Since 2000, Yang Rui has been the host of English-language CCTV 9’s ‘Dialogue’ talk show and as such, in James Fallows’ words, part of “the face the government wants to present to the outside world.” From a 2009 profile in Germany’s Der Spiegel:
Yang says he wants to “enhance China’s prestige in the world …. He speaks in a gentle, friendly manner — in the precise English he learned as a student in Great Britain. Here too, outside the studio, he remains the consummate gentleman, never rising into the shrill tones favored by many a government spokesperson.
On his Weibo account on Wednesday, Yang showed a different side [zh]. Josh Chin’s translation at The Wall Street Journal reads:
The Public Security Bureau wants to clean out the foreign trash: To arrest foreign thugs and protect innocent girls, they need to concentrate on the disaster zones in [student district] Wudaokou and [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.
The post met with criticism and ridicule from many Sina Weibo users. Charles Custer gathered and translated some responses at ChinaGeeks:
Host Yang, you haven’t gone far enough! We should bring back all the officials’ wives and children from overseas to help build the motherland, we must not allow them to be polluted by foreign trash, yes, and also we should close the borders/forbid international travel, so that there is no contact with overseas forces.
Isn’t your daughter studying in the US?
The fact that this CCTV host isn’t writing editorials for the Beijing Daily is truly a waste of talent.
This is exactly how the Boxer Rebellion started…
Even the state-owned English-language tabloid Global Times paired its translation of Yang’s outburst with some dissenting comments:
@天下乐田: Can we stop this way of governing the country? Public policies come in waves of public campaign and (the effect of which does not last long). How far can it get us to demonize every foreign citizen here who does not have legal residence status? After all, the bad is only a few; the majority of the criminals in the country are Chinese. The point is how to work on efficiency and effectiveness in the public service domain.
@平安08: Should the presenter be more analytical he would realize the we now live in a global village. State border allows for two-way traffic. If others treated the Chinese community with such intense belligerence, it wouldn’t be too good for us. To work hard to make our society a better place starts with us!
Many have wondered whether Yang will now struggle to find foreign guests to appear on his show, with some urging an active boycott. Custer and others went further, quickly putting together a bilingual flyer to be distributed on weibo, calling for Yang’s firing. In response, Yang insisted that he stood against xenophobia, and had been referring only to a small minority of “foreign hooligans” [zh]; but that given his reaction, perhaps Custer was one of them, and his background should be investigated by the Public Security Bureau. “What kind of journalist sets police on to critics?” wondered The Guardian’s Jonathan Watts.
As Custer noted at China Geeks, Yang’s post fits a wider trend:
Yang’s comments come at a particularly sensitive time for foreigners, many of whom are concerned about their safety after a British scumbag and a Russian idiot have stirred up a lot of nationalist, anti-foreign sentiment online (all foreigners are the same, so we’re all guilty by association). Probably related is the crackdown on illegal foreigners in Beijing that Yang was commenting on. This crackdown is perfectly fair in theory — every country has immigration laws and the right to enforce them — but the language and imagery that’s being used to promote it is sort of concerning, as is the idea that foreigners will now be required to carry their papers at all times and submit to random checks. Suddenly, Beijing is feeling a bit like Arizona (that’s not a good thing).
Beijing’s campaign against illegal foreign residents has indeed taken what many feel is an alarming tone. Its “cleaning up” rhetoric has been widely embraced, while a group of web companies including Sina and Baidu is encouraging users to report and publicise bad behaviour by foreigners, whether their papers are in order or not. Relatively trivial incidents risk being blown out of proportion: the verbal abuse flung at a female Chinese train 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, has fed suspicions of ulterior motives. From Global Post:
Some suspect that the policy is intended to whip up xenophobia to cement the Party’s control after an unprecedented series of snafus embarrassed China on the international stage. Years of carefully sculpting Beijing’s image flew out the window when Chen Guangcheng, the blind legal-rights activist, and Wang Lijun, an iron-fisted police chief, each fled to the US embassy for protection from their own government.
And with the Party preparing for its transfer of power this autumn, the crackdown may be intended to serve as a way to unite popular support.
“By deputizing the populists against the foreigners, it’s a way for the authorities to say we’re all in this together — the government and the people — against the illegal aliens,” says Jeremiah Jenne, a PhD candidate at the University of California-Davis, who has lived in Beijing since 2002.