The following censorship instructions, issued to the media by government authorities, have been leaked and distributed online. The name of the issuing body has been omitted to protect the source.
Once again, for the near future, do not hype or spread information related to illegal rallies and demonstrations. Pay close attention and delete inflammatory information. (July 18, 2016) [Chinese]
This general directive coincides with a wave of relatively small protests in cities around China in response to its recent defeat in arbitration over South China Sea claims. The state-run Global Times has hailed a “new wave of patriotism” expressed through boycotts and social media after the ruling, but authorities have taken steps to prevent the anger from spilling into the streets as it has in the past. Peking University, for example, issued a notice instating “wartime stability procedures” to “prevent large-scale gatherings, demonstrations, or even extreme behavior.”
While some boycotters have targeted dried mango from the Philippines, which initiated the arbitration, protesters have focused on Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants as proxies for the United States, which is widely suspected of engineering the defeat. From Austin Ramzy at The New York Times:
There have been no major protests outside embassies in Beijing. The Philippine Embassy in particular was protected by plainclothes and uniformed police officers after the tribunal’s ruling last week.
The first sign of the KFC campaign was a banner unfurled on Sunday outside an outlet in the northern province of Hebei. “Boycott the U.S., Japan, South Korea and the Philippines. Love the Chinese people,” the banner read. “What you eat is KFC. What is lost is the face of our ancestors.”
[…] There are signs that the Chinese authorities want to avoid widespread protests this year. Phrases such as “South China Sea” and “KFC” have been among the most censored on social media in recent days, according to Weiboscope, a monitoring service from the University of Hong Kong.
[…] “As Chinese people, our hearts are tied up with the country’s fate, exposing the injustice behind the ‘South China Sea arbitration farce’ is the embodiment of patriotic feeling,” Xinhua, the state news service, said on Tuesday. “But if that feeling leads to illegal behavior that destroys social order, then it’s mistaken to label it ‘patriotic.’ ” [Source]
A China Daily commentary also described the boycott trend as “worrisome,” warning of “unexpected outcomes” and “serious social and personal damage” if it went unchecked. “Things often go out of control if not properly managed from the start,” it noted.
Blame for any such chaos has already been allocated, albeit vaguely. The Peking University notice warned of “non-university persons with ulterior motives […] coming onto campus and making trouble.” An article by Australian National University PhD student and “Positive Energy Youth Award” winner Lei Xiying, and distributed by the Communist Youth League, similarly paints offline unrest as potentially subversive “false flag” activity. Lei urges true patriots to channel their zeal online, where aggressive nationalism has come under tight control. From Andrew Chubb at his South Sea Conversations blog:
An article published on the Communist Youth League’s Weibo, illuminates some of the reasoning behind this desire to keep the patriotic outbursts relatively mild. It argues that much of the extreme nationalist outbursts are in fact “next-level smearing” (高级黑, gaojihei below) of China’s good patriots by anti-party elements posing as extreme nationalist.
[…] In the words of noted scholar Liu Yang 刘仰: “If you trace the patriotic demonstrations over the past few years, you find that every time patriotic enthusiasm is ignited, a succession of acts of sabotage follow. Strong voices immediately appear afterwards, saying patriots are ‘angry youth,’ patriots are criminals, patriots are extremist terrorists, patriots are ignorant brain-dead! … Time after time patriotic enthusiasm has ended in farce. This may be the behind-the-scenes manipulators’ objective: [keep this pattern repeating] until one day when China really needs the power of patriotism no one will appear, like the villagers in the Boy Who Cried Wolf or King You’s generals after he played with the fire beacons (‘烽火戏诸侯’故事里的勤王之师).”
Thankfully, according to the author, the plot was thwarted thanks to the Communist Youth League sending out articles such as his own, discouraging any boycotts of any country’s products, and designating memes as the “patriotic form” of choice for today’s youth. [Source]
Some deleted Weibo posts on the KFC protests are collected at CDT Chinese. For more on nationalist protest in China in general, read CDT’s 2014 interview with Cornell’s Jessica Chen Weiss, author of “Powerful Patriots: Nationalist Protest in China’s Foreign Relations.”
Since directives are sometimes communicated orally to journalists and editors, who then leak them online, the wording published here may not be exact. The date given may indicate when the directive was leaked, rather than when it was issued. CDT does its utmost to verify dates and wording, but also takes precautions to protect the source. See CDT’s collection of Directives from the Ministry of Truth since 2011.