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 Article written by Damian Grammaticas Damian Grammaticas China correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    It's Chinese tradition to treat visitors and make them feel welcome and special, this has passed onto the treatment of most foreigners who visit or work in China, and it is true that they get preferential treatment. Some of the local Chinese I know feel that they are 2nd class citizens in their own country, and I guess that's part of the reason for some of the anti-foreigner feelings, even though this is self-inflicted to some extent. However, agreeing with kingpin79, it doesn't help that some of the foreigners staying in China are also arrogant, condescending and just plain rude.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    I worked in China for 4 years, legally and it was tough going. I was treated like trash by the companies I worked for and paid peanuts.
    On the street though I was always treated like some rich man who was expected to pay huge sums for lackluster products. In Hebei province foreigners have to stay in 4 star hotels regardless of how much money you make. A night in a hotel might cost 25% of my monthly salary. I liked China, but I am tired of being treated like I owe the country something. Its not like my ancestors looted the summer palace, which is what is they were taught in school.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Neither China's military invasion nor the continuing brutal 60 year occupation by Peoples Liberation Army has transferred the sovereignty of Tibet to China.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Sounds like every country on Earth.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    I should start by stating that I am a UK citizen currently living and working (legally) in China. I have been here for 16 months now and have travelled extensively.
    My experience in China has been very positive. A very welcoming, polite, hospitable and gregarious nation in my humble opinion. Of course there are many exceptions on both sides. I am often ashamed by the attitude and behavior of my fellow 'white faces' and alarmed by the lack of respect and concern for their fellow citizens that some Chinese exhibit. China is not unique - it faces the same contradictions as very other country

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    I have visited China a couple of times, while staying with an ex-pat friend. At times I was shocked at how arrogant, condescending and disrespectful ex-pats treated the locals. If foreigners would behave like that in Europe, people would go absolutely crazy.
    But: it doesn't help that many ex-pats get preferential treatment in China, e.g Jumping the queue etc.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    I have travelled to China on business regularly (4-6 times per year, 1-2 weeks at a time). I have encountered nothing but politeness, interest and respect. The only cause of unease is having to explain to the Chinese that the actions of our Western governments (foreign policy threats, wars, arms sales, attitude towards Palestine) have nothing to do with the will of the people.
    I used to travel regularly on business to the USA but was treated so badly there that I now refuse to go.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    What an eye-opener! In the same breath one should not paint such a huge country in such a negative way. Perhaps one needs more time to understand China as it has come a long way in opening itself to the world. Old habits die hard and the Chinese do not like to admit their harsh methods. The way Hillary Clinton dealt with the the Chinese government and negotiated Chen's release was a master-stroke in diplomacy. Of course there would have been a lot of deft arm-twisting Again what actually took place will never be known until Mrs Clinton writes her memoirs. Silence is golden!

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    In Singapore there is alot of xenophobia towards Main land Chinese so I find this article abit ironic.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Chia learns about the outside only what the government wants them to know.

    Its not until they see the outside for themselves to they realise what we are really like. We all know about China's censorship that only Chinese products should be in China (Hiding the foreign stuff).

    But it the last part of the article it mentions how nice we are and what some people are starting to think. I think once communist rule ends in China it'll turn to be more foreigner friendly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    China has exhibited every propensity to want to be a good neighbour to the west. Dignitaries have visited EU, UK, US - just about every country, trying to build familiarity and trading relationships. I have never read any article that portrayed China as less than interested in the "other", such as its infrastructure projects in Africa. If there is "love/hate" is likely originating & nurtured in the west.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Damian,when you guys feel any kind of threat from local people because your fellow westerners' crime,rude or arrogant,you will write something rationally.Otherwise, you will use your typical western writing style to twist, mix facts,and show what westerners imaged China should be.So,you guys deserved this.
    In any country, any illegal person without permit to stay will be deported. Any citizen has the responsibility to report illegal person. Same rule in US and UK and Europe, so why you try to express some kind of being offended when China apply this rule too?
    At last, Support Yang Rui!

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Everyone lives in China knows that the minorities and foreigners get special treatment. I suspect that this might change once China became a democracy. That's the irony.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    I have lived and worked (legally) in China for almost two years now and I have encountered absolutely ZERO racism from Chinese towards foreigners. I have come across some nationalism but nothing more than pride in China's achievements and dislike of USA (as a nation not as people). However, my Mandarin is not good enough to use the Chinese language internet sites (yet).

    However, while using the expat internet sites I have come across a lot of Anti China posts many quite rude. I think if you are a guest in another country you are beholden to respect their ways and traditions.


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