I don't expect it to last too long," he said. "At least, I expect that by the time the Olympics are here, there will be much more of an emphasis on putting on a good face for the rest of the world and to greet foreigners and to be civil to them."

Bell says he would like to see renewed emphasis on Olympics-related civility campaigns, such as were held in Beijing before the Lhasa unrest.

Rebecca MacKinnon, assistant journalism professor at the University of Hong Kong and former CNN Beijing Bureau chief, says that, even if China presents a friendlier face, the damage may be deeper and more lasting.

"By the time we get to the end of the Olympics and we get to September, China, along with its public, may be further away from the West, that we may end up with a greater gulf between the West and China," she said.

She says the gulf she is referring to has to do with both sides hardening their perceptions of each other and actually remaining at odds. She says the most important questions people in China and in the West need to honestly examine are what really happens in China and how should China relate to the rest of the world?

XS
SM
MD
LG