A love-hate relationship

 
File photo: Billboard of foreigners in Beijing China has been both hostile and warm towards foreigners in the media after a recent series of events

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As China's economic, political and military influence rises, one important question is - what sort of power China will be? How will it interact with foreigners and foreign nations?

Will it be benign - as China's own officials say when they talk of China's "peaceful rise" - or will it be an assertive, nationalistic, even xenophobic power?

In recent days, we've seen two very different Chinas on show when it comes to interacting with foreigners here, inside its borders.

In the media, and particularly on the internet, a hostile, anti-foreigner China has clearly been on view, but so too has a much warmer, more generous view of outsiders.

The hostility has been fed by a whole series of events.

The decision by American diplomats to give shelter to the blind Chen Guangcheng has been criticised as "interference", and the dispute with the Philippines over islands in the South China Sea has drawn lots of angry comment.

Disturbing footage

Most provocative of all have been a couple of videos posted on the internet. First came one on Youku, China's version of YouTube, showing a foreigner apparently trying to sexually assault a woman on a busy Beijing street.

The footage is disturbing but edited, so parts of what follows are not clear. Passers-by intervene. The man ends up seemingly unconscious in the middle of a busy road, a police car there, being protected by one man while another continues to try to kick him in a rage.

More photos of the same man apparently harassing women on Beijing's underground train network were posted on China's microblogs. Beijing police announced that he was British man and is now under arrest.

File photo: Oleg Vedernikov Oleg Vedernikov was a cellist with the Beijing Symphony Orchestra

The second video showed a Russian man on a train from Shenyang to Beijing. He puts his feet on the seat in front and then hurls abuse at the Chinese woman sitting there when she complained.

Chinese internet users identified him as Oleg Vedernikov, a cellist employed by the Beijing Symphony Orchestra. He apologised on the orchestra's website, but has now been sacked.

Then, on 14 May, the police announced a 100-day "strike-hard" campaign to "clean out" foreigners living or working illegally in the city. The police asked people to inform on any foreigner they had suspicions about.

Into this already febrile atmosphere waded Yang Rui, one of the highest-profile anchors on Chinese state television. He hosts a discussion show in English called "Dialogue" on CCTV 9. The show features foreign guests and the channel is meant to spearhead China's attempts to develop "soft-power" by competing with CNN, the BBC and others.

'Foreign trash'

Mr Yang posted a vitriolic message on China's equivalent of Twitter supporting the police crackdown "to clean out the foreign trash. People who can't find jobs in the US and Europe and come to China to grab our money."

He attacked foreigners with Chinese girlfriends, saying: "Foreign spies find Chinese girls and live with them, posing as a tourists, while collecting intelligence and GPS data."

He also praised China's decision last month to expel the Al-Jazeera English journalist Melissa Chan, saying "we kicked out that foreign bitch. We should shut up and kick out all those who demonise China."

Many of the comments his post attracted were critical. Here's a selection of what was said, and this is an online animation mocking him.

Start Quote

These two, conflicting attitudes to foreigners - hostility and admiration - coexist in China today”

End Quote

But he also drew support. The China Youth Daily newspaper said that "foreigners have become spoiled by special treatment in China".

The Global Times newspaper says the comments "expressed his personal view and feelings and had nothing to do with his job", so Yang "was insensitive, but shouldn't be sacked".

The paper adds that "the crackdown on illegal immigrants has nothing to do with anti-foreigner sentiments. The Chinese public generally holds a kind and friendly view towards foreigners".

'French Fry Brother'

That different view has also been in evidence. An American student became an internet sensation earlier this month when he was photographed sitting on the pavement talking with an elderly beggar in Nanjing.

He had bought her some fast food to eat, and became known to internet users as "French Fry Brother". One hundred fifty thousand comments were posted on the web about him.

A Brazilian was also widely praised for trying to help a woman who was being mugged. The thieves beat him up as a couple of dozen people looked on and did nothing to intervene.

The events sparked a lot of comment about how generous foreigners could be, what the Chinese could learn from them, and whether modern China is becoming a soulless place.

These two, conflicting attitudes to foreigners - hostility and admiration - coexist in China today.

What the past few weeks have demonstrated is how one or two seemingly random or isolated events can mean the more nationalistic tone, which bubbles under the surface, breaks through and then gets picked up and amplified on the web and the media.

Both attitudes are there on a special page on the Sina website titled "Beijing welcomes you decent foreigners". But the more nationalistic side features first. You have to scroll down to the bottom to find the section about the "decent foreigners".

 
Damian Grammaticas, China correspondent Article written by Damian Grammaticas Damian Grammaticas China correspondent

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  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 114.

    Another boring article, Mr. Grammaticas! What do you care whether the Chinese hate or dis-hate foreigners. To me, it's sign of weakness of you not to just purely writing some trash about how evil China is or how stupid Chinese people are. Are you scared of being kicked out of China? Thanks to these only trash reports, all of my polish colleagues who live in the UK ask me if I eat dogs or cats. Where did they get this dumb impression from? from some biased one side report on individual case like yours! Kindness&evilness exists among all races and all nations. Don't be narrow-minded, people!

  • Comment number 113.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 112.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 111.

    racists are indivduals who do not represent a country, but they are in every country and come in all colours. solution? don't be a race, be a human. patriotism is the way of the vicious

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 110.

    Speaking as a Singaporean chinese who has lived in the UK, I think Mr. Grammaticas should pay north of england a visit. He should talk to the pakistani communities in england and how they are treated in the UK is appalling. To the mainland chinese people, if you start talking to these people (pakistanis), this article would be asbolutely meaningless. (trust me). I have lost count the number of times I have been called a 'chink' in the UK. I just stand up tall and say we dont care anymore. We are now a successful developed country and we wont let ourselves to be as low as these scums.

 

Comments 5 of 114

 

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