Boxer wars, H&M wars
History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes, and China is about to make a huge mistake
Let’s not forget, Swedish fast-fashion giant H&M’s statement that they wouldn’t use Xinjiang cotton came last October, to no Chinese objections. It wasn’t an issue until the Communist Youth League posted this to their Weibo:
Literally, “Xinjiang Cotton won’t take your nonsense. H&M take off your filtered glasses and immediately stop spreading fake news.”
What’s notable is that the phrase “…won’t take your nonsense” was a paraphrase from the recent China-US talks in Alaska, where Chinese and American officials traded barbs, including this banger from China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi: “America doesn’t have the right to talk down to China. The Chinese won’t take your nonsense!”*
The phrase “The Chinese won’t take your nonsense” went viral in China and enterprising merchants soon found themselves minting it in T-shirts, tote bags, even bottles of liquor bearing the slogan. What else went viral was this picture:
Allow me to translate:
Boxer Protocol 1901: Every Chinese must pay a tael of silver
US-China talks 2021: Watch your attitude when you talk to the Chinese
WTF is the Boxer Protocol? And why is the Chinese still mad about it all these years later? History lesson time.
The year was 1899 and discontented young men in Shandong province rose up in a xenophobic movement called the Righteous Fist. They believed that western cannons and guns were black magic that they can dispel with their own magical calisthenics and rituals, including flinging literal buckets of shit at the enemy. For two years they raged through China vowing to kill all foreigners and Chinese viewed as in league with them.
Wanting to drive out the foreigners, dowager empress Cixi backed the Boxers, a terrible mistake for China. Eight allied countries including the US, Japan, British, French and German handily defeated the imperial army. The Boxers turned out to be useless because it turns out, shocker, that shadow boxing does not actually protect you from guns, and the westerners had guns.
The photo on top of the meme was taken at the signing of the Boxer Protocol of 1901, where an utterly defeated China agreed to sign over 450 million taels of fine silver as indemnity to the 8 nations. This was an extreme financial burden that hastened the end of the Qing dynasty, and one which, judging by the meme comparing the signing of the protocol with the Alaska talks, the Chinese had never forgotten.
H&M sign removed from mall, Nike sneakers burning.
In a very real way, some Chinese still think they are fighting the Boxer Rebellion:
The Qing dynasty were forced by the allies to sign the humiliating Boxer Protocol. The 450 million taels of fine silver to be paid as indemnity was the longest string of numbers in China’s history books up to that date. Each tael torn from the flesh and blood of the Chinese people.
We were too weak then…the bandits came. We couldn’t defeat them or push them out. We had no recourse but to submit.
120 years later, China and the US met in Alaska.
Facing the arrogance bad manners of the Americans, Yang Jiechi said “The Chinese won’t take your nonsense.” It was a bold and strong declaration, that showed the whole world China’s toughness and determination.
This toughness was won by countless ancestors losing heads and spilling blood. For this day, we waited a whole 120 years. But though imperialism dies, the heart of China will not die.
Today all the searches online circled around one key word: Xinjiang cotton.
The stoking of populism as a populace control tool is problematic for the CCP because they can never get the “temperature” quite right. The initial hit was targeted against H+M as a proxy for Sweden, but keen netizens soon found that other western companies did the same thing. The Xinjiang cotton boycott fever spread from H&M to Nike and Adidas, the latter from relatively China-friendly Germany.
I’m gonna go ahead and guess that the Chinese authorities were not keen on pissing off the Germans, who are their biggest trading partner in Europe. Angela Merkel has been a huge advocate for China-EU trade deals.
More importantly, many of those brands manufacture in China. How many Chinese jobs are now on the line? These are not hi-tech jobs where companies have a hard time decoupling with China because of its robust supply chain. These are factories you can set up anywhere from Bangladesh to Botswana. Once they’re gone, they’re not coming back to China.
Still seething in humiliation about the Boxer Protocol and the Opium War before it, which everybody else have kinda forgotten, China is determined to be stronger this time to make other countries bow down as they had once had to bow. But they’re forgetting something.
The whole reason the Boxer Protocol happened was the Boxer Rebellion before it: A belligerent and delusional group of youngsters convinced of China’s invincibility causing the world’s great power to ally against China. As strong as China is, China will never be as strong as the rest of the world combined.