BEIJING – Fresh anti-Western protests flared in several Chinese cities Sunday 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 have rallied in front of the French Embassy in Beijing and at outlets of 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 — a charge 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 is trying to rein in the demonstrations in order 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 follows similar patterns seen 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."
On Sunday, 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 another 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 another 1,000 protesters in Harbin held up at 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. We chose Carrefour's front doors only because we draw more attention there," Wu was quoted as saying.
In an interview published in Journal du Dimanche, Carrefour's chief executive Jose Luis Duran said the company is "taking the situation very seriously," though its earnings had not yet been affected.
With 2 million Chinese customers, "we cannot take the reaction of some of our clients lightly," he said. "It must be understood that a large part of the Chinese population has been very shocked by the incidents that have peppered the passage of the Olympic torch through Paris."
Duran denied rumors spread on the Internet that Carrefour supports the Dalai Lama, saying the company has never supported any political or religious cause. The retailer is the second-largest "hypermarket" in the world after Wal-Mart Stores Inc. It has 122 stores in China employing 44,000 people.
The protests began Saturday, erupting in Beijing and five other major cities — Hefei, Wuhan, Kunming, Xi'an, and Qingdao.
In Beijing, small protests broke out at one Carrefour and outside the French Embassy as well as the Beijing French School. Dozens of police, some in riot gear, quickly dispersed the crowd in front of the embassy.
Anger also has been channeled against Western media organizations, including CNN, for so-called "distorted" coverage of recent unrest in Tibet and neighboring provinces. Foreign journalists have received threatening phone calls and e-mails.
Several thousand ethnic Chinese marched outside CNN's office in Hollywood Saturday to demand the firing of a commentator who recently compared China's leaders to a "bunch of goons and thugs."
CNN insists its coverage has been impartial and has said it refutes allegations that it "distorts its coverage of the events in Tibet to portray either side in a more favorable light."