Communist officials, who say they are committed to the nation's open-door trade policy, nonetheless have begun fanning the traditional Chinese spirit of self-reliance with a new "buy China" campaign.
The campaign appeals directly to the Chinese sense of national dignity, criticizing the popular notion that foreign goods are better and calling for controls on items that China produces itself.
Recently, Shanghai officials have complained that large-scale imports of foreign cars and wristwatches have crippled local industry, while researchers in Canton announced they have developed a new Chinese cola to compete locally with the increasingly popular American Coke.
"Bringing in advanced technology and high-quality equipment from abroad is reasonable," People's Daily, the Communist Party organ, said today. "But importing goods that can be produced in China belittles us and obstructs the development of our industry."
Some Peking observers view this protectionist sentiment as a sign of growing Chinese nationalism and fear of foreign dominance that recalls the exploitation of China half a century ago.
Other analysts believe it is a practical step toward conserving foreign exchange for necessary imports of computers, oil drilling equipment and even military hardware that China cannot manufacture itself.
Four years ago, China shelved the policy of self-reliance popularized by Mao Tse-tung and began actively seeking foreign technology and know-how to help modernize its stagnant economy.
Chinese foreign trade has grown dramatically since then, reaching a record $42 billion last year, and officials have taken pains in recent weeks to stress Peking's continued interest in foreign economic contacts.
Even amid calls last week to "buy China," a top trade official reiterated that Peking would soon be seeking billions of dollars in foreign investment to finance industrial expansion and exploitation of offshore oil and coal resources.
People's Daily urged import controls on some items in its editions today, but nevertheless stressed that "we cannot proceed with modernization with our doors closed."
The front-page editorial, which is believed to reflect views of top Chinese officials, favored imports of sophisticated technology to develop the economy while drawing the line on consumer goods.
Along with computers, the open-door policy has brought in large quantities of Japanese televisions, American cigarettes, French wines and other foreign items that compete well with Chinese products of generally inferior quality.
Chinese preference for such imports, said People's Daily, destroys the local market for domestically made goods and reflects a slavish Chinese mentality toward things made abroad.
Similar views were expressed last week by Shanghai industrial officials who said the large sums spent on imported cars, wristwatches and calculators could better be used to improve domestic industry.
Protectionism has even been extended to the most conspicuous sign of foreign influence, Coca-Cola.
Canton's Chinese herbal medicine factory claims that it has perfected a drink called "health cola" that tastes and looks like the American beverage, which a Peking plant began bottling last year.
Researchers in the south China city say their version is made of herbs and other healthy ingredients, including peony root, which Chinese doctors say does everything from cleaning blood to strengthening kidneys. They hope to produce 100 million bottles a year to slake the thirst of Canton's residents and offset sales of Coke.