Jeffrey N Wasserstrom: China’s Anniversary Tempest

On openDemocracy, Jeffrey N Wasserstrom writes about boycotts in Chinese history and more recently:

In the perspective both of China’s 20th-century history and its last year, the spreading language of boycott offers two hints about what is likely to occur in 2009.

The first is that modern Chinese history is full of moments when groups with very different agendas employ parallel tactics. In the late 1940s, for example, the Kuomintang and the Communist Party backed demonstrations against (respectively) Russian imperialism and American imperialism that looked virtually identical (see Student Protests in Twentieth-Century China, Stanford University Press, 1991). In 2008, there was the sense of an overlapping retaliatory tinge to the east-west boycott “dialogue” – the call for Chinese to stop shopping at the French Carrefour chain mixing with the French president’s consideration of a boycott of the Olympics (or at least its opening ceremony). 2009 is shaping up to be another year when different groups employ the same basic approach even as their aims clash.

The second point is that the battle of the boycotts between the Chinese state and the dissident intellectuals and writers who signed Charter 08 can be considered the initial salvo in the kind of fight that has often occurred in years ending with a “9”: a struggle for the right to don the mantle of patriotic concern with the nation embodied by the May 4th Movement.


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