Just weeks after a whole wave of anti-French protests swept China, May Day has brought them back. Hundreds of protesters called for a boycott of the French supermarket giant Carrefour once again; despite Paris and Beijing’s recent efforts to assuage anti-Gallic sentiment in the People’s Republic.
A young man is detained after protesting outside Carrefour on May Day
Hundreds of people gathered outside branches of Carrefour in five different cities on Thursday. They shouted against France and Tibetan independence and in favour of the Olympic Games. Their feelings were not very different from those expressed by protesters who called for a boycott last month.
“I hope Carrefour won’t have any customers any more,” said one protester in April. “We used to have good relations with France. But what they did to China was too much. So we’re expressing ourselves. I no longer shop at Carrefour. The people in the West are expressing their feelings about China and we are also expressing our feelings. The boycott will work. We just need more people to join in. So we can defend our national dignity.”
The organisers of the boycott considered May 1 as an appropriate date for re-launching the protests against the French supermarket giant. Groups gathered outside shops with banners, urging customers to shop elsewhere. Police officers were deployed to prevent accidents and any incidents of violence. None were reported but seven men and two women were arrested.
The recent efforts of French President Nicolas Sarkozy to calm anti-Gallic sentiment have been in vain. Many Chinese were outraged when a pro-Tibet protester at the Paris leg of the Olympic relay tried to take the torch from a Chinese athlete in a wheelchair.
Sarkozy’s apologies about this incident and his dispatching of a three-man delegation to Beijing were welcomed by the government but not by the protest movement.
Carrefour has not been able to dispel rumours that it supports Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.
Young, urban elite
Although the protesters represent a minority, with most Carrefour customers taking no notice of the boycott calls, it is interesting that they are mostly young, urban and educated. In contrast to their parents, they have not suffered from economic hardship or as a result of various political campaigns.
Professor Yu Hai, a sociologist at Fudan University in Shanghai, argues that their fervour lies in disappointment. “Those who are reacting most heavily are those who feel closest to the West. For Chinese youth, it’s like the end of their dreams. What is now happening is having a huge influence on young people. They’re beginning to question Western concepts.”
Because of this questioning of Western concepts, the demonstrations -- which are officially banned in China -- have been tolerated by the state and the young protesters have been tacitly encouraged to express their patriotic feelings.
Officially, however, the government has expressed its support of the supermarket chain, thanking it for supporting the Beijing Olympic Games. With over 400 branches, Carrefour has a very important economic presence in China. Figures from the Ministry of Commerce state that 99 percent of the company’s 40,000 employees in China are Chinese and 95 percent of the products it sells are made in China.