See the first post about the British man who sexually assaulted a young woman in Beijing here: http://wanderingamericantravelblog.com/2012/05/11/british-man-beaten-down-in-beijing-and-he-deserved-it-2/#comment-1926
Ever since the photos and video of the incident began circulating around on the web, China has been gripped by a wave of anti-foreigner sentiment and the government, eager to direct the people’s fury away from the faltering economy and government corruption, has made the problem worse by enforcing tighter regulations and endorsing extreme views from a few xenophobic leaders.
On May 15, the Beijing public security bureau launched a 100-day crackdown on illegal foreigners in China that will continue until August. The campaign will clean out the “three illegals,” the Beijing public security bureau announced on its official blog, illustrated with an authoritarian clenched fist, an image used regularly for anti-crime campaigns. Foreigners that illegally enter, live, or work in China will be sought and punished severely, the notice explained, providing a tip hotline. “All citizens are encouraged to provide leads or report cases,” the notice said.
Also, top Chinese websites like Baidu and Sina Weibo have launched as campaigns encouraging people to document and report the foreigners who behave badly. One outspoken microblogger by the name of yuxiaole is reported as saying, “Foreign scumbags should go back to their countries. China is not the place for them to do everything they want.”
In addition to the British national who attempted to molest a woman while staying in China on a tourist visa, ill will was also directed at a Russian cellist who played with the Beijing Symphony Orchestra. He was recorded on video cursing a Chinese woman on a train, after she asked him to remove his feet from the back of her seat. The video quickly went viral and he was forced to make an apology on the Orchestra’s Sina Weibo account.
Earlier this month, a famous host for CCTV, China’s state-owned national television station, shared his views on his blog that appear to support the public security campaign against law-breaking foreigners, but also referred to “foreign trash”; without giving any specific examples, accused foreign residents of spying; and attacked an American journalist, Melissa Chan, who works for Qatar-based Al Jazeera and was recently kicked out of China, where she was a foreign correspondent. Chan had reported on many controversial issues such as housing demolition, land seizures and black prisons. She was the first foreign journalist to be kicked out of China since 1998.
“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 Wudaokou [student district] and Sanlitun [nightlife district],” the fluent English-speaking host Yang Rui, known for his interviews with foreign businessmen, politicians, and academics on CCTV’s English channel current affairs show Dialogue, posted on his Sina Weibo account on May 16th.
“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 Rui took on a more mellow tone in another posting two days later. “Sweeping out the foreign trash is necessary,” he wrote on May 18. However, China “should be on guard against xenophobia and the perversions of the Boxer movement,” Yang wrote, referencing the violent anti-foreigner crusade that swept China from 1899 to 1901.
“Yang Rui is not a loose cannon. For him to say this suggests he feels like what he is saying is supported by the people above him,” says Beijing-based independent Internet analyst Bill Bishop. “You see all kinds of concerns expressed about hostile foreign forces now. There seems to be a shift toward telling Chinese they must watch out for foreigners. I think it is going to be a long, hot summer, in more ways than one. It just feels strange.”
And yet again, the Chinese Communist Party establishment tried to take a dig at US ambassador Gary Locke, questioning whether or not his “man of the people” image was an act and asked for him to post his salary. The move backfired when the US government posted the requested information and Chinese netizens began openly wondering why Chinese officials don’t do the same.
While on the surface, the recent surge in anti-foreigner sentiment may appear to be a reaction to boorish and rude behavior, it also serves another purpose which the Chinese government has been quick to seize upon.
“If this year was going swimmingly well, I don’t think the level of sensitivity would be as high,” says Patrick Chovanec, a business professor at Tsinghua University. “The fact that the economy is clearly in a downturn, that they are struggling with their options to cope with it, and that there are a number of social tensions coming to a head, it’s no surprise that this would give rise to a certain level of defensiveness, even a feeling of being under siege.” China’s economy only grew by 8.1 percent in the first quarter, the slowest rate since 2009.
Economic concerns are just one part of the massive hurdle China faces in the near future. Other problems include possible military conflict over control of the South China Sea, political turmoil, and and rising tides of social unrest. In the end, this whole fiasco is caused by the insecurity of an increasingly illegitimate government that is trying desperately to hold onto the reigns of power. Time and again, throughout Chinese history, when the government is faced with social problems they point the finger to the outside world. And as we all know, history repeats.
James McGregor, a senior counselor at Apco Worldwide in Beijing said it best. “Things are very unsettled in China right now and people are feeling frustrated. In China, it is easier to express your frustrations toward foreigners than toward the government. For some in the government, pointing fingers at foreigners is better than having them pointing back in your direction.”