The China-South Korea Spat and the Tradition of China’s Anti-Foreign Boycotts

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South Korea’s Lotte Department Store (photo by Steve46814 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Lotte Group’s development in the Chinese market should come to an end”, wrote the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) mouthpiece Global Times on February 28, one day after the South Korean conglomerate approved a land swap deal that allowed the government in Seoul to deploy a controversial US missile defence system.

The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, as it is officially known, is designed to protect South Korea from a possible attack by the North Korean Communist regime. Beijing, however, opposes the THAAD deployment, arguing that it would compromise “regional strategic equilibrium” and jeopardize China’s strategic security.

The Chinese government can do little to prevent the implementation of the US-South Korean military agreement, unless it is willing to risk a war over the issue. Therefore, Beijing has resorted to a strategy that has been repeatedly used in China over the past century to react to what it perceives as foreign aggression: boycotts. Continue reading

China and the May 4th Movement

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Protesters march against the Treaty of Versailles in Beijing, May 1919 (Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

“When the May Fourth Movement took place in 1919, I was only sixteen years old, a student at the Tianjin Women’s Normal College”, wrote Deng Yingchao (邓颖超/ 鄧穎超; pinyin: Dèng Yǐngchāo) years after the events. “On May 4, 1919 students in Beijing held a demonstration asking the government to refuse to sign the Versailles Peace Treaty and to punish the traitors at home. In their indignation, they burned the house at Zhaojialou and beat up Lu Zhongxiang, then Chinese envoy to Japan. The following day, when the news reached Tianjin, it aroused the indignation of students there who staged their own demonstration on May 7th. They began by organizing such patriotic societies … We had no political theory to guide us at that time, only our strong patriotic enthusiasm. In addition to the Beijing students’ requests, we demanded, ‘Abrogate the Twenty-One Demands!’ ‘Boycott Japanese Goods!’ and ‘Buy Chinese-made goods!’ Furthermore, we emphatically refused to become slaves to foreign powers!” (quoted in: Patricia Buckley Ebrey: Chinese Civilization: A Sourcebook, p. 360).

The protests of May 1919 marked the beginning of Deng Yingchao’s involvement in politics. Later she joined the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and married Zhou Enlai. Like Deng Yingchao, thousands of students throughout China, moved by patriotic fervour and the desire to change their country, took part in the demonstrations. The social and political movement that ensued marked the beginning of mass politics in post-revolutionary China.

In the present article, we shall briefly examine the origin and development of the May Fourth Movement, as well as its consequences for China’s political life. Continue reading