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China's 'rational' nationalism

Beijing lights a dangerous patriotic torch as the Olympic torch heads its way.

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Next week, China's majority ethnic group, the Han, will celebrate the Olympic torch's arrival on Mt. Everest. It will be a pinnacle experience, literally, for a people who see the Beijing Games as their ascendency to restored world glory. One problem, though: Everest's peak is in Tibet.

China's bursts of Han nationalism – often resulting in violent indignation – have been marked by such contradictions. Popular calls to boycott Western imports over the recent pro-Tibet actions against the torch, for instance, have been squashed by officials – to prevent boycotts of Chinese exports.

A more worrisome conundrum for China's leaders is that their own past attempts to incite domestic anger at other countries – mainly Japan and the US – have now opened the door to grass-roots protests that can quickly escalate with private mobilization over the Internet. The Communist Party, which has intensified "patriotic" indoctrination since 1994, has lately insisted on what they term "rational" nationalism.

Two weeks ago, for instance, Internet-driven protests almost got out of hand in several Chinese cities against French-owned Carrefour supermarkets. People were upset at actions in Paris against the torch relay and a famous Chinese athlete. A follow-up protest against Carrefour May 1 was contained by officials who banned online searches for the word Carrefour.

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