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Torch protests spark Chinese nationalism

Anti-Chinese protests in Paris, London and Delhi are acting as a catalyst for an outpouring of nationalism.
Reuters | By Ben Blanchard, Beijing
UPDATED ON APR 20, 2008 05:35 PM IST

Dogged by anti-Chinese protests in Paris, London, San Francisco and New Delhi, the Olympic torch relay is acting as a catalyst for an outpouring of nationalism and indignation by the man on the street in China.

Protesters have burnt French flags in front of French-owned supermarkets in the eastern Chinese city of Qingdao, called for boycotts of French goods, and have rallied in Australia, appealing for volunteer guards to protect the flame when it passes through Canberra.

In an increasingly wired society, many, especially the Internet-savvy young, have taken to the Web to express their feelings and demand action.

One popular Chinese online chatroom, Tianya, has called for donations of Chinese flags to support the relay on the remaining legs of its international tour, which includes stops in South Korea, Japan and Vietnam.

"Countrymen, let our five-star red flag fly high and welcome the Olympic torch!", one post proudly proclaimed.

"We Chinese must unite. Let us show those superficial and short-sighted foreigners the style of our spirit!" another said.

"When I saw the face of the Tibet independence element clowns, I was so angry," read a third.

One sided story

China has accused exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama of masterminding the torch protests, a charge he has denied, and Chinese have taken to the streets to stage their own counter-demonstrations in cities on the relay's route.

China's tightly controlled state media has largely glossed over the protests, saying they were the work of only a handful of troublemakers, and that the vast majority of people around the world welcomed the relay.

Reports from the Tibetan government in exile and human rights groups about the situation in Tibet, which saw violent anti-Chinese protests last month, have also not been given a hearing in China.

Yet some Chinese say foreigners are just as guilty at only listening to one side of the story.

"Foreigners keep saying we Chinese are brainwashed by our government, but foreigners are also brainwashed when it comes to Tibet and the Dalai Lama," Zhang Sheng, 51, a retired worker from a state-owned company, said.

"It is unfair to say the Communist Party has no good traits and that the Dalai Lama has no bad traits," Zhang said, buying water at a Beijing branch of French supermarket Carrefour, hit by boycott calls following anti-Chinese protests on the Paris leg of the torch relay.

"I came here because it's cheaper and convenient," Zhang said when asked why he did not heed the boycott calls. "There were calls for a boycott of Japanese goods during World War Two. But Japanese cars are all over the place today."

Others said China's position on Tibet was just like that of France or Spain on regions of their own which are home to sometimes restive minorities.

"If Brittany or Catalonia wanted to be independent I'm sure their governments wouldn't like it either, and wouldn't give them independence," said Kelvin, 27, out shopping in China's commercial capital of Shanghai.

"I bet that if the Olympic torch goes through China for the next Games you would not see any Scottish independence activists in Beijing as they wouldn't allow it," he added.

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