China urged its citizens to be “calm” and “rational” as nationalistic protests against French supermarket Carrefour spread today to more cities across the country.
The official Xinhua News agency reported that demonstrators gathered this morning in the north-eastern city of Harbin and the eastern city of Jinan. Protesters also rallied for a second day in the tourist city of Xi’an.
More than 1,000 people carrying banners gathered in front of the Carrefour outlet in Xi’an, chanting “Oppose Tibet Independence” “Go China” and “Condemn CNN” Xinhua reported.
An employee at one of the five Harbin Carrefour stores confirmed that protests “with many people” were ongoing throughout the day, adding the store remained open.
Xinhua reported police were monitoring the demonstrations in the three cities, which remained peaceful.
A front-page Sunday editorial in the People’s Daily newspaper, the official mouthpiece for the Chinese Communist Party, called on people to cherish patriotism “while expressing it in a rational way”.
“As citizens, we have the responsibility to express our patriotic enthusiasm calmly and rationally and express patriotic aspiration in an orderly and legal manner” the commentary said. “The more complicated the international situation is, the more calmness, wisdom and unity need to be shown by the Chinese people.”
It appeared to be an attempt by China’s leaders to rein in the growing nationalistic fervour sparked by Chinese anger over Tibetan anti-government protesters and disruptions of the Olympic torch relay. There has also been a backlash against Western media, especially broadcaster CNN, for what is perceived as biased reporting on recent unrest in Tibet.
Carrefour has been accused of supporting Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, which the company has denied.
Xinhua reported one protest organiser in Xi’an, identified as Wu Sheng, said the demonstrations were not aimed at pushing customers to boycott Carrefour.
“We do not support a boycott of French companies because the economy is globalising. We choose Carrefour’s front doors only because we draw more attention there,” he was quoted as saying.
In an interview published today in Journal du Dimanche, Carrefour’s Chief Executive Jose Luis Duran said there has been “no significant impact” economically, but the company is “taking the situation very seriously”.
With two million Chinese customers, “we cannot take the reaction of some of our clients lightly,” he said. “It must be understood that a large part of the Chinese population has been very shocked by the incidents that have peppered the passage of the Olympic torch through Paris.”
Mr Duran also denied any connection to the Dalai Lama, saying Carrefour has never supported any political or religious cause.
The protests began yesterday, erupting in Beijing and four other major cities - Wuhan, Kunming, Xi’an, and Qingdao. They were fuelled by anger over recent pro-Tibet demonstrations in Paris during the Olympic torch relay.
In Beijing, small protests broke out at one Carrefour and outside the French Embassy as well as the Beijing French School. Dozens of police, some in riot gear, quickly dispersed the crowd in front of the embassy.
Public anger has also been channelled against Western media organisations, including CNN and the BBC, for so-called “distorted” coverage of recent unrest in Tibet and neighbouring provinces. Foreign journalists have received threatening phone calls and e-mails.
Several thousand ethnic Chinese protesters marched outside CNN’s Hollywood, California office on Saturday to demand the firing of a commentator who recently compared China’s leaders to a “bunch of goons and thugs”.
There were also pro-China demonstrations in London and Manchester.