In the week following an international tribunal’s ruling that China does not have historical rights over certain territories within the South China Sea, a cocktail of outrage, indifference, and bemusement has consumed many of the country’s people.
The July 12 arbitration case conducted at The Hague ruled largely in favor of the Philippines in their territorial dispute against China and has led to a host of nationalist memes, music videos, and, most recently, protests calling for the boycott of all things American. The U.S. has been blamed repeatedly for, in the words of foreign affairs spokesperson Hong Lei, “flexing its muscle.”
U.S. fast food giant KFC, which by the end of 2015 had more than 5,000 outlets in China, has become the target of such activism, with protestors outside stores brandishing banners labeling KFC customers traitors, among other things.
Though rejection of the arbitration award has been almost universal within China, social media users were quick to call into question the actions of staff of a training center who were reported to have led a delegation of young children to conduct a protest outside a KFC outlet in the country’s eastern Shandong province on July 19. Photos posted to microblog platform Weibo on Tuesday show a group of young children standing before a KFC store in the city of Tengzhou, wearing red caps and white shirts emblazoned with a red map of China. That post has been deleted, but a cached version was available as of Wednesday.
Following speculation by social media users and an article on online news outlet Sohu that called into question the veracity of the report, the same Weibo user — “Pi Ren Zhou Yu” — released a short video in the early hours of Wednesday morning showing children shouting “Long live China,” led by a male adult voice. The video was embedded in a post entitled “The Tengzhou School Students Boycott Incident: Just Who Is Telling Lies.”
A previous, since-deleted Weibo post by Fresh News From Tengzhou had reported that the children were heard shouting the slogan: “Long live China, boycott America, China cannot lack even a dot.” The “dot” — a word used in Chinese to mean “the slightest bit” — in the slogan refers to the dots of land at the heart of the territorial dispute.
Sohu news on Tuesday quoted a teacher as saying that they were just passing through, and stopped for no more than a minute. That article has since been updated, along with an apology, to reflect the emergence on Wednesday of the video evidence posted to social media.
A spokesperson for KFC’s Shandong region, who spoke to Sixth Tone on condition of anonymity, did confirm that a group of children had stopped outside the outlet in question — based at the Guicheng shopping center in Tengzhou’s city center — and shouted slogans directed at KFC.
“The facts are as what you have seen on Weibo,” the spokesperson told Sixth Tone on Tuesday. She added that the local branch had reported the incident to the police, “because activity such as protests is a threat to our business.”
As of Wednesday, there was no official statement from Yum Brands, KFC’s parent company.
The store manager of a mobile phone shop next to the KFC outlet in question told Sixth Tone that the children arrived in the morning, and that the whole incident did not last more than two minutes.
“I’m not sure if the kids were from kindergarten or primary school,” said the store manager, who spoke on condition that Sixth Tone report only her surname, Li. “I think it’s fine for such [activity] to begin at kindergarten.”
Reactions on social media were more scathing of the actions of the protest’s organizers. “Poisoning the next generation. It’s mean and shameless, using kids to carry out bullshit demands on adults,” wrote the author of the Tuesday post’s top-voted comment. “How did they become teachers? Did they inform the parents of this beforehand?” questioned another.
Additional reporting by Yin Yijun.
(Header image: A photo posted on Weibo shows young children in red caps and white shirts standing in front of a KFC restaurant in Tengzhou, Shandong province, July 19, 2016. @Wangshisubao from Weibo)