Boycotting French Goods

(Liao Baoping's Blog)  Sorry, I Am Not Boycotting French Goods.  December 7, 2008.

Concerning the meeting between the French president and the Dalai Lama, Xinhua reported as follows: French president Sarkozy ignored the patient and repeated appeals and multiple formal pleas from the Chinese and agreed to meet with the Dala Lama on December 6 during his European trip.  This move was unwise and seriously hurt the feelings of the people of China, and also damaged the Sino-French relationship.

That the feelings of the Chinese people have been "seriously hurt" is shown in the anger of the netizens.  They cry on the Internet: Boycott French goods!  Let us use our action to defend the honor of our people!  Those who dare to offend our China shall meet their doom! ...

I have no idea whether there are "excessive actions" out in the streets, with new twists in the manner of the blocking of the entrances to Carrefour stores during the Olympics.  The streets are probably not too peaceful in the face of a national incident.  But I have to tell these hot-blooded compatriots: Sorry, I am not boycotting French goods.

I have my reasons for not boycotting French goods.  First of all, I could not even afford to buy French goods.  The French goods are mostly luxury items.  At the mall, I saw that some clothes from a French brand was worth several months of my salary.  For someone who has to bustle to make a living, how can I afford to spend my hard-earned money that way?  If not being able to afford something is a form of boycott, then I am a regular boycotter (and thus a regular patriot).

I don't know if those young people who are about to become unemployed as soon as they graduate are being patriotic the same way.  They haven't even found a job, they have no money in their pockets and therefore they could not afford to buy anything anyway.  Therefore, it does not matter whether they are boycotting or not.  So are they just saying so for the pleasure of saying so?  If they want to boycott all "French" goods, they ought to begin with the tree known as "French plane tree" grown in China by chopping them all down.  This is surely very anger-soothing and very patriotic.

Will the people who have money overflowing in their pockets really boycott French goods?  I really doubt it.  They are the real consumers of luxury items.  It would be so hard for them to boycott the enchanting fragrance of French perfume, the attractive French clothes, the soothing French wine ...!  They couldn't love French goods enough, so how could they boycott them?  Not only will they not boycott French goods inside China, they will make the excuse of going on "inspection" trips to sweep up French goods in Paris.  So while the "upper class" is enthusiastically consuming French products, the "lower class" is clamoring for a boycott.  Such is a "uniquely Chinese" characteristic.  In other words, it is a "uniquely Chinese characteristic" to link the purchase of goods with patriotism.

And can we boycott large French items?  The Airbus might be an example.  Personally, I will never be able to afford to buy an Airbus in my entire life.  Those who can afford to buy an Airbus have probably applied for French citizenship already.  As French citizens, they couldn't boycott their own national products and buy from some other country.  If we want the Chinese airlines to boycott the Airbus, who is going to compensate them for their economic losses?  It is not just a simple matter of shooting your mouth off for the fun of it.

Even as our blood boil over during our boycott, let us not forget that the French can also boycott Chinese goods as well.  Nobody says that we are the only people in the world who can boycott others.  Who says others cannot boycott us?  You have to figure out the ledger to see who gets the upper hand.  Over the years, the Chinese economy has thrived on exports and investments.  When other people boycott Chinese goods, the drop in exports will be much worse than now and the economy will decline more than now.  I don't know how much China imports from the European Union each year or how much China exports to the European Union.  If the net result of the boycott is that we wound 1,000 enemies while losing 10,000 on our side, we are better off not holding such a boycott that appears to save us face but actually inflicts considerable damage upon ourselves.

Frankly, if the French have better goods at cheaper prices or else their high technology is more sophisticated, why do I have to boycott them?  Sometimes, I really think that I ought to boycott Chinese goods such as the tainted Chinese milk powder.  Even I would boycott these poisoned, fake Chinese goods, so why wouldn't the French?

I won't boycott French products because I don't think that these kinds of improvised actions will be taken seriously.  When the Sino-Japanese relationship was tense before, we boycotted Japanese goods.  Many people swore that they will never buy Japanese goods again.  But the results were not good.  In retrospect, this was just a farce for self-entertainment.  Those who buy Japanese cars continue to do so, those who buy Japanese electronic goods continue to do so and those who eat Japanese food continue to do so too.  Therefore, in my view, this game of threatening foreigners with not buying their goods may seem cool, but it is actually unoriginal ...

Another thing is I must emphasize that boycotting French goods is not the same as boycotting Carrefour.  Carrefour is just a French brand.  90% of the goods being sold inside the Carrefour hypermarts are made in China, and 90% of their workers are Chinese.  When we boycott Carrefour, we are boycotting Chinese goods and Chinese workers.  Are we so ruthless that we destroy our compatriots' jobs and hurt our own interests through boycotting a French brand?

I refuse to boycott French goods also for a deeper reason because I refuse to be "distracted" by certain people.  Presently, there are many "state affairs" such as corruption, unaffordable healthcare, retirement insecurity, high gasoline prices, unemployment, stock market manipulation, etc.  The people are angry and they want to let off steam.  Fortunately, Sarkozy comes along to provide an outlet to which we can vent all our anger.  Isn't it wonderful when we can all unite and pour our anger right on the Sarkozy and France?  Doesn't it feel righteous!  Doesn't it feel wonderful!

(Liao Baoping's Blog)

My blog post <Sorry, I Am Not Boycotting French Goods> drew a lot of attention.  The wave of debate far exceeded my imagination.  So far, this blog post has been viewed almost 300,000 times with more than 6,000 comments.  At first, I answered some of the comments.  Then I discovered that I would be worn out to death if I were to try to answer everybody.  Besides, I don't have that much time.  Therefore I ask for your pardon.

In the comments, there were those who accused me of being a Chinese traitor, there were those who verbally abused me and my family, there were those who used filthy language and there were even those who want to beat me up until my teeth are scattered all over the floor.  But I did not deleted any of the comments (no matter whether they were for or against me).  To a certain extent, the Internet reflects real life.  But it is useful to leave everything on the Internet as court evidence.  Some day, those people who are rotten in nature or just temporarily blinded may come back and see how crude they once were.

Of course, there are people who agreed with me and offered praises to me.  Some netizens have even started a "Defend Liao Baoping Group."  I remember the words of the great sages and so I will be humble and cautious and I will be neither arrogant nor impatient.  But I am filled with gratitude inside my heart.  Anyway, when I write an essay, I obviously longed for some praises and I looked forward to some good criticisms.  But I never expected joy and sorrow would rush up so suddenly.

What is the ratio of my supporters to my detractors?  I have not tabulated the numbers.  Based upon 'eye-balling' the comments, the number of opponents should be far greater than the number of supporters.  It is for this reason that I will say something more here.  If the voices of support become louder, I would gladly stop writing on this subject.

Among the innumerable vicious denunciations of me, I perceive precisely that it is these these angry young people who are unpatriotic; or, to put it another way, they do not know how to love their country.  If you love a country, you must love the main body of the country -- its people.  Those who want to skin a compatriot alive for voicing a dissenting opinion are scary because they are like the mobsters from the Cultural Revolution era.  It is ridiculous that you won't love people (or you don't know how to love people) but you still want to talk about patriotism.

Secondly, you ought to be very clear about what sort of country you want to love.  When you seek a romantic partner, you couldn't possibly love someone when you are not even sure what she looks like?  So do you love a country with only a single voice, or do you love a country where a hundred different schools of thought can speak out?  Do you want a country where life is harsh, or do you want a country where the people live happy lives?  If it is the former, then I have nothing to say.  Even if I quoted Voltaire ("Even though I don't agree with your viewpoints, I will defend your right to express those views with my life!"), you would still disagree and treat me like a barking dog which needs to be silenced (by sewing my mouth shut).  But if it is the latter, we can sit down and talk about how to really love our country.

The classical patriot is a selfless person who talks only about sacrifices and never about rewards.  Their slogan is: "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask only what you can do for your country."  Roughly speaking, this is not wrong.  But we have to figure out whether this "country" is a "state" or a "motherland," whether it is a political regime or a cultural entity.  If it is the former, then this "state" is a pact between the citizens and the government.  As such, the "state" is first and foremost a "service worker" for the citizens.  We will love the state because they serve us well; we won't love the state if they don't serve us well.  The state is not supposed to have any other goals, purposes and interests beyond serving the people.  When additional interests appear, we have reason to ask: Who allowed these additional interests?  Who wants them?  Who is getting them?  Who is exploiting us to get them?

In this view, patriotism is not an issue of morality.  It is an issue of freedom, whereby we need to figure out our relationship with the government for the sake of our freedom.  Preceding the relationship between nations, there is the relationship between the people and the government.  Until this relationship is defined, how can we deal with international relationships?

The classical patriots are rarely nationalistic angry young people.  Among the angry young people, nationalism is inside the core while patriotism is the outside packaging.  When the inner core explodes, the outside packaging expands as well.  The two frequently evolve together in a highly visible manner.  Sometimes, it is fascinating to watch the process.

The extreme narcissism of nationalism can become a kind of mental disease.  In the 1980's, Erich Fromm wrote in The Fear of Freedom:

Nationalism is our form of incest, is our idolatry, is our insanity. "Patriotism" is its cult. It should hardly be necessary to say, that by „patriotism: I mean that attitude which puts the own nation above humanity, above the principles of truth and justice; not the loving interest in one.s own nation, which is the concern with the nation.s spiritual as much as with its material welfare-never with its power over other nations. Just as love for one individual which excludes the love for others is not love, love for one.s country which is not part of one.s love for humanity is not love, but idolatrous worship.

In this heated debate over whether to boycott French goods or not, the various flaws of the angry young people manifested themselves in accordance with this quotation.  If the angry young people tried to love their country in this way, the result is hurt and not love.

Some people both love and hate the angry young people.  Therefore, they elevate them and then denigrate them afterwards; or they denigrate them and then elevate them afterwards.  They keep alternating their attitudes (fortunately for them, the angry young  people are usually forgetful).  While nationalism does have the passionate force of idolatry, it tries to override humanity, truth and justice, and it can therefore become a force of destruction.  Nationalism is a twin-bladed sword, and therefore it must be handled with extreme care.  Otherwise, the angry young people can hurt the country tremendously.  Thus, it becomes important coursework for some people to study "anger youth management."

(Rose Luqiu's Blog)  French netizens, public opinion on the Internet.  December 9, 2008.

I was reading the French media reports about French netizens calling to boycott Chinese goods.  The voices of individual netizens are definitely part of French society, but it cannot be determined how representative these voices are of French society at large without a scientific study.

Suppose the media can pick up an opinion expressed on the opinion and claim this to be the opinion of the netizens, and they they claim that the opinion of the netizens is the opinon of the general population as a whole.  But what about those people who do not use the Internet?  Those who used the Internet but did not express any opinion?  Have the rights of these people to express their own views been deprived by the media?  Unfortunately, this is happening right by us, as the opinion leaders are expressing their interpretations of this so-called "public opinion."

When there is no independent and scientific public opinion polling organization in a society, the accuracy of the so-called Internet public opinion polls must be held in doubt.

Here are the comments from a French netizen "Deep Thinker":

Very few people can gasp the subtlety of the Chinese language.  Before you hold a dialogue with Chinese people, you ought to be well-versed in the classics such as the Sun Tze's military strategies in order to understand how Chinese people think and act.  We westerners are perplexed by the Chinese management of their economy in terms of their motives and actions.  For the Chinese, all relationships in all domains are premised upon the proportionality of force.  The Chinese people will only respect more powerful opponents.  In the realm of foreign diplomacy, greater respect is accorded to stronger opponents with whom negotiations become easier.  The actions of the French president are obviously having the opposite effect.  France needs to rebuild its credibility on the stage of foreign affairs.

As for the profits of the French corporations with respect to China, France's export to China is only 1.4% of its total imports, whereas the value of Chinese imports into France is a lot higher.  So if the Chinese people refuses to import French goods, French will lose 1.4% of its market.  But if the French were to boycott Chinese goods, China's loss will far exceed that of France.  I basically don't care whether Sarkozy meets the Dalai Lama or not, because this is just an excuse being used by China.  Germany and the United States of America can meet with the Dalai Lama.  The real problem in front of us now is whether France can hold its position in terms of foreign diplomacy.