A Satire That Caused an Uproar in Both China and The Philippines

Hong Kong columnist Chip Tsao (陶杰 Tao Jie) wrote a satirical article recently commenting on the dispute over the Spratly Islands between China and the Philippines. Very few Chinese or Filipinos got his humor. Instead, so many Filipinos were infuriated by the “racism” displayed in the article that Manila barred Tsao’s entry. While Tsao received very different reactions from Chinese readers, his message was also misinterpreted. Tsao was trying to ridicule fanatic patriotism in the article. But tens of thousands Chinese thought he was defending China’s territory and are lauding him as a patriotic hero.

Tsao is a seasoned newsman and a well-known columnist in Hong Kong. He got his college education in Britain, worked for BBC for some years, and now writes articles for Apple Daily and Hong Kong Magazine regularly.

The article at issue, A War at Home, was published in Hong Kong Magazine on March 27, in which Tsao wrote about the Spratly Islands dispute from the perspective of fervent patriots among his countrymen.

The Russians sank a Hong Kong freighter last month, killing the seven Chinese seamen onboard. We can live with that-—Lenin and Stalin were once the ideological mentors of all Chinese people. The Japanese planted a flag on Diàoyú Island. That’s no big problem-—we Hong Kong Chinese love Japanese cartoons, Hello Kitty, and shopping in Shinjuku, let alone our round-the-clock obsession with karaoke.

But hold on—even the Filipinos? Manila has just claimed sovereignty over the scattered rocks in the South China Sea called the Spratly Islands, complete with a blatant threat from its congress to send gunboats to the South China Sea to defend the islands from China if necessary. This is beyond reproach. The reason: There are more than 130,000 Filipina maids working as HK$3,580-a-month cheap labor in Hong Kong. As a nation of servants, you don’t flex your muscles at your master, from whom you earn most of your bread and butter.

As a patriotic Chinese man, the news has made my blood boil. I summoned Louisa, my domestic assistant who holds a degree in international politics from the University of Manila, hung a map on the wall, and gave her a harsh lecture. I sternly warned her that if she wants her wages increased next year, she had better tell everyone of her compatriots in Statue Square on Sunday that the entirety of the Spratly Islands belongs to China…

The phrase “a nation of servants” together with other “racist” remarks — if they are taken literally — offended Filipino workers in Hong Kong and back home. They staged a protest, and the Bureau of Immigration in Manila barred Tsao from entering the Philippines. Tsao’s publisher, Hong Kong Magazine, has pulled the article off its website and replaced it with an apology.

The story appeared in headlines on dozens of major news websites in Mainland China shortly afterward, getting a sea of responses from readers.

The Chinese reporter who wrote the story didn’t bother to contact Tsao for comment, and he probably didn’t read Tsao’s original article. Instead, Fang Xiao at Dongfang Daily described the incident as follows:

…Tsao said in the article that as a patriot, he could not stand the Filipino government’s claim of sovereignty over Spratly Islands, because there are more than 130,000 Filipino domestic workers in Hong Kong. He wrote, “as a nation of servants, you don’t flex your muscles at your master.”

The Dongfang Daily story was posted Monday on the top section at Sina.com, the most popular news portal in China, under the headline, “More than a thousand Filipino workers demonstrated in Hong Kong to protest racial discrimination.”

Racial discrimination is usually not a hot topic among the Chinese public. The editors of Sina.com posted the story as a top one probably because it involves territorial disputes, which often catch the eyes of millions in China.

The several thousand comments made by readers under the article are intriguing. They vividly exhibit how the general public in China view national sovereignty and racial equality. Below are a dozen comments representing diverse viewpoints selected and translated by CDT:

—Domestic workers are human beings. They should be respected. This is a different matter from the territorial dispute over the Spratly Islands. On the other hand, overseas Filipino workers and their government should definitely respect history and respect China’s sacred territorial sovereignty, while their labor and dignity are respected.

—I support Tao Jie (Chip Tsao). What’s wrong with racial discrimination? Who treated the Chinese as human beings when the Joint Forces of Eight Nations invaded Beijing and during the Nanjing Massacre?

—The people in Hong Kong are very proud. They look down on mainland Chinese. Thus it’s not surprising that they look down on the Filipinos. In the 80s, the Hong Kong students in America never thought themselves as Chinese and never made friends with us mainland students.

—The people in Hong Kong show their patriotism by discriminating against their domestic servants. How ridiculous!That’s extremely ridiculous!!!

—Why do you employ Filipino workers if you are patriotic? Why can’t you look for mainland workers instead? Dispelling the Filipino domestic servants from Hong Kong and hiring mainland workers, you will create so many new jobs for us. That could be called real patriotism.

—Do not impose on others something you dislike! Why have we Chinese become so selfish today? Can’t we put ourselves in other people’s shoes? If we were them (the Filipinos), wouldn’t we stand up to defend our motherland? Think about the relations between China and Japan in the past…What’s the difference between our current behavior and the old conduct of the Japanese?

—We could just take them (the Filipino workers) as dogs which were barking in front of their masters. They don’t even deserve to be servants! I can’t help but feel superior when it comes to my mind that this country (the Philippines) was dependent on us during the Tang Dynasty!!

—I didn’t like Tao Jie before and regarded him as a lackey of foreigners. I was surprised that he actually loves the nation. I completely agree with his points. I will fire the Filipino worker at my home today and show my support through action.

—His patriotic remarks are too extreme! They don’t match with the mettle of a big power (as China).

—It takes courage to make an apology. We can not disrespect any people from any country.

—Tao Jie’s remarks are shameful. I can’t accept them! He inherited the tone of racist discrimination from the British colonists. We must criticize that.

—Tao Jie should learn to be smarter. He could have just kept those thoughts to himself. Why did he have to say it?

The above comments are selected from more 3,000 posted under the Sina.com article.

Asiasentinel.com published an article on the incident, Satire Lost In A Foreign Language, by Alice Poon.

A well-known Hong Kong journalist and blogger, Lv Qiu Lu Wei, also wrote a blog article A Patriotic Writer? commenting on the incident (in Chinese).