The Chinese public launched a boycott ‘feast,’ celebrities have cut ties with relevant foreign brands. And the Chinese government continues to fight back Western sanctions in Chinese social media.
The cause of the matter is the relevant companies (including H&M, Nike, etc.) made a statement that they were concerned about Uighurs were being forced to pick cotton in Xinjiang and that they did not source products from the region. The statement also reports that more than half a million people from ethnic minority groups in Xinjiang have been coerced into picking cotton.
Although the statement was made last year, it became popular in China in recent days following the announcement of Western sanctions. The final public anger appears to be triggered by a recent social media post by the Communist Youth League, a Chinese Communist Party group.
“Spreading rumors to boycott Xinjiang cotton while also wanting to make money in China? Wishful thinking!” Communist Youth League posted on its Weibo platform on March 24, with share screenshots of the statement. Since then, the netizens start a boycott war that encourages the Chinese to stop buying anything from those brand items.
Social media became a battlefield for netizens to call for boycott those foreign brands. The hashtag “I support Xinjiang cotton” becomes the hottest topic on Sina Weibo with more than 1.8bn views. Suddenly, the boycott became a war and a victory in the general sense. The Chinese public celebrates online that e-commerce platforms and offline stores have dropped those brands.
The climax part is that celebrities are vying to cut relationships with these foreign brands. Any connections with those brands mean you betray your homeland. In a public’s sense, the foreign brands cannot earn money in China while criticizing China at the same time. In other words, if you want to do business here, then you must be a docile pet.
The Chinese government seems like enjoy this boycott’ feast.’ Although the Chinese government did not publicly encourage to boycott those brands, it expresses nationalism. The People’s Daily posts on its Weibo that H&M (Hennes & Mauritz) as a multinational firm is ridiculous to try to be a fake righteous hero” H&M must pay a heavy price for its wrongdoing.
Although Chinese nationalism is widely accepted as a top-down expression, online popular nationalism has recently become increasingly popular. From damaging Japanese brand cars to boycotting foreign brands, popular nationalism in China is becoming much more intensive and aggressive.
The Chinese public is sensitive to foreign criticisms. As Peter Gries, a professor at The University of Manchester, suggests that Chinese popular nationalism’s core idea is saving face. In this sense, the Chinese public does not care about the national interests; instead, it is much more focused on their understanding of dignity.
However, although the netizens are celebrating the ‘victory’ of boycott those brands, is it a real victor to China? On the one hand, closing online shops and offline shops means many ordinary Chinese will lose their jobs what they are living for. Most of the boycotted brands open their factories and shops in China. If the boycott lasts for a long time, the Chinese factories and Chinese employees are ultimately affected. It is hard to tell whether the boycott is a victory or a loss for both.
On the other hand, it is also hard to tell whether boycotts influence those brand’s interests for the long term. Until noon on March 25, Nike sneakers were still being sold online, and the transaction volume still increased on Taobao, which is the most prominent Chinese online shopping website. If you click into Nike’s Taobao online shop, you can see transactions almost every minute.
Moreover, some people also said on Weibo that if Nike, Adidas, and other brands are being discounted since the boycotted, they will buy a few more pairs and stock them up. A master student at Shenzhen University said that although she supports the boycott, she does not have any negative feelings about the Nike brand.
In the past few years, foreign brands such as Coach were boycotted, terminated by spokespersons in a short period, and removed from online stores, and people criticized negative comments. However, these brands can still occupy the Chinese market after a few times. There will always be new Chinese celebrities to become the spokespersons to promote it, and new shops open on the markets. So how long will this boycott last?
*Author: Dechun Zhang, PhD candidate at Leiden Institute for Area Studies, Faculty of Humanities, Leiden University, Netherlands. Email: [email protected]