In cyberspace, unrest in Tibet, an earthquake in China’s Sichuan province and the Cannes Film Festival can make for an explosive mix. Chinese bloggers have seized on a suggestion from actress Sharon Stone, who speculated to reporters manning the red carpet in Cannes that China’s devastating earthquake, which killed at least 68,000 people, may have been ordained by “karma.” Citing Beijing’s treatment of ethnic Tibetans, she suggested that “when you’re not nice . . . bad things happen to you.”
The reaction across China was instantaneous. Legions of bloggers demanded a boycott of Stone’s films and the products she pitches. The actress has apologized, but luxury retailer Christian Dior, with whom Stone has a modeling contract, quickly removed her image from its Chinese stores.
The story illustrates an important point about today’s China. Though state officials continue to carefully monitor Internet traffic for anything they fear might threaten their monopoly hold on China’s politics, the sheer speed and scale of the blowback to Stone’s comments reveals that an ever-growing number of China’s people are becoming more active in the public life of their country — in ways that are both encouraging and potentially destabilizing.