When Lancome cancelled Canto-pop star Denise Ho Wan-sze’s concert in Hong Kong, it seemed unlikely that a retired philosophy teacher in Paris would be leading the calls for the cosmetics giant to reconsider its decision. But there she is. Beatrice Desgranges started a petition on change.org on Monday after learning about the incident from a tweet from a French expatriate in Hong Kong. By 3pm on Friday, Desgranges’ petition had been signed by more than 50,000 people. A separate petition endorsed by 17 Hong Kong political parties and activist groups was supported by more than 4,300 on Facebook and signed by about 450. Lancome stores reopen across Hong Kong, but Denise Ho warns of a spreading ‘white terror’ In an exclusive interview conducted via email, Desgranges, 65, said she “didn’t know much about Hong Kong”. “I only spent one day and one night there [in 1995], but it is not the problem for me. I think my duty is to stand up for freedom wherever freedom is violated,” she wrote. Desgranges studied philosophy in Paris in the 1970s and taught it in a school in Eastern France before retiring. She now mostly lives in Paris. “As a philosopher, I always remember Socrates, who said he was like [a] horsefly who keeps people awake,” she said. “I used to [tell] my pupils: ‘Well, you can’t change the world by yourself but you can do what depends on you, you can speak out and tell what is wrong.’” Desgranges also suggested that her petition was partly inspired by French writer Emile Zola, who spoke up for Jewish officer Alfred Dreyfus when he was accused by the French government for being a spy in 1894. “Liu Xiaobo, whom I admire, says he has drawn inspiration from Zola’s principles,” Desgranges wrote. Liu was sentenced to 11 years in jail in 2009 for inciting subversion of state power through Charter 08, co-signed by more than 300 signatories, which called for freedom of expression, free elections and human rights. But a year later, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to push for greater freedom in mainland China. Desgranges also told the Post about her love for Chinese culture and history. She said she once had a 10-day journey in mainland China, during which she remembered “Tiananmen”, or the crackdown of the 1989 pro-democracy movement in Beijing. Lancome has only itself to blame for public relations fiasco “I thought my duty was to learn the Chinese language to be able to talk with Chinese people without any interpreter,” she said. “I read Chinese novels, see Chinese films ... and created my [online] forum to share what I read or see with others.” Earlier, she wrote in her petition that it was unacceptable for Lancome, as an “ambassador of France” in Hong Kong, to “sacrifice the freedom of thought and expression to their commercial policy”. Denise Ho was vilified and blacklisted by mainland media for taking part in the Occupy movement protests in 2014. The trouble began after Lancome invited the singer to host a mini-concert in Hong Kong on June 19, then abruptly called it off after Beijing newspaper Global Times accused the brand of inviting “a Hong Kong independence advocate”. With mainland internet users calling for a boycott of the brand’s products, an angry backlash ensued from Hongkongers, who accused L’Oreal, Lancome’s parent company, of kowtowing to Beijing. With more than 56,000 people supporting her petition as of Friday afternoon, Desgranges told the Post that “we can wait a little more before sending the petition” to Lancome’s office.