BEIJING - Fresh anti-Western protests flared in several Chinese cities yesterday as people vented anger over pro-Tibet demonstrations along the Olympic torch relay. State media appealed for calm in an apparent attempt to dampen the nationalistic fervor.
Over the weekend, protesters waving Chinese flags rallied in front of the French Embassy in Beijing and at outlets of the French retailer Carrefour in nine cities across the country. They have threatened boycotts of the retailer, whom they accuse of supporting the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader - an allegation Carrefour denies.
A front-page editorial in the People's Daily newspaper, the official mouthpiece for the Chinese Communist Party, called for calm, urging 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 editorial seemed to reflect concern among China's leaders about a growing anti-Western backlash, fueled by anger over the demonstrations in Paris, London and San Francisco during the Olympic torch relay. The relay has become a magnet for protests against China's rule in Tibet and its human-rights record.
Barry Sautman, a political scientist at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, said the government was trying to rein in the demonstrations to ensure calm and project an inviting image ahead of the Beijing Olympics in August.
"That's why they want demonstrations to be very short," Sautman said. "They want to wrap them up as soon as possible so they can go on to restore the image of China as welcoming to people around the world."
He said that Beijing's move to rein in the budding nationalism followed similar patterns in the past, such as in 1999 when anti-U.S. outrage erupted after the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade and in 2001 when a U.S. spy plane collided with a Chinese fighter jet.
"The government allows people to vent their spleen but then immediately reins it in," Sautman said. "They are certainly afraid it will go too far."
Yesterday, more than 1,000 demonstrators carrying banners gathered for a second day in the tourist city of Xi'an in front of a Carrefour, chanting "Oppose Tibet Independence," "Go China," and "Condemn CNN," the official Xinhua news agency reported.
Protests also continued in central Wuhan for a second day, when 2,000 people, mostly students, waved the Chinese flag and sang the national anthem.
Rallies also were staged in the cities of Harbin, Dalian and Jinan. An estimated 1,000 demonstrators blocked traffic in Dalian, while 1,000 protesters in Harbin held up a 33-foot-long banner in support of the Olympics, Xinhua said.
Xinhua reported that one protest organizer in Xi'an, identified as Wu Sheng, said the demonstrations were not necessarily aimed at pushing customers to boycott Carrefour.
"We do not support a boycott of French companies because the economy is globalizing," Wu was quoted as saying. "We chose Carrefour's front doors only because we draw more attention there."