The Olympic torch relay set off on its Bangkok leg yesterday, but the most prominent scenes of protest were to be seen on the mainland. This time, it was not demonstrators angry at Beijing's actions in Tibet or its record on human rights. Rather, it was Chinese rallying against the disruptions to the relay in London and Paris, with France singled out as the target. Such protests began on a small scale last week. Yesterday, they spread to Beijing, Shanghai, Hefei and Wuhan . Thousands attended the demonstration in Hefei. This comes amid an outburst of patriotic fervour on mainland internet sites and blogs which are calling for boycotts of French goods and targeting companies such as the retail giant Carrefour and luxury brand Louis Vuitton. The demonstrations have, thankfully, been mainly peaceful. It is to be hoped that does not change. But the protests have already become a worry for the central government, which is now sensibly seeking to cool things down by calling for calm and a focus on economic development. The protests on both sides underline the need for greater understanding. There is disturbing moral symmetry between agitators from the opposing camps. Neither side seems to comprehend the views of the other. And both are convinced they are committed to a just and higher cause. Moral fervour is no substitute for understanding and dialogue. Every protest has a target and a target audience. The two sides, while certainly raising awareness of their different causes, have missed the bigger picture. Protesters in the west believed they were simply making a statement about the central government's human rights record or its policies towards Tibet. They seem to have failed to understand that the torch, with its intricate design and Chinese symbols, has come to represent - in the eyes of most Chinese on the mainland and around the world - their nationhood. Therefore, organised attempts to grasp it from torch-bearers, such as paralympic fencer Jin Jing in Paris, became in the eyes of Chinese people a deliberate affront to their nation's dignity and pride, not just the ruling party in Beijing. In a similar way, mainland protesters calling for boycotts aimed at French companies fail to grasp the wider implications. These companies provide jobs for mainland workers, encourage trade and improve relations between countries. They were not responsible for the Olympics protests in the west. During the relay demonstrations, western governments expressed concerns about human rights in China, but also appealed for calm; international Olympic officials said, rightly, that any boycott of the Beijing Games would penalise only the athletes. The mainland protesters are entitled to express their feelings and their pride in hosting the Olympics, so long as they do so peacefully. But patriotic passions are not like tap water that can be easily turned on and off. Having launched an intense media campaign against the Dalai Lama, Tibetan rioters and their supporters in the west, it may not be easy for Beijing to calm the passions which have been aroused. The Olympics should be a means to bring nations together, through sport. The world needs more co-operation and dialogue. This is argument enough for each side to seek better understanding of the other - and to allow the Games to proceed peacefully.