China Beat Archive


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April 22, 2009 in the China Beat


Copyright April 22, 2009 Julia Lovell. Used by permission.


It’s now a year since Chinese nationalism had its last big public outing. On April 19, 2008, twelve days after pro-Tibet protesters in Paris tried to grab the Olympic flame from a wheelchair-bound Chinese paralympian, patriotic civilians began mobilising protests around the French embassy in Beijing, and outside Carrefours in at least four different Chinese cities. “Protect Our Tibet! Bless Our Olympics! Boycott Carrefour!” declared banners at demonstrations on the northeast coast. “Say No to French Imperialists!”

As popular outrage grew about perceived anti-Chinese bias in Western reporting on the riots in Tibet and opposition to the torch relay, more than ten members of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China are said to have received death threats. “People who fart through the mouth will get shit stuffed down their faces by me!”, “Foreign reporters out of China!” two postings on a popular news site owned by the People’s Daily pronounced. “These bastards make me want to throw up,” ran another. “Throw them in the Taiwan Strait to fill it up. They’re like flies – disgusting.”

Although the content of the rage wasn’t new, its distribution had a certain novelty. As it travelled through the opposed ranks of the pro-Tibet and pro-China lobbies in France, England, the U.S. and Australia, the torch relay turned Chinese nationalism into a headline story in these countries’ media. Those without firsthand experience of or interest in China now encountered (either physically or on primetime news slots) files of red-flag wavers occasionally prepared to kick and punch advocates of Tibetan independence. Things looked particularly ugly in clashes between Chinese and pro-Tibetan demonstrators at Duke University in the U.S., where one Chinese student who suggested dialogue between the two sides received death threats from compatriots. It was not a good PR moment for the PRC. For a while – until the Sichuan earthquake revived global sympathy for China – dyspeptic chauvinism jostled to become the international face of this imminent superpower.