“Cut Off the Foreign Snake Heads”

First, take a look at this video which has recently been making waves across the Chinese blogosphere: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P2bzZdcLhBY&feature=youtube_gdata_player. In short, the video depicts a British man, wandering around drunk on a busy street at night, who after allegedly attempting to rape a Chinese woman is launched upon, beaten unconscious and kicked by some passers-by. The police come and the British man is taken away. He is most likely to be charged and deported back to Britain.

Second, read this translation of a comment made by journalist Yang Rui, the host of the Dialogue television programme on the Chinese state broadcaster’s English language channel, CCTV9:

“The Public Security Bureau wants to clean out the foreign trash: To arrest foreign hoodlums and protect innocent girls, they need to concentrate on the disaster zones in [student district] Wudaokou and [popular drinking district] Sanlitun. Cut off the foreign snake heads. People who can’t find jobs in the U.S. and Europe come to China to grab our money, engage in human trafficking and spread deceitful lies to encourage emigration. Foreign spies seek out Chinese girls to mask their espionage and pretend to be tourists while compiling maps and GPS data for Japan, Korea and the West. We kicked out that foreign bitch and closed Al-Jazeera’s Beijing bureau. We should shut up those who demonize China and send them packing.”

Yang’s commentary was made via his Weibo account (the Chinese equivalent of Twitter), which can be found here (in Chinese), if you’re interested: http://www.weibo.com/1348026261/yjnYxsVVn#1337343448208.

I reacted to each of these examples with contempt. The video of the British hooligan is sadly an example of what a small but considerable group of foreigners get up to when overseas, not just in Beijing, but also in other countries around the world. His actions are inexcusable and retribution for his actions are something which I believe no-one would disagree with. The quotation made by Yang Rui is sadly an example of how a small but considerable group of die-hard nationalists can react to foreigners’ inappropriate behaviour by exerting prejudice against all foreigners and encouraging xenophobia, rallying the troops to carry out an epic crusade against the wicked aggressors and to purge them from the land.

It’s like we’re back in the 19th century, the time of the Opium Wars, the Sino-Japanese War, gross concessions made by China to foreign powers, and what some Chinese refer to as the “century of humiliation”. When foreigners commit atrocities in someone else’s country, this is the dynamic which arises. The actions of certain individuals are suddenly taken by influential people and portrayed as some evil agenda of whatever group they tend to come from, or rather any outsider. “Foreign snakes”, “foreign trash” and “that foreign bitch” draws no distinction between anyone who is not Chinese and, as such, Yang’s message seems to coalesce all foreigners into one entity, tarnishing them with the same brush without any understanding. Foreigners carrying out crimes, human trafficking and espionage in China may exist, and the problem needs to be addressed, yet I’m certainly none of those, and neither is anyone I know. What is most worrying, though, is how a public figure, under the control of the state broadcaster, can be allowed to make such inflammatory comments to incite prejudice, and probably not face losing his job.

Consider also that recently the PSB has, following the arrest of the British man, announced a clampdown on the illegal residence of foreigners in the Chinese capital. The China Daily published under the headline “Beijing to clamp down on illegal aliens” that foreigners who illegally enter, reside or work in Beijing will be subject to new inspections and that the public will be mobilised to report such illegal aliens: http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2012-05/14/content_15290400.htm. Fair enough, foreigners need to play by the rules, and so should everyone. What’s interesting though, is that this is a knee-jerk reaction to the incident with the British man; and that’s not me implying that, the incident is mentioned explicitly in the report. Furthermore an individual’s nationality, their ability to provide correct papers and their potential to commit crime are all suggested to be intertwined factors.

The PSB announcement is reasonable, yet I don’t feel the same about the words of Yang Rui. The above quotation is through translation and, of course, this is not especially loyal to the cultural mindset behind his words, yet the generalisation and demonization of foreigners is something I feel is wrong, whatever language it is expressed through.

This is no criticism of China. Neither is it a criticism of the Beijing authorities’ (frankly understandable) stance on dealing with unruly foreigners. Yet let the words of Yang Rui be taken as a case-study on how vehement nationalists from whatever nation can use generalising as a weapon against a perceived enemy who is, in the vast majority of cases, very capable of behaving himself.