In mid-May — as blind legal rights activist Chen Guangcheng was garnering worldwide headlines for his escape from house arrest to the U.S. Embassy and his bid to travel to the United States — Beijing’s Public Security Bureau announced a 100-day crackdown on foreigners staying illegally in the city. Beijing is home to about 120,000 foreigners.
The campaign was announced just days after a May 8 incident, caught on video, in which an apparently inebriated British man attempted to assault a young Chinese woman and was then set upon and beaten by several Chinese men passing by.
Since then, official media and popular Chinese Web sites have been filled with accounts or depictions of similar incidents, most of which have drawn comments denouncing the foreigners’ bad behavior.
A May 14 video posted online, for example, showed the principal cellist with the Beijing Symphony Orchestra, a Russian, getting into a fight on a high-speed train from Shenyang to Beijing after he placed his bare feet atop the seat in front of him. When a female passenger complained, Oleg Vedernikov hurled an unprintable Chinese slur at her. He apologized several days later, speaking in Russian in a video also posted online. But it was too late to stop the orchestra from dismissing him.
Video of “suspected Koreans” assaulting Chinese women in a KFC restaurant in Chengdu also went viral, provoking general outrage.
But public opinion appeared to shift after an anchorman on government-owned CCTV International — the channel that promotes itself as presenting China’s face to the world — delivered a diatribe against foreigners on his Sina Weibo account, the local equivalent of Twitter.
“Cut off the foreign snake heads,” Yang Rui wrote May 16. “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.”
Yang capped his tirade against “foreign trash” with a salute to the Chinese government for its recent decision to expel Melissa Chan, a U.S. journalist at the news network al-Jazeera’s Beijing bureau. “We should shut up those who demonize China and send them packing,” he wrote.
The online response, far from being supportive, was withering, with many commenters calling the CCTV host an “idiot” and far worse epithets, most unfit to print. “You being a TV presenter is a waste of time,” one wrote. “You should join the Central Propaganda Department.”
Several others accused Yang, and the Communist Party, of trying to stir up a modern-day version of the Boxer Rebellion, the nationalist uprising against foreigners, unequal treaties and Christian proselytizing that began in 1898.