Americans living on the mainland complain of a growing backlash

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 April, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 April, 2003, 12:00am

Americans in China face increasing backlash from locals over the war with Iraq.

The anger, inflamed by media reports denouncing the US action, came to a head on Sunday in an incident that drew hundreds of spectators in a Beijing street.

US-born film student Jonathan Levitt, 30, said a newspaper salesman began shouting anti-war slogans at him on a crowded, university district street.

Mr Levitt and his Chinese girlfriend confronted the man, who replied by calling her a 'bitch' and a 'traitor', he said.

The American said about 200 people gathered around and began shouting at him, so he called the police for help. Officers made the vendor write an apology and pay a fine of 40 yuan (HK$37).

'These people don't even know if he understands them,' said his 26-year-old girlfriend, Ms Pan. 'But there's so much outrage. They can't even tell who you are, but people express it anyway.'

She said that after the three-hour shouting match, they heard a man singing an anti-American song from the Korean war.

'This is the first time this has happened,' said Mr Levitt, who has lived in China for six years.

Mainland media have reported Iraqi resistance and defiance, civilian deaths and photos of a football match that continued despite a nearby coalition bombing.

Observers say news coverage and the discontent on the mainland with the US government's use of military force have boosted anti-war resolve, although most people say they do not hold individual Americans responsible but are distrustful of the US government's motives.

'I've opposed this [war] from the start,' said mobile phone engineer Wang Junsheng, suggesting that oil was the reason the US attacked Iraq. 'I think there's an economic motive for the war.'

The public mood seems to be more critical than angry, unlike the furor after the May 1999 US bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade and the April 2001 Hainan Island spy-plane incident.

'You get these smug PLA generals on TV. They say, 'You see the American might isn't what it's hyped up to be',' said Christiaan Virant, a music-mixer who has lived on the mainland for more than a decade. He said that because of the broad media coverage of the war, what is said on the news filters down quickly.

Other Beijing people want a debate on the issue, challenging Americans to explain their government's actions, testing their personal reactions and looking for a link between the war and the 1999 embassy bombing.

Peggy Lee, a Peking University student from California, said people on the mainland also believed Americans 'are not going to follow anyone else, that all our rules are made up, we're very hypocritical. We're exploiting others for our own financial benefit'.