Chinese vent anti-Western fury online

Bloggers are now calling for boycotts and stoking death threats over perceived insults from Westerners who have criticized China's human rights record ahead of this summer's Olympic Games.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

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    Boycott? A woman checked out Wednesday at a Carrefour supermarket in Nanjing, China. Bloggers are hoping to launch a boycott of the popular French chain.
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A violent storm of nationalist indignation is roiling the Chinese internet, as bloggers vent their anger at perceived Western insults in the wake of the Tibetan uprising last month.

Simmering resentment at the way the Olympic torch relay was treated by pro-Tibet demonstrators in London and Paris has boiled over this week into invective against a CNN commentator, a French supermarket chain, and Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the US House of Representatives.

The government, which keeps a close eye on Internet debate through censors who delete unapproved comment, has given the campaign free rein. Indeed it has added its voice to the angry chorus, which some observers say echoes ancient resentments.

Recommended: Five tough truths about US-China relations

"This has deep historical resonance," says Kenneth Lieberthal, a political science professor at the University of Michigan. Now that China has regained the international stature it ceded 150 years ago to Western powers, he says, the country's leaders harbor suspicions that "the West is trying to humiliate them again."

CNN apologized Wednesday to Chinese citizens who felt that commentator Jack Cafferty had called them a "bunch of goons and thugs" during an edition of "The Situation Room" last week. Mr. Cafferty had previously explained that he had been referring to the Chinese government, not to the Chinese people.

The clarification and apology came too late, however, to stem a tide of outraged posts across the Chinese blogosphere, where a Chinese translation of Cafferty's derogatory comments had been widely disseminated.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu took up their cause Tuesday, saying Beijing was "shocked to hear the malicious attacks … against the Chinese people." She demanded an apology.

The wave of anti-Western sentiment – unmatched since US planes bombed China's embassy in Belgrade in 1999 –has been fueled by bloggers complaining about biased Western media coverage of the Tibet issue and posting examples.

Demonstrations in Europe that disrupted the international Olympic torch relay fanned the flames: The torch is seen here as a symbol of the summer Olympic Games, which are a source of intense national pride.

The Chinese government has also instilled a sense of pride in the country's achievements over the past three decades. "They have pulled themselves up and they are beginning to command global respect," says Mr. Lieberthal. "They have economic achievements to show, and they have advanced without wars, and without upsetting the international apple cart."

Most Chinese are baffled by the Western outcry over Tibet, he points out, since they believe that Tibet has always been part of China and that Tibetans have benefited from the country's growing prosperity.

"They think that Tibet cannot be the real reason" for Western criticism of China, Lieberthal adds. "They think that the real reason must be that no matter what they do … the West will give them no credit."

The tone of the Internet debate has grown increasingly heated. "Don't think all Westerners are arrogant and ignorant, but right now most of them are" was among the most moderate postings Wednesday on a china.com discussion thread.

A campaign to boycott Carrefour, the popular French supermarket chain, has gathered pace in recent days through text messages and e-mail chain letters. French President Nicolas Sarkozy has indicated he may not attend the Olympic opening ceremony if Beijing does not open talks with the Dalai Lama.

"Boycott Carrefour. Slap them in the face. Let the beast disappear from Chinese territory," reads one chat-room post urging people to shop elsewhere.

Another campaign spreading like wildfire through the Chinese MSN instant message network calls on users to put "I heart China" in front of their usernames. "Let's show the whole world how united we are," one instant message suggests.

On Taobao.com, a Chinese version of ebay.com, enterprising merchants have seized on the mood to offer T-shirts emblazoned with "Shut Up CNN" or "I Love China."

Chinese students abroad have taken up the cudgels, planning big demonstrations in Europe and Australia. Chinese students at Duke University have assailed one of their compatriots, Grace Wang, who attended a pro-Tibet demonstration on campus, with hate mail and death threats; others have carried the campaign to her parents' home in Qingdao, upending a bucket of feces by their front door.

Officials have also joined the fray. The official Xinhua news agency carried an unusually harsh commentary last weekend attacking Ms. Pelosi – a longstanding critic of the Chinese government – as "disgusting" and "detested by the Chinese people."

Government-run newspapers have run a series of articles condemning what authorities say is unfair foreign press coverage of Tibet-related issues. On Tuesday, China Daily published an editorial arguing that "Westerners have been blaming Chinese authorities for cultivating nationalist sentiments through patriotic education. No patriotic education could possibly be as effective as the Western media's distortion of facts and Western politicians' brazen disregard of the truth."

In an opinion piece published in the same paper, China's ambassador to London, Fu Ying, complained of "the media's attempt to demonize China" and warned that "we all know that demonization feeds a counter-reaction.

"I am concerned that mutual perceptions between the people of China and the West are quickly drifting in opposite directions," she wrote.

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