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Sorry, I don’t boycott French goods

December 17, 2008

By Liao Baoping
Guest Commentator
United Press International
December 15, 2008
Wuhan, China — French President Nicolas Sarkozy ignored the Chinese government’s repeated patient communications and multiple stern protests in granting an audience on Dec. 6 to the Dalai Lama, who was on a tour of Europe – or so reported China’s state-owned Xinhua news agency. This was very unwise and has seriously hurt the feelings of the Chinese people as well as Sino-French relations, the article added.
The feelings of the Chinese people were indeed “seriously hurt,” evidenced by many Chinese netizens’ wrath displayed on the Internet, shouting “Boycott French goods!” and “Let’s act to safeguard national dignity.”
I’m not sure if there has been any extremist behavior, or whether some fresh tricks against France have been invented in the streets of China – such as blocking the entrance of a Carrefour supermarket, as occurred during the Beijing Olympics. It probably won’t be too peaceful in the streets whenever there are “national issues” like this. However, to those compatriots with hearts afire, I want to say, “Sorry, I don’t boycott French goods!”
I certainly have reasons for this. First of all, I absolutely cannot afford French commodities, which are mostly luxury items. I have seen French brand-name clothing with a price tag equal to many months of my salary. How could a person like me, who nearly starves while trying to make a living, possibly spend hard-won earnings that way?
However, if being unable to afford French goods could be counted as a kind of resistance against them, then I have often boycotted them – which could make my action equal to patriotism.
But I have no idea whether those young Chinese referred to as “the angry youth” in modern Chinese society – who encounter the problem of unemployment as soon as they graduate – also claim their patriotism by the same means I do.
I could be right. Many of those “angry youth” have nothing in their wallets, yet declare themselves against French products. How much sense does it make for a person with no money to claim to boycott foreign goods? Perhaps all they want is to vent their anger. Well, how about the plane trees of China whose Chinese name means “French plane”? Shouldn’t they all be cut down?
Secondly, it’s very doubtful that rich Chinese would participate in this boycott against French goods. As actual consumers of luxury items, they would prefer to embrace French perfume with its intoxicating fragrance and French wine with its romantic and pleasant connotations. Not only are the rich unwilling to boycott these items domestically, they even go to Paris to shop madly for French goods in the name of conducting “on-the-spot investigations.”
This contradiction is one of those things that can be described as a “Chinese characteristic” – the upper class is crazy about French goods while the lower class is noisily launching a boycott against them. Associating one’s purchases with betraying one’s country can also be called a “Chinese characteristic.”
On the other hand, we shouldn’t forget that the French could boycott products made in China, too. Who on earth can claim that the right to boycott is limited to the Chinese? Before getting involved in such activities, it’s best to calculate the long-term consequences.
For many years China’s economy has relied on exports and foreign investment to maintain its high growth. If others decide to boycott Chinese products, the drop in exports could be greater than it already is. So we may have to pay the piper.
Honestly speaking, I don’t boycott French goods. If foreign products are of excellent quality and reasonably priced, or have high-tech features, why should customers refuse them?
In fact, sometimes I have boycotted domestic goods, such as the toxic milk power recently discovered in this country.
Furthermore, I’m afraid all this shouting about boycotts cannot be taken seriously. We Chinese boycotted Japanese goods when Sino-Japan relations were tense, but it had little effect. Looking back, it’s kind of a farce – Japanese cars, electrical appliances and food are still popular among Chinese consumers.
Thus, in my opinion, this method of threatening Westerners by abandoning their products is not cool and lacks creativity. Moreover, after playing this kind of trick over and over, our foreign friends have got used to it and feel it’s no big deal.
There is a deeper reason for my refusal to cooperate in the boycott. I don’t want my attention to be so casually diverted. When so many critical national issues – such as corruption, poor social welfare and unemployment – cannot be resolved, the people should not be distracted by fake issues like demonstrating their patriotism by boycotting foreign goods.
(Liao Baoping is a media critic and a member of China’s International Literature Association. He is based in Wuhan in Hubei province. This article is translated and edited from the Chinese by UPI Asia; the original can be found at ©Copyright Liao Baoping.)
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