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

    Comment number 54.

    you should google the story from the BBC and Asian men and condoms.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    If America try to stem out illegal immigrants; many of them from Mexico, no one will say they are being xenophobic but if it's China that is doing it to white foreigners suddenly Chia is xenophobic. In Western countries, non-white people being called all sorts of name everyday - in the media or on the street but that don't make into new;, however, when one anchor in China said something wrong about foreigners in China then it becomes news in all media outlets. White have lived in a world biased towards them for too long they don't even realize how biased their view of the world is!

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    So, I learn that China has been hostile and warm to the west recently.

    The west has also been hostile and warm to China recently.

    The fact is, they are still buying the wests debt, and the west is still exporting its jobs to china.

    It doesn't really get "hostile" until one and then the other happen.

    Until that day, it is as warm as sunshine on a holiday!

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    such a disappointment as I always win in a guessing game. Well I hope you enjoyed your trip to China apart from inspecting where the secret police stationed. Found secret police on every street, must be very busy for you as there must be so many streets in vast China. Or you were visiting the street where your dissident friend live? Here in the UK, we also tag criminals, curfew troublemakers you know.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    49. gasmeerkat "if a person is in a position of reporting impartially of what he sees but obviously fails to do so, then you know his head is determined by his bottom" i agree. sadly, mr grammaticas doesn't report what he sees "impartially". this is an editorial piece, not an objective news story and his tone is telling. 43. proudtobechinese i agree. congrats to those people for dealing with that attempted rapist. they should be commended for their social-mindedness.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    Damian is just a reporter, lucky he is stationed in China. Actually don't blame him, if a person is in a position of reporting impartially of what he sees but obviously fails to do so, then you know his head is determined by his bottom(sitting on the RIGHT side). So the important thing is people who know the truth speak out. Damian here actually provide such a good opportunity for you, otherwise who would have heard what you want to say.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    Yes, I think understanding is key.
    Firstly, congratulations, Mr Grammaticas, on a long overdue analysis of recent events in China.
    I am always impressed with the Chinese both in China and in Switzerland, where I live: tolerant, respectful and extremely well behaved.
    Despite Chinese social media inciting anti-foreign sentiment, I think we can all learn a lot from an understanding culture.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    #43 another example of vitriolic nonsense that does not reflect the natural characteristics of the Chinese people---it's a Beijing Clique posting.
    #42 no, wrong ---I am an Englishman living in England-----so PLEASE do not tell me what democracy is : I live in a country where we elect our leaders freely and openly. I have many Chinese friends and I have been to China----they wish to have the same rights that I do. AND they point out the secret policemen on every street ( they have become obvious to locals!).The Chinese people want free elections just as the murdered students in TS wanted.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules of not questioning Damien Grammaticas' editorial bias. Bet you won't see him writing about the BBC's lack of free speech, but stay tuned for another critical exposé on China.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    In China you face constant harassment

    I got held up near the North Korean border on suspicion of being a NK illegal migrant, despite being white and having my passport, visa, and residence permit all up to date.

    Once, I got taken to the police station and held for several hours because the police said that my registration didn't check out and must be fake. Turns out they were calling the wrong police station about my registration. My address had the same characters as the other district but was obviously different to anyone who lived in Beijing, but not the inexperienced police.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    Having lived and worked in China for three years and visited there several times over the past dozen years, I have nothing but good things to say about the way we (my wife and I) were treated. We have travelled extensively and met people from many walks of life from senior government officials, jncluding high ranking officers of the PLA, to relatively poor people living in small towns and villages as well as in major cities. We have visited areas where lau wei were rarer than hen's teeth and have always felt welcome. Just a couple of old sinophiles.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    What is wrong with this Damian guy? How racist/anti Chinese can he be?

    Every single article that he writes has an anti Chinese message in it. This article is another example.

    Common on, are you saying that the way the guy who rapes the poor woman is right and the media in China should not have cover that story? Are you saying the way the cellist behaved in the train in proper and that he should not be criticized over it? What should the Chinese be doing? Award them with OBEs and kiss their feet then say well done for doing what they have done? Use some common sense man! BBC is such racist!

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    I guess you are a Chinese dissident, cause they usually label anybody who shows a bit in favour (often just speaking of the truth one knows) of modern China as CCP agent or secret police or paid by CCP. Poor you, you know we don't act like this here in the UK, everybody has the right to say what he thinks true as long as not labelling others. This is called democracy.

  • Comment number 41.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    Flackster (39) says it all. He's quite right of course. The Chinese people are friendly and jovial by nature. But what can they do when there are secret police on every street in mainland China? Oh, what a wonderful country China could now be if those murdered students in The Square had succeeded and brought about the end of tyranny, oppression and the inhuman Beijing Clique. I read some of the vitriol on this site , obviously put there by the "Party", and I feel so sad that the Chinese people cannot be free and that China can never be accepted as a decent country while evil reigns at the top.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Visit Taiwan if you want to see how friendly, decent and welcoming of foreigners China could be. The difference of course is that Taiwan is free, while the mainland Chinese are subjected to endless propaganda, much of it demonizing foreigners in order to serve the rulers political goals.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    If people have entered China illegally then they should be kicked out. Their country, so obey their laws. I'm sure many in the UK would have some affinity for such a statement. It's more the language used and the general manner in which certain elements are calling for this which is concerning. The link in Damian's article is a bit... well... Daily Mail squared.

    But maybe that's the problem - too often these sorts of voices are the strongest and drown out moderates, who are almost always greater in number. Perhaps the emphasis (both in west and east) should be more on understanding?

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    China could be seen as a saviour, unexpected but nonetheless a country that wields enormous financial strength to save other financial institutions or even countries.

    But nothing is for free, as any country would expect there must be a fee.

    Also cultural differences must be learned and understood, not skipped over or ignored. We're all different and it helps to know how to avoid accidentally insulting or causing offence to someone on either side of the fence.

    I just hope we can all get along.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    Comments such as 33 China Power are just plainly pathetic, vile and ....
    sad. Such comments make the rest of the world see the whole Chinese people as being as evil and full of hatred as the Beijing Clique. Let us hope that the vitriolic comments on this site, inspired and written by the brutal ruling regime who murdered so many good young people in TS, are not universally accepted by foreigners as representing the true feelings of ordinary Chinese people. Let us hope that one day the true goodness of the Chinese people will be allowed the freedom with which to express itself.33 is a disgrace!

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    I don't think Damian is arguing it is wrong to kick people out who are living and working illegally. It's the vitriolic manner to which the media and state take up the cry when there are some isolated cases of misbehaviour that is disturbing. And when people say foreigners are given preferential treatment, remember that also extends to being charged more for trains, taxi's, dinner and just about everything so it's not all one way.


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