Backlash

Chinese iPhone loyalists blast Party's anti-Apple campaign

March 27, 2013: 10:44 AM ET

The state-run media attacked as "a brain-dead product of the Cultural Revolution"

People's Daily

China's People's Daily

FORTUNE -- In the middle of a war of words between his customers and the government of his second largest market is probably the last place CEO Tim Cook wants to be right now. But that's where Apple (AAPL) finds itself today, according to Popularity helps buffer Apple from Chinese state-media attacks, an item that moved on the Reuters newswire Wednesday morning.

It's the latest twist in a story that began two weeks ago when CCTV, China's powerful state television network, accused Apple in one of its most popular shows of discriminating against Chinese users by swapping new iPhones returned for repair with refurbished iPhones with shorter warranties.

The CCTV attack backfired somewhat when Tea Leaf Nation revealed that the network had been encouraging (and perhaps paying) social media celebrities -- including a Taiwanese singer/movie star who moonlights as a Samsung spokesperson -- to post expressions of outrage on Sina Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter.

Apple, as usual, tried to keep a low profile, ducking reporters and issuing a bland and somewhat unhelpful statement that "Apple's Chinese warranty is more or less the same as in the U.S. and all over the world."

That just made matters worse.

On Monday, the Chinese government doubled down, lashing out at Apple's "unparalleled arrogance" in a prominent editorial in the People's Daily, the propaganda organ of the Chinese Communist Party. (Translation here.)

Western analysts assumed that the Party was attacking Apple to boost the prospects of China's growing ranks of homegrown smartphone manufacturers. Whatever the motivation, it sparked another social media ruckus, this time among Apple partisans. Combing through Weibo and Chinese-language blogs, Reuters' Melanie Lee captured the flavor of the backlash with some priceless quotes:

  • "Shameless People's Daily jealously scolding people... A brain-dead product of the Cultural Revolution, old and so disgusting."
  • "We ordinary people feel that Apple is good and the government is trash. There's obviously an implemented warranty policy, why must (Apple) be treated differently?"
  • "Do you wish to transfer our focus? Get the ordinary people to curse and blame useless things? There's toxic air, toxic water and tainted milk...We are not fools!"

You can read Lee's piece here.

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