China Dampens Patriotic Fervor

China has begun moving to dampen a wave of mass popular anger among young people, sparked by recent protests during its Olympic torch relay over the recent crackdown in Tibet, according to journalists and academics.

“All the student counselors have been told to ‘manage student sentiment’ and to learn what students are going to do, and to make sure that students don’t go out to demonstrate,” a professor at Nanjing Normal University in eastern China said.

“The Chinese government is trying to cool patriotic fervor now, because it believes that it has achieved the desired goal—to tell the world that Chinese are protesting against the French,” professor Guo Quan told RFA’s Mandarin service. “The goal has been achieved. The game is over.”

China’s Olympic torch relay has been disrupted by protests in major cities, largely over Chinese rule in Tibet, where a wave of anti-government riots and protests erupted in March, triggering an armed crackdown.

Patriotic demonstrators have since marched in several Chinese cities to demand a boycott of French goods and targeted French supermarket chain Carrefour, after Tibet protesters wrestled with Chinese athletes, including a woman in a wheelchair, for the Olympic torch in Paris.

Chinese netizens have also vented widespread anger at the recent anti-China demonstrations online, targeting in particular Chinese Duke University student Grace Wang, who they say failed to show enough patriotic loyalty during a standoff between Tibet protesters and Chinese students on the college’s North Carolina campus.

Radical methods to be 'avoided'
The government now appears to be aiming to use state-controlled media to temper such waves of public hate and anger, via daily guidelines issued by the ruling Communist Party’s powerful propaganda department.

“The government’s propaganda guidelines have clearly pointed out that radical methods of protest should be avoided,” Zhang Yong, chief editor of the China Railway and China Journalist News Web sites told reporter Ding Xiao.  

“The employees of Carrefour are Chinese,” Zhang said. “If the boycott of Carrefour continues, those Chinese will lose their jobs.”

“I think government propaganda has more or less diverted mass resentment away from targeting Carrefour,” he added.

Zhang said he had received a number of SMS messages on his cellphone calling for calm.

“One of them says that the West wants chaos in China, but that we should avoid it. Another message says that protest should have a limit and should focus on safeguarding the Beijing Olympics and opposing Tibet independence,” Zhang said.

But he said he believed the messages were sent by ordinary citizens, rather than by government officials.

In Wuhan, where large demonstrations against Carrefour took place at the weekend, some ordinary citizens seemed to agree, saying most of the protesters were students, who they said had a simplistic approach.

“College students see things in black and white, and therefore they can be very easily stirred up,” one resident told reporter Shi Shan.

“The government doesn’t need to do a lot to mobilize the students, who always don’t have a second thought on the issue of patriotism. Students just want to vent their anger.”

He said he believed the protests might hurt China’s image and cause disgust in the West.

“But we also see an understanding and cooperation between the masses and the government,” he added. “The government will let the demonstrations go on as long as it can stay in control.”

Another Wuhan resident said he was concerned that the protests would scare off potential foreign investors.

“Western countries may be scared. They may feel that these Chinese are best left to themselves, if they are so patriotic,” he said. “Protesting [against] Carrefour may scare off other foreign investors.”

Professor Guo said mass demonstrations in today’s China take place only with the silent consent of the authorities, pointing to previous waves of patriotic demonstrations against the United States in the wake of the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999, and over the capture of a U.S. spyplane in southern China in 2001.

“I am afraid that recent mass demonstrations will likely shift focus from protesting against the West to protesting against the Chinese government,” Guo said. “We know that the May 4th movement [following the 1919 Paris Peace Conference] was also targeting the West first, then became anti-government.”

Retired professor Sun Wenguang, of Shandong University, called for equal respect to be given to all shades of opinion, rather than allowing space only for China’s “angry youth” to vent their feelings.

“The rights of the angry youth should be respected, although I don’t agree with many of their opinions, as they have been brainwashed with one-sided propaganda,” Sun said.

“I think everyone should respect each other’s right to speak. Why are these angry youths allowed to demonstrate, but we are not allowed to do so?”

Original reporting in Mandarin by Ding Xiao and Shi Shan. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated by Jia Yuan. Written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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