'Traitor!': The dangers of wearing Nike shoes in China

Screen grab from the video below.
Screen grab from the video below.


Is wearing Nike sneakers tantamount to treason in China? A man was violently attacked last week in the subway in Dalian, in the country's northwest, for having the famous Swoosh on his shoes. This was not some random incident: anti-American acts are multiplying around China, against a backdrop of diplomatic tensions with the Philippine government, which is backed by the United States.

In a video taken by another passenger, one man (in red) yells at another man (in white) who is wearing Nikes, and pushes him around. "Traitor!" he says, accusing him of being a "spy" and a "sell-out," too. A woman tries to calm things, in vain. The two men begin hitting one another and wrestling, and knock over another passenger. According to the website Shanghaiist, the incident took place in Dalian, a city in Liaoning province.

The altercation is said to have taken place in north-eastern China, on July 13.

The video was posted to Weibo, the Chinese microblogging site, and YouTube on July 13, the day after a decision by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) that was unfavourable for the Chinese. The international organisation, located in the Hague (The Netherlands), is notably tasked with resolving disagreements between sovereign states.

China and the Philippines had been engaged in a territorial dispute since 2013. The Chinese government believes that almost all the strategic waters of the South China Sea -- which is rich in oil, gas and also in fish -- are part of its sovereign territory but Manila contests this. The PCA found that China's claims had "no legal basis". The Chinese authorities view the PCA as an illegitimate institution, and have not accepted the ruling, having made it known beforehand that they would not respect a ruling that was not in their favour.

The People's Daily, the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, is convinced that the United States somehow manipulated the PCA so that it handed down a verdict favourable to its ally the Philippines. Chinese nationalists quickly began calling for a "patriotic" boycott on goods from the United States, the Philippines and other countries that endorsed the PCA's decision.

A boycott of American products

People have since gathered in protest outside KFC fast-food restaurants in cities around the country.

"Boycott the United States, Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines. Love China. You eat food from the American chain KFC and you dishonour yourself," the banner reads. This protest was held in Laoting, in the northeastern province of Hebei, on July 17. Photo posted to Weibo.

On Weibo, numerous Chinese Internet users have also posted videos of themselves destroying their iPhones, as our colleagues at the French version of Mashable have reported.

People using tools to destroy their iPhones. Video posted July 13.

This man crushes his iPhone with a hammer. Video posted July 12.

Photos of destroyed iPhones have also been posted on social media.

 Photos posted to Weibo and reprinted on the website Shanghaiist.

"It's so easy to get brainwashed"

Nevertheless, a great number of Internet users denounced the assault of the man in Nike sneakers, and suggested this might not be the ideal way to express one's "patriotism".

"It's so easy to get brainwashed. That's the sad result of the educational system. Keep away from this sort of person!" one user wrote in a comment posted beneath the video on YouTube.

 "The man in red is an idiot. Our leaders have moved to the United States, our families are in the United States. Why doesn't he attack our leaders? People with a low I.Q. are easy to manipulate," wrote another Chinese Internet user.

Incidentally, the Xinhua press agency and the China Daily – both under state control – have recently called on the Chinese to refrain from attacking property and restaurants, calling such violence "irrational". They have nonetheless continued to criticise the PCA's ruling.