The exclusive Dutch department store, de Bijenkorf, has removed articles of Chinese Communist Party memorabilia from its shelves due to public pressure, including complaints from the International Campaign for Tibet Europe and the Tibet Support Groep Nederland.

A spokesperson of de Bijenkorf said “We didn’t intend to upset people and didn’t realize the reaction it would provoke. It wasn’t our intention to make a political statement”.

De Bijenkorf, as part of a ‘Shanghai’ promotional theme lasting 20 days in its 13 stores across The Netherlands, was selling numerous articles of Chinese Communist memorabilia, which serves as propaganda in China, including ceramic souvenir statues of Mao Zedong, plates and cups with Mao’s image, and novelty copies of Mao’s Little Red Book. One ceramic statue depicted two workers sitting on top of a missile. One propaganda poster, priced at 159 Euros, depicts a beaming Mao and members of various ethnic groups of the PRC, including Tibetans, with the slogan ‘Unity of the Nationalities’. This political standpoint is used today to legitimize government crackdowns on peaceful dissent against Chinese rule in Tibet.

While these items are regarded as fashionable ‘kitsch’ in some circles (and even in today’s China), they are of particular sensitivity to Tibetans living in The Netherlands, given that Communist Party policy under the leadership of Mao Zedong led to the destruction of thousands of Tibetan monasteries and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Tibetans through torture, imprisonment or starvation.

Tsering Jampa, Executive Director of ICT Europe, said: “As a Tibetan, I was particularly dismayed to see these items on sale in the heart of the Netherlands, which is known for its respect for all peoples. To attempt to profit from such items shows a deep misunderstanding of the tragic consequences of Mao Zedong’s dictatorship. For Tibetans, and many Chinese, selling these symbols is as offensive as the sale of Nazi memorabilia would be to a Dutch person”.

Tibetans inside Tibet continue to face persecution and the repression of their religion and culture.

“This misjudgment by de Bijenkorf is a timely reminder that today’s Chinese leadership also has much to apologize for, both past and present. Whether it’s buying a little red book or selling arms to China, we here in the West should not uncritically embrace the new China without seriously contemplating what the Chinese Communist regime stands for.” said Ms Jampa.