China’s Bash Foreigner Free-for-all

Posted: May 18, 2012 in media, Politics
Tags: , ,

The 100-day crackdown on illegal foreigners in Beijing is now well underway and it seems the police aren’t messing around this time. Some have suggested this is a knee-jerk reaction to the alleged attempted rape of a Chinese girl by a British man. But both things may be part of a bigger trend we’re likely to see continue for the rest of the year.

Another story has made waves recently on the Chinese internet about a Russian cellist who put his legs up on a Chinese woman’s train seat and cursed her when she complained about it (He later apologized). Unlike the rape incident, this is not a crime; nor is it newsworthy. But that didn’t stop Beijing Morning Post from splashing the whole story on their front page this morning:

Then there was CCTV anchor Yang Rui, who made this tragically hilarious statement on Weibo. Here’s a blurb:

The Ministry of Public Security is getting rid of foreign trash right now, arresting foreign scum and protecting innocent Chinese girls from them. […]Foreigners who can’t find a job in their home country come to China and get involved in illegal business activities such as human trafficking and espionage; they also like to distribute lies which discredit China to persuade locals to move abroad. A lot of them look for Chinese women to live with as a disguise to further their espionage efforts.

Then finally, People’s Daily reported today that Baidu and have launched a campaign with Sina Weibo, “calling on internet users to expose bad behavior by foreigners in China.”

[Update: Kaiser Kuo, Baidu’s director of international communications, said this:  “The People’s Daily story is erroneous. Baidu has launched no such campaign. It was something done originally on Baidu PostBar but not under official auspices and we have now removed it.”]

A lot of people do bad things and break the law in China, regardless of their nationality. But this campaign intends to put the magnifying glass squarely over bad behavior – whether or not it’s anything remarkable – so long as the perpetrator is foreign. It implicitly calls on Chinese to look at foreigners with a suspicious eye while holstering a smart phone.

Recently I discussed how the Communist Party uses the “Century of Humiliation” as the cornerstone of its legitimacy. Foreigners invaded and defiled China for a hundred years until the CCP rescued the country from them – so the story goes. The government stays in the people’s good graces by constantly reminding them of this period and implying that the country still isn’t safe from the foreign menace.

I also predicted in that post that, as the increasingly complicated power transition draws near, “we can probably expect to see even more international events covered in China from an angle that harkens back to the humiliating century. And we might even see an uptick in coverage of scarcely-newsworthy events that portray foreigners in China as exploiters or aggressors.”

Trying to consolidate political support by taking a hard-line on foreigners in the country is hardly unique to China. It works the same almost everywhere. Foreigners make a perfect “them” to unite “us” against. They can be scapegoated and harassed without political liability because they’re too few, too vulnerable and, well, too foreign to defend themselves. In China, this tactic is a matter of survival for the authoritarian government.

These recent cases shining the spotlight on bad foreigners aren’t necessarily direct examples of this tactic though. After all, it was common citizens who first disseminated the British pervert and the Russian cellist stories. But both cases raise the “did the chicken or the egg come first” dilemma. Why did netizens frame the stories as a “bad foreigner attacking good Chinese” in the first place?

The subsequent actions by players like Beijing Morning Post and Yang Rui showed that they have every intention of making sure this cycle continues. They perpetuate the implicit anti-foreign angle, thereby assuring future incidents will continue to be framed as “peaceful Chinese vs. arrogant imperialistic foreigners.” That’s pretty good for creating very shallow Chinese unity and government support, but pretty awful for humanity.

  1. Connecting Hu’s earlier-this-year comments about Western cultural assault, it would seem anti-foreigner rhetoric maybe a theme for 2012 in China.

  2. […] just go ahead and let that simmer. If you’re looking for reactions, see: China Geeks, Sinostand. […]

  3. Max W says:

    for fucks sake… such a load of shit. if we were only half has racist in the west, can you imagine the outrage!?

  4. China, the Kingdom of Fear.

  5. BobbyWong says:

    Seems if you are not a foreign garbage, thugs, you got nothing to worry about. What yang said “What the Public Security should/need to do” (your translation of Yao is a bit off) does not apply to the vast majority of foreigners playing nice in China.

    • snowleopard says:

      unfortunately for those of us who are here (and respectable people) are getting bottles broken over our heads if we go to a bar. So, no one respectable is going anywhere near San Li Tun. There is a definite change in attitude of the Beijingers. Any white male has been asked this curious question by numerous newsagents “Are you that British guy? You look like that British guy.” The “guy” in question was only 5 feet tall, bald, and from Canada. But if you are white and male, as far as Beijingers are concerned you are all “that British guy”.

      Thanks a lot to that asshole, wages have just dropped 30-40% in Beijing for foreign teachers.

  6. Potomacker says:

    “Foreigners who can’t find a job in their home country come to China and get involved in illegal business activities such as human trafficking and espionage”

    What kind of guanxi does an unemployed foreigner need to get in on the espionage and human trafficking career path?

  7. […] passenger by Russian cellist Oleg Vedernikov was certainly obnoxious, but might ordinarily not have dominated the front page of the Beijing Morning Post. The apparent wave of anti-foreign sentiment, and various parties’ vigorous stoking of it, […]

  8. Kaiser Kuo says:

    The People’s Daily story is erroneous. Baidu has launched no such campaign. It was something done originally on Baidu PostBar but not under official auspices and we have now removed it.

  9. foarp says:

    Glad to hear that Baidu hasn’t gone over entirely to the dark side. I see a lot of talk about how this is just drumming up support for the leadership change-over, but it’s not like they’re going to drop this once in power – if it works, why wouldn’t they keep it up?

    • sinostand says:

      I can handle the everyday nationalism that’s pretty much gone unchanged since I got here, but lately it’s just gotten scary. I hope it fizzles out like the French/Carrefour boycotts and the US spy plane collision uproar. And I’d like to think this period is the extreme darkness before the dawn of a more reformist politburo, but I worry you might be right.

    • foarp says:

      It may flicker out – but my reasons for thinking it may not are:

      1) This has grown worse and worse as the influence of the new generation of leadership has increased – it’s not just a recent thing.

      2) It can be distinguished from the Hainan incident, whcih was basically in-line with Jiang’s leadership style and may have been his way of getting some revenge for the Belgrade bombing.

      3) It can also be distinguished from the anti-CNN movement, which was a reaction to the riots in Tibet, and whilst encouraged by the state, probably did not originate from them.

  10. […] Cream will just go ahead and let that simmer. If you’re looking for reactions, see: China Geeks, Sinostand. […]

  11. justrecently says:

    There is politically-motivated xenophobia in China, thanks to certain propaganda scripts. But some of the sudden focus on foreigners may also stem from China awakening to the fact that not every foreigner’s stay in China is profitable. Some of what we see as racism – in China and elsehwere – is also a money issue (“will this new arrival pay for him-/herself? Does he/she have a return ticket? Can he/she do work no local can do?”).

  12. kingtubby1 says:

    This is not a peculiarly PRC phenomena. The ROK cleans out the expat stables every now and then after bad foreign behaviour gets a big press headline.

    A lot of Sino blogs are so fixated that they see Chicom devilry in every detail.

  13. James Song says:

    Sorry. All the cultural differences are not what I hate. It’s the prejudice. I am an ABC, and I tried to live and work in China. But after 10 years of experience working for a Fortune 5 company (5 not 500), running divisions, speaking Chinese, going to school to learn to write Chinese, doing freelance consulting work for major multinational and Chinese state owned companies for pittance, I am dismissed for permanent positions because I am an “ABC”. They’d rather have a Caucasian because then their company would be “more international” or they’d rather have a native Chinese who worked/studied abroad because at least “they are more fluent in the language and understand the culture, have guangxi”…. Hey all valid points, but when you want to just work and feed your family, racism/elitism just frustrates the living heck out of you.”

    And it’s just not the Chinese who do this… I was walking in People’s Park (Ren Min Gong Yuan) in Shanghai, and 2 “men” in very nice suits carrying “pricewaterhouse coopers” bags purposely cross the path, and bumped into me, flanking me on both sides. The words out of one “chap’s” mouth was “You Chinese need to learn to yield” (in an Afrikaner tinted accent). The other laughed … I said in American English “Excuse me? You bumped into me.” The response? “Oh, the monkey speaks English does he?” I told them, “I am American. You’ve heard of George Bush?” Puzzled he said “yeah, the idiot can’t find his ass with 2 hands” I said yes, but that is my point, I may be an idiot, but I always do what I say and finish what I start, so remember this… “you are a guest in this country as am I, and if I ever catch you trying to bully another Chinese, I will take your heart out of your chest and shove it down your throat, and shit down it just for good measure”… “and that is an American’s promise”. The two wimps ran faster than I have ever seen in their armani suits and magli capped toes. Argh. And they wonder why the Russian “teacher/artist” and molesting Brit in Beijing are being made such a big deal of? Spend one night on the Bund in Shanghai, and the treatment/objectification of Chinese women by the ugliest, gnarliest, unfit group of Laowai I have ever seen …. When my friends from China came to visit me in California, they said, wow, there are so many good looking people here …. we will never think those ugly men in Shanghai are good looking again. and it goes on and on … sorry to digress.. but…..

    back to the point… all the cultural differences aside, I was sick of China because I never stood a chance against the racism …

    • “Spend one night on the Bund in Shanghai, and the treatment/objectification of Chinese women by the ugliest, gnarliest, unfit group of Laowai I have ever seen …. ” That sounds really bad, until you realize what kind of women go to the Bund on weekends. Oh yeah, that’s right. They’re no angels either. The girls at Bar Rouge are there for a reason. And they’re sleep with a Round-Eye if they have to. By Hook or by Crook, so to speak. 😉

  14. My family members all the time say that I
    am killing my time here at net, except I know I am getting familiarity everyday by reading such fastidious content.

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