18 January 2019
Protesters holding Chinese flags and Mao Zedong posters call for a boycott of South Korean goods in northeastern China's Jilin province on March 5. Photo: AFP
Protesters holding Chinese flags and Mao Zedong posters call for a boycott of South Korean goods in northeastern China's Jilin province on March 5. Photo: AFP

Anti-Lotte protests in China: Red Guards’ toxic legacy lives on

On Tuesday, the first unit of THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) missiles arrived in South Korea, and was deployed to the eastern province of North Gyeongsang. It is expected to become operational in two months’ time.

The United States is deploying the missiles as an active response to the escalating nuclear threat from North Korea, which has simultaneously test-fired four ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan on Sunday.

The deployment has sparked a fierce backlash from Beijing, particularly among the hawks in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), who see them as an offensive and powerful spying tool that can look deep into China’s territory and threaten its national security.

The day after the arrival of the THAAD units in South Korea, General Xu Qiliang, vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission and top commander of the PLA’s nuclear ballistic missile force, asserted that his units are on high alert and ready to fight back any foreign aggression.

The Lotte Group, the South Korean multinational conglomerate that has agreed to rent out one of its golf courses to the South Korean government as a base for the THAAD units, came under fire in China, both from the officialdom and the public, and became a scapegoat for Seoul’s decision.

The group has vast business interests in the mainland, including retail outlets, hotels and movie theaters, with more than 20,000 employees and an annual turnover of over US$2.6 billion.

Shortly after the news came out that Lotte had agreed to lease out its golf course to the South Korean military, official mouthpieces in the mainland started warning the company that it was going to suffer the consequences of its mistake.

The propaganda apparatus of the Communist Youth League of China even called on young people across the country to boycott Lotte stores in the mainland.

Fired up by communist propaganda, young people in several mainland cities have begun to answer the “call of duty” by taking to the streets and protesting against Lotte’s “hostility” towards the Chinese people.

Since the start of the annual meetings of the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference last week, the anti-Lotte movement has continued to spread across the country.

In the provinces of Liaoning, Jiangsu, Henan and Anhui, for example, hundreds of “patriotic” protesters brandishing giant portraits of Mao Zedong and chanting Cultural Revolution-style slogans staged protests outside Lotte outlets and even stormed into some of the stores.

In some cities, local authorities ordered Lotte stores to shut down temporarily on grounds of “fire safety concerns”.

In the meantime, mainland officials have pressured travel agencies across the country to join the boycott campaign by canceling tours to South Korea.

People who have taken part in the anti-Lotte protests are mainly lowly-educated, urban vagrants, migrant workers from rural areas and women in their 60s or 70s who are nostalgic about the “good old days” of the Cultural Revolution.

Their hysterical and often violent acts were strongly reminiscent of the way the brutal Red Guards behaved during the Cultural Revolution.

Such acts suggest that the toxic legacy of the Cultural Revolution still pretty much lingers on even to this day, and the “Red Guard” genes remain deeply entrenched in the subconscious mind of tens of millions of Chinese people even more than 40 years after that political catastrophe ended.

Ironically, while the mainland officialdom and the public are coming after Lotte ferociously, they are welcoming Ivanka Trump, the eldest daughter of US President Donald Trump, with open arms.

Ivanka Trump has become a sensation in China after a video clip of her and her little daughter was broadcast on national television and went viral on social media.

In that footage, Ivanka and her five-year-old daughter Arabella attends a Lunar New Year party at the Chinese embassy in Washington with the little girl singing a song to celebrate the event in Mandarin.

This staggering display of double standard by the Chinese public simply boggles the mind. 

They should not forget that it was Ivanka Trump’s father, US President Donald Trump, who authorized the deployment of the THAAD missiles to South Korea.

As such, the Chinese “patriots” should have come after Ivanka Trump and her father rather than Lotte.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 9

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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People stand outside a Lotte retail outlet in Jilin on Thursday. A notice on the door says the store has to rectify fire safety issues. Photo: AFP

HKEJ columnist

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