Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Narrow mindset may distort patriotism

By ZHANG ZHOUXIANG (China Daily) Updated: 2016-07-23 09:22

Narrow mindset may distort patriotism


Some KFC outlets in China have been the target of "patriotic" protesters. From Tangshan in North China's Hebei province to Changsha in Central China's Hunan province there have been dozens of reports about people assembling outside KFC outlets with banners, some of which read: "US food out of China!"

Such protests have much to do with the tense relationship between China and the US because of Washington's interference in the South China Sea disputes. Perhaps the "patriots" believe they could deal the US a big economic blow by boycotting its fast food chains.

There have already been plenty of discussions on how absurd such protests are, especially in this age of globalization. Yet the question is: Why 11 of the 12 reported boycotts have been targeted at KFC and only one against both KFC and McDonald's, and why KFC is always the target but seldom McDonald's?

The answer is simple: Because KFC is among the few brands Chinese people recognize as being American. Unlike McDonald's, which has limited its outlets in relatively bigger cities, KFC has been fast expanding in China-its more than 4,800 outlets now cover almost all provinces and regions, making it one of the most well known foreign brands in China.

Apple is another example. The anti-US "patriots" have also launched a campaign against iPhones and iPads, even though some of them use other US brands such as Motorola and Dell. Actually, many other cellphone brands use the Android system, also a US product, but few realize that.

That could be a clue to start another, deeper study into the "patriot" group. The group that considers the US and its products as enemies has so little knowledge about them that it hardly recognizes any US brand other than the extremely popular ones. It recognizes KFC as a US brand, but not McDonald's that has 2,000 outlets in China, let alone Starbucks.

Besides, the "patriotic" protesters don't have any knowledge about the modern industrial chain. They don't know or care that KFC outlets in China are run by Chinese, and by boycotting them they will jeopardize the livelihoods of tens of thousands of compatriots.

Worse, this group has a rather closed mindset and refuses to interact with the outside world. Cai Yang, a 25-year-old man, is a typical member of the "patriot" group. When he and his fellow "patriots" were smashing every Japanese car they met on their anti-Japanese march in Xi'an, Northwest China's Shaanxi province, in September 2012, he hit a man driving a Japanese brand car with a U-shaped metal lock. The victim was disabled for life and Cai sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment.

Cai is a middle school dropout. His favorite leisure activity was to visit certain BBS websites where people like him assembled, and watch TV dramas that idolize soldiers that took part in the Chinese People's War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1937-45). And when somebody disagreed with him, he resorted to violence.

But not all "patriots" are violent like Cai, although many have a closed mindset and are ignorant about the outside world. That's why media outlets and scholars have been appealing to the protesters to stop acting silly, albeit in vain.

It should be emphasized, though, that the "patriots" have the legal right and freedom to boycott any restaurant they want to, but they have no right to force others to follow their example. Some of the "patriots" reportedly entered KFC outlets, recorded videos and tried to force customers to stop eating and leave; some even posted the videos online, calling KFC customers "traitors". If these reports are true, police should intervene to prevent similar incidents.

We want Chinese people to be patriotic, but not in such a silly way.

The author is a writer with China Daily.

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