Nationalistic appeals and consumer boycotts in China, 1900-1949

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The purpose of this study is to explore how nationalistic appeals may affect consumers’ perception and purchasing of targeted brands. Qualitative historical data from old China (1900–1949) reveal that social movement groups can adopt nationalistic appeals assisted by meaning framing – defined as a creative interpretation of symbols, designs, behaviors, social events and cultural identities to serve social and political goals – to shape consumers’ attitudes toward foreign brands. After examining the mechanisms and processes underlying consumer boycotts from 1900 to 1949, the responsive strategies of affected foreign companies are illustrated.


Critical historical research method is applied to historical data and historical “traces” from China’s corporate documents, memoirs, posters, advertisements, newspapers and secondhand sources documenting Chinese boycotts from 1900 to 1949.


Consumers may pursue interests beyond economic interests. Nationalistic appeals can mobilize consumer boycotts against foreign brands that were perceived to support or relate to targeted countries. Political framing of certain events shapes consumers’ perceptions and concomitant brand choices.

Research limitations/implications

Although differences between historical and current contexts may require tailoring past marketing strategies to current conditions, past strategies can inform current and future strategies.

Practical implications

Strategies adopted by foreign companies in old China (1900–1949) can help contemporary companies design effective marketing strategies for a hostile marketplace infused with nationalistic appeals and competing interests.

Social implications

Although local companies can adopt economic or political nationalism to realize their economic goals, it represents a double-edged sword that can harm national brands.


A historical analysis of nationalistic business appeals in pre-1949 China can inform the counterstrategies modern companies adopt to overcome consumer boycotts.