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 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

    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

    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.

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    To 104. I can't agree with your comments.We China now is a developing country which just opened the country to the world less than 40 years, there is still a long way we need to explore and to improve our calture,nation,and everything.
    Compare us with EU,UK,US or other developed country is unfair to us.Those country has been on the developed state for more than 300 years and i would like to ask you what did they do in their earlier rising time? How many black people was killed and slaved? How many country did they invade?
    Do not blame us to much,after all,we are still developing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    myhammers 107
    Mr Grammaticas, do the BBC pay you just to write anti-China articles? Why can you never find anything positive to say about the place?
    I think you are blaming the messenger because you dont like the message.

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    Mr Grammaticas, do the BBC pay you just to write anti-China articles? Why can you never find anything positive to say about the place?

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    The fact that at least one man tried to stop the 'British' rapist from getting even more of a beating speaks more to me ... imagine if a UK crowd caught a 'foreign' rapist? He might survive in some mainstream areas, but undoubtedly wouldn't in some others. So who is a more tolerant society in general?

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    A really good article summing up recent internet stories and rumours in China.

    A friend of mine showed me the full video of the sexual assault guy in BJ. Shot with a conveniently found HD camera about 8 mins long. Who brings an HD camera to a bar street???. The only other question I got from it was why didn't the policeman stop the man from beating the **** out of him? At least convict him first, then send him to deal with his fellow prisoners... that's the western way.

    As for Yang Rui, I think his comments should be taken in context and we shouldn't jump on the race bandwagon like some.

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    Many times before I wonder about the ruling Chinese leaders, do they know what is going on in the rest of the world?

    What I have to say to them is, let my people go.

    The Chinese expats in the west needs the strength in numbers to get some respect, just like the Latinos and blacks in the USA, like the Muslims and Indians in the EU and in the UK.

    Just like them the Chinese in the west can take over and end racism in the western countries and at the same time end foreign worshipping in China .

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    I went and read the comments by Yang Rui, because the 2nd hand reports seemed so astonishing. Actually, if you read them, he does not say all foreigners are trash, etc. He just argues that one should identify and "clean out the foreign trash". This can mean just that those who *are* foreign trash should be identified and removed. This does not seem to be anything different from most other countries' attitudes. English is not Yang Rui's 1st language, so be charitable here: My contact with many Chinese students learning English suggests my interpretation is more likely to be the correct one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    re100 Danaos

    boo hoo to you.

    you met racist in england.What a shocker.

    envy is a huge problem that u seem to suffer from badly
    i love ur comment "fat loser".

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    wow! so there are some chineese who are racist and some who are not.
    what a pointless article and who cares?

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    If you in your respective countries were paid 100 euros per month for 10hrs/day and then seeing a fat loser coming from US or Europe to have it all easy-living & getting all the nice girls (women by definition are attracted to power thus to money, men to beauty = law of life) - you would have problem too. In Europe, particularly northern Europe you would physically attack extremely violently. I remember us foreign students in UK gathering the envy of local British (English particularly), I know some extremely violent stories to tell.

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    @97. cnddragon

    I never claimed you were evil (or Chinese) - I lamented the obvious hypocrisy in your statement about the lamentable nature of racism towards non-Whites but the laudable nature of racism directed at Westerners. How am I possibly "twisting" your meaning?

    You still insist on this "us vs. them" which perpetuates racist ideology - even amending it to "some of you people" doesn't change that - or does that mean that I should promote racism against "some of YOU people"? Are you missing the point that much?

  • Comment number 98.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    @87 rob dahling

    i see you just twisted the meaning of my comment to make it seem ilke I'm the evil chinese guy. thats funny but I'm pretty sure you know what i mean.i guess what i should have typed was "some of you people". right? there, i hope that makes you feel better. don't lose any sleep over it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    The ghost of Boxers is still hovering in the sky of China, which has been sufferring from the fact that a great civilization was always at a disadvatage in its modern history. As long as China keeps growth economically, such leftism thought would see its infulence increasing in Chinese society. More arguments might be expected in the days ahead of us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    In reality this is not a problem that is experienced in China alone, these persist even in any country that is facing an influx of foreigners, like in many Arab countries ..


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