NPR logo Chengdu Protest Targets French Store

Andrea Hsu

Chengdu Protest Targets French Store

It's been five weeks since the Tibet protests, and emotions in China are still raw. This weekend, demonstrations were staged outside Carrefour stores in a number of Chinese cities, including Beijing, Xi'an, Wuhan, Hefei, Dalian, Kunming, and here in Chengdu.

Pro-China Demonstration Chengdu

Protester waves Chinese flag at demonstration at French store in Chengdu. Andrea Hsu, NPR hide caption

toggle caption Andrea Hsu, NPR
Chengdu Student Protest

Demonstrators were peaceful in their campaign to boycott the French superstore. Andrea Hsu, NPR hide caption

toggle caption Andrea Hsu, NPR

Carrefour is a French superstore — one of Wal-Mart's biggest competitors, with over 100 stores in China. A campaign to boycott those stores has been spreading through email, online chat rooms, and text-messages. Supporters of the campaign accuse the company of backing the Dalai Lama and Tibetan independence. They're also angry about the disruption of the Olympic torch relay in Paris on April 7.

In an interview published in a French newspaper on Sunday, Carrefour's CEO Jose-Luis Duran said the company has not given "any direct or indirect support to any political or religious cause."

Chengdu Protest

Demonstrators express anger at Western news media. Andrea Hsu, NPR hide caption

toggle caption Andrea Hsu, NPR

The protest I came across in Chengdu today was peaceful, and much smaller than some of the ones held in other cities, which reportedly numbered from one to two thousand. The Chengdu crowd I saw of 50 or 60 — mostly young people —- waved flags and signs, handed out fliers, and at one point, broke out singing the Chinese national anthem.

Chengdu Protest

Protestors show nationalistic sentiment . Andrea Hsu, NPR hide caption

toggle caption Andrea Hsu, NPR

Passersby stopped to sign their names on a big red banner that read "Tibet is a part of China. Please do not distort the facts. Boycott French products (and) Carrefour, boycott German products. Chinese people should wake up. Demand that the government block BBC, CNN and other unfriendly media." (In case you hadn't yet heard, there is intense anger against western media over its coverage of the Tibet protests and events since.)

The scene today and conversations I've had over the past month are, to me, eerily reminiscent of the days and weeks following NATO's bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade in 1999. My Chinese friends and my American friends seem to have polar opposite takes on the situation. Each side has an impossible time understanding the other.

Reading through the flier handed to me at today's protest, I came across one paragraph that pretty much sums up much of what I've been hearing on this side of the globe:

"The Olympics are far away in Beijing, and might not bring us direct economic benefit. Still the Olympics are a matter not just of one city, but of the country as a whole. ....We as Chinese must try our best to defend the dignity of the motherland and to defend the Olympic spirit."

So as far as I can tell, this is not just Chinese government rhetoric, but a sentiment shared by much of the country. And one we're sure to hear repeated in the run-up to the Olympics.



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I confess that Chinese nationalism is sometimes simple minded. We are ignorant of the fact that the Olympics have been a platform for politics. But threatening to boycott the Olympics in any way is not the best way to influence the Chinese public.

Sent by Song Qiuying | 11:57 PM | 4-20-2008

In recent weeks, following the March 14th riot and the Olympic torch relay in London, Paris, and San Francisco, the western news media did fail to provide un-biased reports. All we hear and read from the mainstream Western news media is the voice of pro-Tibet independence and boycott Beijing Olympic, even though there were thousands of Olympic supporters and different voices about Tibet.

To me, the violent attack targeted at the Olympic torch is not a peaceful protest, but more like a terrorist attack. And the media's action to silence the voice of support for the Olympics and support for China's Sovereignty is media violence, since it violates media ethics and professionalism. It only serves to further strength my belief that you don't learn history from the news media.

While I don't know whether the boycott of Carrefour stores is a worthy action or not, I can understand the anger after what happened to the Olympic torch relay in Paris.

Everyone knows the saying, "you can't escape death and taxes." Sadly, there is one more thing that will always be with us, prejudice.

Sent by yang | 2:06 AM | 4-21-2008

Tibet is a part of China.

Sent by Gracie | 4:53 AM | 4-21-2008

Violence is never a solution. The Olympics are never apolitical. China is never this united.

Sent by Heather | 8:17 AM | 4-21-2008

This is a great blog that highlights the strong nationalistic sentiment in China. Too many reports present the reactions of the Chinese people as the result of government manipulation and, while the government's heavy nationalist propaganda has an effect, in instances such as this, the Chinese people (some of them at least) are reacting independently of the government and,even causing the government to accommodate such protests.

How about a story that examines why people believe that Tibet is part of China? Why is history important to the present-day, given the craze for all things "modern"? What is wrong with the principle of self-determination, or is it just that it is applied in some contexts but not others?

Sent by Dan | 8:41 AM | 4-21-2008

CNN has lost its credibility among the Chinese this time.
While not all Chinese (composed of 56 ethinic groups, including Tibetans) are Chinese government supporters, the majority of Chinese people would be against separatists.

CNN fails to recognize this and continues to spread lies that pro-Chinese protesters are government-paid mobs. And they would censor any pro-Chinese arguments. (The only simple pro-Chinese sound bite that looks like Chinese government propaganda can be viewed on their screens, reasonable pro-China arguments have a hard time to pass their censor.)

I am glad that NPR still allows comments like this to be posted.

The Tibetan struggle for human rights and freedom is not any different than the struggle of for human rights and freedom for the rest of Chinese people. It is not an excuse for independence.

Sent by RationalPerson | 12:42 PM | 4-21-2008

These last few months of protesting have managed to gather a lot of sympathy that doesn't necessarily support Tibet, but shows many peoples' fear of China becoming a superpower. Most of these people wouldn't even be able to find Tibet on the map.

Yet, most of the people protesting are for a peaceful resolution between Tibetans and Chinese. Tibetans only want to have the power to influence the politics in their own country. Even though they were forced to become part of China in the 1950s, this doesn't mean that the Chinese have the right to tell them that they should live by Chinese ideals.

Sent by Alex | 4:29 PM | 4-21-2008

It is easy to label what has taken place as "nationalism". But Western media shouldexamine itself on fair and balanced reporting before conveniently classifying recent events as such. When the West goes into Africa, it is "liberation", but if China does it, it's "exploitation". Someone out there must see the double standard.

Sent by TiffanyFeng | 7:15 PM | 4-21-2008

"Each side has an impossible time understanding the other."

Well, of course.

For most Americans, this argument is about the human rights of the Tibetan people, not dismembering China. For most Chinese, this is about the territorial integrity of China and human rights arguments are just a phony argument used by the Dalai Lama splittist forces. If they can't agree on what they are arguing about, how can they have a dialogue?

Most Chinese want more human rights for everyone in China and for the Chinese government officials to obey the law, police not to beat up prisoners etc. The terms of the argument in China are set by the Party propaganda department and the propaganda barrage in the Chinese media. Since by its logic the disturbances in Tibetan areas were caused by a small minority of splittist and the great majority of the ethnic Tibetans in China support the Communist Party, the solution is to crack down hard on the splittists. However in reality, most Tibetans love the Dalai Lama, and support his middle path of genuine autonomy within the PRC.

The PRC propaganda department does not allow the Chinese media to report that the Dalai Lama accepts Tibetan autonomy and regularly calls him a liar anyways.

To be fair, there is a massive overlap of religion and politics on both sides, with the Dalai Lama -- in the eyes of many Tibetans -- being a spiritual leader (even a god) and a political leader.

On the Communist Party side, the Party presumes to be a leader in the religious area as well, with very intrusive regulation of "religious affairs" in China and even presuming to recognize official incarnations of Tibetan lamas. People need to agree on what they are arguing about before they can have a discussion.

Sent by David | 10:27 PM | 4-21-2008

Let's not forget to mention the make-up of the protests here and in other cities. Any casual glance of the photographs of the protests and related web forums show them to be full of youths (most likely university students) and min gong; people with plenty of free time and pent-up frustrations.

Interesting that no one has suggested boycotting the French nuclear power generators sprinkled throughout the country or the many different State-owned airlines which exclusively fly Airbus airplanes.

Speaking with co-workers and friends -- none of whom are students or migrant workers -- the general consensus is that the Tibetan protesters didn't get treated much differently from what Han Chinese protesters do, and that the boycott is pretty silly as most everything sold in Carrefour is made in China.

Sent by Bocaj | 1:33 AM | 4-22-2008

Thanks, Andrea, for posting this.

News reports I saw from most of the Western media have caused grievous misunderstandings, which have triggered more distrust and economic conflict between China and the West. Average taxpayers like us have to pay for that cost eventually.

Sent by Stev | 6:08 PM | 4-22-2008

People need to learn some basic Chinese history before they can have a discussion on Tibet. Tibet became part of China in the Yuan dynasty, since then, Tibet has been part of China --- that's more than 700 years. It was not forced to be part of China by the Communist Party in the 1950s.

The western media told you a lot about the Chinese "invasion" of Tibet, or you are sympathetic with the Tibetan Independence movement. But you may not know that China has 56 ethnic groups and has never been a racist country in its entire history.

And when the People's Liberation Army entered Tibet in 1951, they simply recovered a part of China. Does that mean the Chinese army invaded China itself?

So, please, have some basic knowledge about Chinese history before passing judgment about a nation that been western media has misled you about.

Sent by Yong | 8:06 PM | 4-22-2008

I heard that lots of Chinese-American went into the streets of San Francisco? Did anybody see that on the news?

A friend of mine saw the protest, but I didn't t see it in the news media.

Sent by Chris | 10:08 PM | 4-22-2008

Good Day.

I've been living and working in China for 6 years (4 of these in Chengdu.)

I've been here long enough to get a feeling for the people, yet not so long as to forget my fellow U.S. citizens' lives and ways of thinking.

The difference between the Chinese, Tibetans, and folks back in the US are virtually all cosmetic. At the bottom of it all, the masses only ask for decent food, clothing, housing, simple luxuries and entertainment; none of which are lacking in China or Tibet as far as I can tell.

Tibetans, in fact, look quite healthy, perhaps owing to their more macrobiotic lifestyle. Yet, the media distorts reality to such a level that you, in front of a TV or radio in America, would think there was widespread persecution and revolution in the streets here.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

People here are equally complacent in front of their TVs, and equally judgmental about places they've never been to. Of course, the exception is a few trouble-making zealots and confused youths, of which every country on Earth has some.

Your time would be better spent focusing on people and places the media *isn't* talking about; most likely that's where the real news is happening.

Anyway, Asian politics are far more complicated than you want to imagine. I happen to have a Ph.D. in Particle Physics, but I must concede that even my field pales in comparison to the nuances and subtleties one must grapple with to obtain a true understanding of the relationship between Tibet and China.

It's certainly more complicated than painting "Free Tibet" on your forehead (are you so sure it isn't "Free the US" ?)

I do not pretend to be an expert in this regard. I humbly step down off the soapbox now in deference to those who are, though judging by what I've seen represented in the news media, the true experts, if any such exist, have until now been silent.

Sent by Nick Kersting | 10:55 PM | 4-22-2008

History is always written by the winners or survivors.

Losers will be romantically memorized or favorablly mentioned only when winners feel the losers can no longer threaten them. If you don't believe it, go ahead read the Chinese dynastic history or US westward expansion history in the 18th and 19th centuries. Fifty or a hundred years from now, there will be more objective and fair description of the treatment of its minorities in the Chinese history books.

Sent by David | 12:58 AM | 4-23-2008

The Chinese are not racist, but they have a bit of prejudice. It's not over issues of superiority (every country wants theirs to be the best) but over conflicting cultures. In this respect, the Chinese are no different than every other country.

Sent by | 2:13 AM | 4-23-2008

The real problem in Tibet is the discriminating policies imposed on Non-Tibetans.

All Tibetans, not others, have free health and medical insurance, no taxes, free education, priority to pursue higher education and priority in employment.

The most absurd policy is that the salaries of all the Tibetan lamas (monks) come from the governmen, not from their religious orders. So "Lama" might be the best "job;" a "free lunch" in any country, either in China or in the US.

Sent by Stev | 11:39 AM | 4-23-2008

It's interesting that Westerners who have been to China have a much different view about China from those who only know about the country from the Western news media. Please watch the linked video below. It may tell you something you never know before.

Sent by yong | 2:59 PM | 4-23-2008

Protecting the dignity of the "motherland" would be much better served by respecting the human rights of democracy activists, journalists, and Tibetians.

I have seen that China has so much to offer the world, I hate to see it undermined by the governments' human rights record.

Sent by EPIK Justino | 2:20 AM | 4-24-2008

We just hope that these various issues will soon subside due to peaceful and sophisticated solutions. All the things that had been said against each other will just be treated as the heat of the moment.

Go Olympics!

Go one world!

Sent by ed phils | 10:50 AM | 4-24-2008

What was the human rights record of Tibet before it was governed by China? Did the Tibetans have freedom of religion?Or speech?

The Chinese community in Seattle protested during the Dali Lama's recent visit. One Chinese protester interviewed on the news said that China "freed" Tibet. She said the Tibetans were serfs back when Tibet was independent and the Dali Lama ruled.

She is right, most were serfs.

Are Westerners motivated for Tibet to be independent because of the average Tibetan? Or are they motivated to restore the Dali Lama to his former theocractic rule of Tibet? Is it because some in the West have become Buddhists?

Why haven't former serfs of Tibet, who remember what daily life was like back then, been intereviewed for their side of this debate? I doubt that many are still living who remember the former Tibet. What a tragic loss when those with the inside view and story to tell are gone.

Sent by Jill | 11:27 AM | 4-24-2008

I think it is impossible for the West to understand the Chinese sentiments on this issue. That's simply because of a lack of widespread knowledge on the history of China, particularly in the last century.

If everyone knew the facts, it would be obvious that no country during the heyday of Communism is faultless. It's the hypocrisy behind many of the voices of recent Western accusations that inflame the Chinese people.

Sent by Joanna | 12:30 PM | 4-24-2008

It would be great if NPR could dive deeper into Chinese and Tibetan history and try to bring related issues to bear.

For example, even if Tibet were feudal and the people were serfs (by and large,) does that justify China's invasion? Some would argue Tibet would have slowly modernized on its own.

Are the Tibetans "better off" as a part of China -- as the Native Americans are in the USA?

There's a large Tibetan population in Sichuan Province. I hope NPR can interview some of them while in Chengdu.

But beware the Chinese media watchdogs.

Sent by Boyd R. Jones | 11:40 PM | 4-26-2008

Dan raises some very thought-provoking and relevant questions. Please follow up on his request.I'd be very interested in that story.

Sent by smull | 10:03 AM | 4-27-2008

I would like to paraphrase an old Chinese man's word. He said, "Why boycott Carrefour? All they sell are Chinese products!"

So why?

Obviously, the boycott was approbated by someone. Otherwise you don't see such a "democratic" scene in China.

Well, fellow students at my university recently started selling a T-shirt bearing the national flag. It's alleged that the design identical throughout the country. You may see that T-shirt yourselves soon.

Sent by Wecan Wong | 10:41 AM | 4-27-2008

It would be great if NPR could dive deeper into Chinese and Tibetan history and try to bring related issues to bear.

For example, even if Tibet was feudal and the people had been serfs, does that justify China's invasion? Some would argue Tibet would have slowly modernized on its own.

Are the Tibetans "better off" as a part of China -- as Native Americans are in the USA?

Sent by Boyd R. Jones | 5:41 PM | 4-27-2008

The Chinese government has been waging a quiet battle with Western news media for years; blocking internet access to CNN, BBC, etc.

When I lived in China, people were aware of state control over media and so they took the news they got with a grain of salt. For awhile it looked as if the internet and the juggernaut of global communications would overtake the power of the state censors to block access to foreign media.

Now we have ordinary people calling for censoring foreign news media. Unfortunately, the continuous negative reporting by Western news outlets about China, going back long before this incident, have soured in the China people on outside media.

There are different understandings of what constitutes news; in the West news is almost always negative.

In China, news stories often report positive things; items we in the West might consider mundane or not newsworthy.

Maybe both sides have something to learn from each other's media.

Sent by Emily | 10:46 PM | 4-27-2008

I don't understand why people have make judgements about otpics about which they have no knowledge. Before they open their mouths, they would do better to research facts.

Sent by laifu | 1:47 PM | 4-30-2008

Tibet belongs to China. it's inseparable

Sent by laifu | 1:48 PM | 4-30-2008

The history between Tibet and the rest of China is rich and complex.

If you start the conversation by stating that China invaded Tibet in the 1950s or citing the "genocide", then that shows your utter ignorance and a lack of knowledge of Tibet.

For those who have an open mind, I wish to share this comment:

People in the West tend to interpret the relationship between ethinic Han and minority groups, such as Tibetans, in China based on their understanding of the racial relationship between the Whites and African-Americans before the civil rights movement. Thus, they are sympathetic to p[eople they perceive as an "oppressed" minority.

In China, things that divide people are rarelydue to racial discrimination. Ethnic Han have a long history of mixing their genes with minority groups. There is no racial sterotype of Tibetans as being less intelligent or ess human. We were all "brainwashed" to believe that everybody is equal and Tibetans and other minority groups are our "brothers".

What divides people are economic, educational and religious differences.

For example, Tibetans are generally less educated due to the serf system before the 1950s. And they had a nomandic existence afterwards. That roving lifestyle is unsustainable due to population growth and the impact on the environment. Due to that, many Tibetans gave up that way of life.

Now the government is trying its best to take care of these people by monthly handouts. But because of the low level of education they have had, a lot of people in Tibet don't have skills to find new jobs. That causes an economical divide between Tibetans and other minority groups. The government is trying to address these problems by providing education to Tibetan children.

Such a problem is not unique to Tibetan minorities in China. Han farmers living in remote areas with low education endure an even harsher economic and social divide without any government help.

The ruling party in China is an oppressive party in many ways. But to say that they oppress minorities specifically is a gross mistatement. They basically oppress anything that has the potential of hurting the government, be it Tibetan monks or any other Chinese citizen.

Outside of this, the government is trying very hard to base its legitimacy on providing economic growth to all people. The goverment is very much like the patriarch of a family. It is providing for the family, but it is also showing tough love.

I believe that one day, the Chinese people will be mature and strong enough to shatter their rule, but it has to come from within by the Chinese, not by pressure from the West.

Sent by Wisher | 4:01 PM | 4-30-2008