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Why KFCs in China Are the Target of Geopolitical Protests

“What you eat is KFC. What is lost is the face of our ancestors.”

If you live in China and you want to protest American interests, what do you do? You can smash iPhones in a symbolic gesture. Or you can get serious and hit us where it hurts. We're talking about KFC, of course.

People in several cities in China are protesting a ruling by the international tribunal in The Hague this week. The ruling came down in favour of the Philippines in a case it had brought against China, all having to do with a dispute as to the rights to a disputed area in the South China Sea. What does this have to do with the US, you ask? People in China believe that the US pushed the Philippines to pursue the case against China, so they have targeted KFC locations in a dozen Chinese cities. The bastions of fried chicken were the sites of protests and a call for boycotts.

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As part of the boycott, signs were posted outside of KFCs from Hangzhou to Changsha to Yangzhou. How's this for a motto?: "What you eat is KFC. What is lost is the face of our ancestors." The protesters are asking people to boycott the US, Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines; somehow, KFC has come to singlehandedly represent all of these foreign bodies

#china KFC in northern China targeted by protesters shouting anti-US slogans https://t.co/7d3iTalZLF pic.twitter.com/Kn6HeNlpnK

— China Business Watch (@ChinaBizWatch) July 18, 2016

KFC is massively popular in China, and has become one of the most successful fast-food companies there. Yum! Brands, which owns KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell, hope to cash in on that success and sell its China operations this year. The buyer may be acquiring more than they bargained for.

Interestingly, it seems as if the Chinese government isn't taking the threat of mass fried chicken protests lightly. According to Internet monitoring service Weiboscope, references to both "KFC" and "South China Sea" are being heavily censored on Chinese social media platforms.

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The dispute that went to The Hague had to do with China's claim to an area of the South China Sea where it had constructed artificial islands in an attempt to claim sovereignty over the waters. In a strong rebuke to China, The Hague said China had no claim to the area.

Now, KFC is paying the price, because the Chinese believe the arbitration would not have been brought without US encouragement. MUNCHIES reached out to Yum! Brands for comment, but has yet to hear back.

Nothing goes alongside some fried chicken like a healthy serving of frothy geopolitical conflict.