Foreigners in Beijing are advised to keep their heads down this month, especially if they bump into TV personalities. The advice follows two cases in which foreign nationalities were shown behaving appallingly. In the worst case, a British man was filmed trying to sexually assault a Chinese woman on a Beijing street. Another video went viral shortly afterwards, catching Oleg Vedernikov, a Russian cellist, insulting a local woman on a train.
Both cases generated wide public interest, as well as a surge of anti-foreigner sentiment. Beijing authorities then announced a 100-day campaign to clean out “illegal foreigners” living or working in the country’s capital. Although it wasn’t explained why the crackdown was ordered, most assume it is a response to the incidents mentioned.
Many netizens supported the move. “I raise both hands and both feet in support of clearing out illegal foreigners: send that foreign trash back to where it belongs,” wrote one weibo user, one of many to complain that China has become a destination for those with few prospects in their home countries.
But this was nothing compared to the vitriolic views of one of China’s most visible TV personalities, Yang Rui, the host of Dialogue, an English-language current affairs programme on CCTV (see photo).
On his personal weibo, Yang spewed forth with volcanic fury. “The Ministry of Public Security must clean out foreign garbage, arresting foreign thugs and protect innocent girls… Behead the snake heads [human traffickers], the unemployed Americans and Europeans who come to China to make money, trafficking in people, misleading the public and encouraging them to emigrate,” he raged.
“Identify the foreign spies, who find a Chinese woman to cohabitate with, while their job is to collect intelligence, drawing maps and perfecting GPS [coordinates] for Japan, Korea, Europe, and America under the guise of being tourists,” Yang went on, adding some expletives we can’t repeat.
Keep in mind, this was coming from an interviewer of prominent foreign figures including Bill Clinton, and man who has been referred to as China’s Charlie Rose. As such Yang is also part of the state media’s much-vaunted ‘soft power’ initiative, claiming in the past that he doesn’t just represent himself in his work but also “the country’s image”.
Needless to say, the diatribe triggered huge publicity, with many accusing Yang of xenophobia. Under pressure, he backtracked, telling the Wall Street Journal that most foreign residents in China are “friendly”, “well-educated” and “polite”. It was only expats like the British man and the Russian cellist that Yang was referring to as “foreign trash”, he said, and not the “silent majority in the expat communities who obey and respect our culture and society”.
This week, Yang was working on regaining a little more of his poise, striking a much more conciliatory stance on his weibo. “We should be on guard against xenophobia,” the TV host warned judiciously.
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