Translation: English Teacher Scandal

[This is an original ChinaGeeks translation. While we endeavor to bring you the finest in Chinese to English translations, in reality we’re really just amateurs. If you see a mistake please feel free to let us know. The original article can be found here.]

Foreign Teacher Uses Nude Photos to Extort Female Student for 100,000 RMB After Being Dumped

ChinaNet, March 27 report: A young American man teaching at a Zhuhai English academy who dated and had sex with a college student [at that school] was not willing to be snubbed and sought to use nude pictures he had taken of her to extort 100,000 RMB. Yesterday a Zhuhai Intermediate People’s Court passed judged that Scott’s [the American] behavior constituted blackmail and he is expected to serve a three-year prison sentence. After his sentence is served he will be deported from China.

After hearing the verdict, the defendant tearfully said “It’s so terrible,” and asked the judge for a light sentence, saying he was willing to sweep the streets to prove he can be a good person. The defendant is currently appealing for a lighter sentence.

Explicit pictures taken during a “one-night stand” with a foreign teacher

22-year old Scott, an American male, was teaching at a Zhuhai English academy as an oral English teacher in 2008. During this time he met a student named Luo Moumou and the two hit it off. Last year on the evening of October 25, Scott invited Luo to his home to eat. Scott said in his testimony that the two “had a great time that day,” and that afterwards the two engaged in sexual intercourse. After Luo came out from showering, Scott used his cell phone to take three pictures of her. In one of the, half of Luo body is exposed.

Scott said that when he took Luo’s photo she was aware and did not protest. The next day Luo went to Hangzhou in Zhejiang province. The two kept in contact, but before long, Luo told Scott that she already had a new boyfriend and told him they should break up. Scott believed that Luo had tricked him and was determined to get revenge on her.

Apprehended while extorting 100,000 RMB

On November 30 2008, Scott used QQ to send Luo one of her own nude pictures and said that he possessed a number of nude photos and videos with her. He said that if Luo broke up with him, he would distribute all of these materials to others and threatened to blackmail her. During the investigation, Scott described to police that he and Luo finally agreed that Luo would give Scott 100,000 RMB in return for all of the explicit materials.

On December 3 2008, Scott arranged to meet Luo for the exchange. After receiving the 30,000 RMB that Luo had brought, Scott refused to hand over his cell phone’s memory card and declared he could only give the pictures and videos over after Luo had given him the remaining 70,000 RMB.

According to testimony, after Scott threatened to extort Luo, she reported to the police. Scott was arrested at the scene of the transaction.

Pleading to the judge for a lighter sentence of sweeping the streets

Yesterday at a Zhuhai Intermediate People’s Court a verdict was heard; the court sentenced Scott to an expected three-year prison term, after which he would be deported from the country.

Scott pleaded with the judge, saying that he would be willing to clean the streets for a lighter sentence and prove he can be a good person.

Some thoughts:

1) The article doesn’t specifically say that Luo was a student of Scott’s. Should / would Scott have received a different sentence had that been the case?

2) 100,000 RMB is a lot of money. Unless Luo is extremely wealthy, I don’t see how Scott could have expected his little plan to really work out.

3) I am a bit confused by the “sweeping the streets” cry for mercy that Scott came up with. Either a) this is a figure of speech that I’ve translated incorrectly, b) Scott meant it figuratively and the translator at the court took it literally, or c) Scott is living in a fantasy world.

4) There are stories everywhere about foreign teachers having affairs with students though I have never personally seen this. If it really is common, it wouldn’t be surprising to see an underlying level of animosity towards foreign teachers in general for the perception that they are all lechers. People with more English-teaching experience can chime in.

Post-Serfs’ Liberation Day Roundup

I hope everyone had a happy Serfs’ Liberation Day. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Well, you haven’t been reading the People’s Daily. In the past week or so, the government has launched a massive PR blitz on Tibet, even as security was tightened in the province and Tibetan ethnic regions and riots were reported.

In case you forgot to celebrate Serfs’ Liberation Day, here’s how it happened according to the VOA website:

The Chinese flag was raised at a televised ceremony in front of the Potala Palace in Tibet’s capital of Lhasa, and a crowd of 13,000 heard testimonials from Tibetans who praised the Chinese administration and denounced Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

A flag raising and testimonials? Sounds like my kind of holiday!

To be fair, the holiday was celebrated in other ways, too. There was an exhibition for foreign reporters who wanted to learn about Tibet, the traditional Chinese blocking of Youtube, a dramatic reveal of a massive spy system targeting the Dalai Lama’s computers, the publishing of yet another report on Tibet’s development, and, of course, a barrage of news stories like these:

And so on, and so on, and so on. There’s even a special channel on the People’s Daily website full of facts and figures in addition to a full complement of stories about the celebrations (There’s very little “story”, though, mostly photos of dancing women).

One wonders who all this propaganda is for, exactly. Does the CCP really expect foreigners to read this stuff and have a sudden change of heart?

Now that the holiday’s over, there’s something actually worth celebrating, though: Tibet is open to foreigners again:

“Tibet will resume receiving foreign tourists as of April 5, and we warmly welcome them,” Bachug, head of the tourism administration of Tibet Autonomous Region in southwest China, told Xinhua.

“Reception work was suspended in March for the sake of travelers’ safety,” said Bachug.

“Tibet is harmonious and safe now. Travel agencies, tourist resorts and hotels are well prepared for tourists,” he said.

So far, more than 100 foreign tourist groups have been registered to visit Tibet, according to him.

Judging from that last bit, it looks as if the requirement that foreign tourists be part of a “tour group” with a guide will remain in place, but some access is better than none at all.

Also of interest:
-Speculation on what the world will be like if/when China is running it.
-John Pasden interviews Brendan O’Kane on being a translator as the first in his translator interview series.
-The Useless Tree contends that, despite what some conservative talking heads might say, Daoism is not an ideology.
-A letter-writer at Fool’s Mountain questions whether China exists.

Implications of a Religious China

It’s funny how things turn out: after 60 years as an officially atheist country, it seems kind of hard to deny that religion is growing in China. That in and of itself doesn’t mean as much as one might think – after all, China has had religion for most of its history and the past decades have been the exception, not the rule. The return of religion to China is the return to normalcy.

What is interesting is the type of religion that’s returning to China – definitely not the garden-variety triple-religion of Confucianism-Daoism-Buddhism. Islam and Tibetan Buddhism are both growing quickly because Tibetans and many Muslim minorities are exempted from the One-Child Policy.

But this doesn’t represent any radical shift in those cultures, only a growth in their numbers (though as a side note, do read about Han Chinese converting to Tibetan Buddhism here). What’s interesting is that one of the fastest growing in religion in China is Christianity.

Christianity is a foreign import into China and – unlike Buddhism, another foreign-imported religion – its popularity is relatively recent. The official government count of Chinese Christians in 2005 – 16 million – is almost certainly low, since many Christians are thought to be unregistered with the official CCP-sanctioned church.

Instead many Chinese Christians practice in informal underground churches that meet secretly, called house churches. The total number of Christians in China was estimated to be in the area of 40 million in 2005. More dubious sources claim numbers as high as 100 million.

Religion and government have a long history of distrust in China, and religious movements are often tied to anti-government sentiment and even rebellion. But this time around the government seems to be taking a lesson from history and trying to accommodate religion, at least on some level.

The government has made overtones towards China’s growing religious believers, and Hu Jintao has stated “We must strive to closely unite religious figures and believers among the masses around the party and government.” It seems like in the face of such rapid growth the government has chosen the path of least resistance.

Though it’s true that house churches are often harassed (and often much worse) by the police, it seems unlikely that the government will be able to clampdown on Christians in the way it has clamped down on certain other religious activities in recent years that it perceives as threatening, not least of all because of the backlash it would receive from the international community.

What is down the road is a China that is – in very real ways – influenced by Christianity. Although today only 12% of religious believers in China are Christian, that number is growing quickly and it’s easy to imagine the stir that millions of newly-converted Chinese Christians will make in China.

This blogger thinks it’s inevitable that Christians in China will get involved in politics – that seems to happen everywhere, though it isn’t always clear whose side they end up taking. The government is acting it its own best interests and trying to make sure it can make an ally in Chinese Christians. It wouldn’t be surprising if in the next few years and decades, abuse and harassment against unregistered Christians drops off and more attempts are made to bring them into the establishment.

At least, that seems to be the best-case scenario. The last time the government had a confrontation with (quasi-) Christians was in the mid-1800s during the Taiping Rebellion. It was arguably the worst thing to happen to China during the 19th century with up to 30 million dead and 20 years of war.

Comparing Taiping rebels to modern Chinese Christians is a huge stretch, but it does illustrate the potential that religiously-motivated rebellion has in China, and none of this is intended to be fear-mongering. The point is that it is relieving to see that China’s current leaders are not letting this issue fester until it’s too late to made amends.

UPDATE: Fool’s Mountain posted an interesting piece that touches on the topic of a “Chinese” Christianity.

Li Yinhe and The Limits of Nationalism

[This piece is a translation of a post on Li Yinhe’s blog. Li Yinhe is a sociologist, sexologist, and is the widow of the famous writer Wang Xiaobo. The original post is called “My Two Comments on Unhappy China“. Links inserted by ChinaGeeks for historical context.]

I saw a report online about Unhappy China. I still haven’t seen the book, nor do I want to read it, I’ll just sweep an eye over it and comment; I’ve heard that inside it attacks liberal intellectuals, including Wang Xiaobo and me.

I only have two comments on the kind of books that stir up nationalism like this:

First, In 1840 China was being taken advantage of by foreigners, nationalism was necessary. We could not become a defeated people, China is our homeland and no one can come and take advantage of us. Our fathers’ generation were all solemn and ardent youths in the opposing the Japanese Invasion in WWII, what they did was not nearly so boring, absurd, and argumentative as attacking Lust, Caution as treasonous. They were fighting with their bodies, losing their heads and sprinkling [the ground] with their warm blood. If today foreign powers invade, we mist all follow the banner of nationalism and forcefully resist. But there is a limit to nationalism, and if one crosses this limit and wants to go taking advantage of other countries, that is wrong. I’ve heard that in the book it says since China is now powerful we should take more natural resources and move to lead the world. If this “take more natural resources” is indicating [we should] invade other countries, then the line has been crossed.

Second, nationalism is a banner and democracy is another banner, we should raise both of them high . If we raise only the banner of nationalism and don’t raise the banner of democracy, then we can only reach the level of the Boxer Rebellion. The relationship between such advocates and power can only be like the relationship between the Boxers and the Express Dowager Cixi [i.e., all the control still rests in the hands of others and not the people]. Especially in times when there is clearly no enemy invading, there is [the phenomenon of] ignoring major issues to deal with the trivial and even ingratiating ourselves with power. Nationalism is the value of an ethnic group, democracy is a universally suitable value. Especially in a country that lacks the democratic tradition such as this one, at present the duty of intellectuals and patriots is to push forward the progress of democratization, and not to incite nationalist feelings.

Recently, I’ve often heard people say “soft power”, I don’t know specifically what they’re referring to. Probably it’s that since China’s economy has come up, they want to show the world the idea [behind] our superstructure. I hold that the only “soft power” China should show the world is the degree of advancement of our democracy. Perhaps it has Chinese characteristics: they call it “parliament”, we call it “People’s Congress”, but these “special characteristics” should not make [our democracy] worse than other nations’ democracy; they should make it even more democratic [than the democracy of others]. On freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, etc., we should do better than others, on human rights we should do better than others. That should be the kind of “soft power” we show the world, not this Boxer-like culture of nationalism and even more not the culture of Empress Dowager Cixi.

Also of Interest:
-A Tokyo court rejects a lawsuit filed by Chinese women who were forced into sexual slavery by Japan’s system of “comfort women” during WWII. (Xinhua)
-Everyone in China is building subways, but is anyone going to want to ride them? (NY Times)

The Price of a Scandal

It’s been a while since people were buzzing all over China about milk that had been poisoned with melamine, and the babies who drank it and were killed. Well, the courts haven’t forgotten: today they upheld their death sentence for Geng Jinping, who was convicted of selling over 900 tons of tainted milk to Sanlu. The eight-year prison sentence for Geng Jinzhu was also upheld.

This bodes poorly for the other two appealers, Zhang Yujun and Zhang Yanzhang, whose appeals were scheduled to be heard later in the afternoon (oddly, the top story on Xinhua’s Chinese site appears to be older than the English article, which was last updated before the verdict of those hearings). Zhang Yujun was originally sentenced to death for producing 770 tons of melamine-laced protein powder, and Zhang Yanzhang, the buyer of said powder, was originally sentenced to life in the big house.

At the same time, another court in Hebei agreed to consider a civil lawsuit filed by the parents of a sick child. According to the NY Times,

It was the first time a Chinese court had accepted a lawsuit in the milk scandal […] The court asked the lawyer in the case to pay filing fees but it must still decide whether to hold a trial, a process that could take another month […] Until Wednesday’s decision, Chinese courts had refused even to accept filings related to the milk scandal, and complaints had been sent to administrative courts for mediation. The court’s action appeared to bolster predictions made this month by a Chinese Supreme Court judge and others that courts would agree to hear compensation lawsuits in the milk case.

Not everyone needs to sue, though. People with sick (or dead) babies learned in December that Sanlu and 22 other milk companies were willing to put a price on their grief. Got a sick or dead baby? We’ve created a convenient chart for those who weren’t already aware of the news. On the left is the affliction your child suffered as a result of the tainted milk, on the right is the amount of money you’re entitled to:

  • Death: 200,000 RMB (around $29,000 US)
  • Kidney Stones/”Acute Kidney Failure”: 30,000 RMB (about $4,300 US)
  • Anything Less Serious Than That: 2000 RMB ($285 US)

Is 200,000 RMB really enough to compensate you for the loss of your (only) child? No wonder some folks have decided to take it to court.

In Case You Missed It:
Roland Soong of ESWN has translated some more stuff and offered his own take on our own little race war.
-ChinaSMACK translated a post about Famen temple monks closing the temple to outsiders in protest of walls the government was building to facilitate jacking up prices to visit the historic and bustling temple.
David Bandurski (China Media Project) analyzed whether or not anyone was listening to China’s publicity blitz on Tibet, and Mutant Palm declared there’s no hope of China creating its own Al-Jazeera.

Race and China: Touching a Nerve

[Generally, we attempt to avoid personal narrative on this site as we are not a personal blog. However, in this case, I’m breaking my own rule on the grounds that the discussion of our racism post has involved me personally in a way that might be interesting and relevant to some people.]

Last Sunday, I logged into our website with no greater intent than writing a post of some kind so as to keep to our unofficial one post per day quota. Finding an image I interpreted as racist on several Chinese blogs, I decided to write about the picture and the larger issue behind it. I didn’t intend for it to be a huge issue, nor was it meant for a Chinese audience per se. Our readership here is mostly foreigners, and the idea of lecturing Chinese people about what’s wrong with China doesn’t particularly appeal to me anyway, all I was attempting to do was offer an American perspective on the image and some potential ideas about what it means for China and what problems could arise going forward. I wrote it, and then I went to bed.

I woke up the next morning to a bit of a firestorm. Page views were way up, thanks to links from Danwei, The Peking Duck, Chinayouren, Bendilaowai, Africans in China, and more. What was more surprising was that the original blogs I pulled the images from, Hecaitou and 不许联想, had also both responded to the post, and less than favorably. Hecaitou’s second response, this time in Chinese, was particularly brutal:

Custer isn’t the only example, among Americans there are many that share this feverish urge to proselytize. They know racism is bad, but don’t know that other people already know. So, he’s like the “Hulking Sister” Wang Xiaobo wrote about, who finally learns how to stitch a button and then goes around roaring “Stitch a button!” whenever she meets someone. This kind of person is indeed a good person, but they’re [also] very biased, and can be counted among the ‘good people’ everyone hates […] What good will updating 100 times do? There will still be no racism in China.

Comments were also pouring in on our site, but the vast majority of them were deeply insightful. One comment, raised again and again on our site and some of the Chinese blogs, was that the translation and understanding of the word “racism” itself might be to blame for the firestorm. To Americans, racism covers a spectrum: at the one end, there are insensitive jokes like the image we posted, on the other, there are Klan members and burning crosses. What didn’t occur to me was that to Chinese people, the English word “racism” is sometimes translated as 种族歧视, and many people equate that term with racial violence and hatred. Given the opportunity to do things over, I would probably replace the word “racism” in the post with “racial insensitivity” or something to that effect.

Anyway, yesterday it struck me that I ought to get in touch with Hecaitou and Wang Xiaofeng (of 不许联想) personally to straighten some things out and to attempt to forge relationships that might facilitate more communication between the English-language and Chinese-language blogging communities in the future. So I sent an email, which both of them have posted on their respective sites. Below, I’ll translate an email exchange between Hecaitou and I, as well as Wang Xiaofeng’s comments on my original letter as posted on his site.

To: Hecaitou and Wang Xiaofeng
From: C. Custer
Subject: I am C. Custer

Although two days ago you had definitely never seen my name before, seeing it today probably gives you a bad feeling. That’s understandable. I’m writing this email to clarify a few things for the two of you:

First, the purpose of writing that post was not to say that you are racists, or to criticize the two of you. Actually, I like both of your blogs, and I understand the reason you posted that image was because of the China part, and perhaps you didn’t pay much attention to the rest of the image.

Second, I am not criticizing all Chinese people and saying all Chinese are racists or anything like that. I understand American standards for “racism” are different from Chinese standards; that post was just saying that as there are more and more foreigners living in China, if their standards are different from yours, is it possible this could lead to problems in the future? I never said that China needed to discuss racism according to Western standards, all I was saying was that according to American standards, that picture is racist, and then discussing the reasons for that, etc.

Third, although it seems you do not respect me at all (especially Hecaitou), I still feel there is an upside to this situation. English-language China blogs and Chinese-language blogs rarely interact, possibly because of the linguistic and cultural differences. But personally I feel mutual understanding is extremely important, and without interaction there can be no mutual understanding. I don’t know if the two of you care or not, perhaps you feel Chinese people don’t need to understand other countries…

For now, that’s it. I hope that no matter what, we can have a civilized and productive discussion.

To: C. Custer
From: Hecaitou
Subject: Re: I am C. Custer

1. I probably still know what “racism” means in English. Even though [we’re] in China, this is an extremely serious accusation. To most Chinese people, “racism” implies the Nazis massacring Jews, the KKK lynching black people, and the brutal suppression of blacks by the white South African government. No one is willing to be connected to this word in any way.

2. I think you’re too sensitive about so-called “racism”, which isn’t necessarily your fault. But in my opinion, the racial sensitivity of Americans has already become a kind of disease, and that this kind of taking great pains [not to be racist] actually protects some deep-rooted racism. When Americans can laugh about skin color, then America will not be a racist nation. Being aware of the existence of taboos only strengthens those things being made taboo. It’s like taking a stern approach to sex, actually it just makes such indulgence more degenerate and more common.

To speak specifically to the question of black people in China, I recall an English expression: “When in Rome, Do as the Romans [do].”

3. Your judgement of what’s “racist” comes from American standards, but the world is not just America. What makes me furious is that China has so many serious problems, and you mention such a fundamentally irrelevant one. Does China have racism? Of course it does, but not against foreigners. If your post had been criticizing the unfair treatment of Tibetans or Uyghurs, I would have nothing to say.

I personally don’t oppose communication, but that doesn’t mean I like being associated with racism, whether it’s intentional or not. Even more, I dislike Americans giving instructions on racism when it isn’t needed at all.

If you feel I haven’t been particularly respectful towards you, I’m very sorry.

Wang Xiaofeng’s comments on my letter (as posted on his site):
Actually, I hadn’t really looked at the content of Custer’s blog; although he said there is racism in China, I feel it’s common and in the previous post I said Chinese people do have a tendency towards racism. So it’s out of the question that I was disrespectful to Custer. I’ve always felt racism is everywhere, the twin of nationalist discrimination. Speaking from the heart, I don’t discriminate against any skin color, I discriminate against idiots.

Because Custer wrote to explain, I must let everyone know his meaning and thus I’ve posted his letter here, I hope there will be no further misunderstanding about this.

To: Hecaitou
From: C. Custer
Subject: Re: re: I am C. Custer

You saying you don’t want to be associated with “racism” is understandable. To tell the truth, I now think using “racially insensitive” would be better, as I wasn’t trying to say that this little joke [the image] is the same as things like the KKK.

In regards to the rest of your email, actually I often write posts about the major problems in China, as well as many about the prejudice of the Western media against China, etc. We have many posts, that [the one about racism] was just one of them…

Oh, I also want to ask: Suppose you knew a black person, and that after seeing that picture he felt hurt by it, how would you respond? Telling him he doesn’t understand Chinese culture is probably useless, if he’s hurt by it then he’s hurt by it, so how do you view this situation? (I’m not trying to argue with you, I’m genuinely curious and truly want to better understand your view).

To: C. Custer
From: Hecaitou
Subject: Re: re: re: I am C. Custer

Suppose there is such a black person, named White, for example.

White looks at the picture, is deeply upset, and is also my friend. I would tell him this:

About two centuries ago, the Christian Church educational system made children repent/confess every day. Even small children sometimes would confess, saying: “Lord, forgive me, for I have sinned.” He or she doesn’t even understand the meaning of “sinned”, but the Catholic priest or nun would, every day, instill in them the idea that sinning is evil.

In my opinion, this is a kind of pollution. This kind of education infects their pure original nature, making them associate sex with sinning and evil. When they get to the point where they really must strain to restrain these normal urges, that’s when the real sinning starts to happen.

In the same way, Chinese people are like those innocent children when it comes to the problem of racism. They don’t even really know what racism is, much less have experience putting it into practice. ‘This country is this kind of country, this people is this kind of people’; they really don’t have any bad intentions, nor is it directed against a race; in history they’ve not once enslaved people like you.

I only fear that you being upset like this will misguide them. When they’re carefully avoiding bumping into the problem of your race, then there is no doubt that in their hearts they’ve already separated you out as a different group, and knowledge of race consequently will take root in their hearts. If one day there comes a conflict, then these feelings which have been carefully constrained will explode outwards. There is no doubt that then you will be face with true racial prejudice.

So the wise way is to ignore these things, think that you are living in a completely different country, [Chinese people] are completely different from white people, it’s best to live according to the social customs and habits here. If this still cannot satisfy you, you can return the complement: ‘You yellow-haired monkeys.’ I would guess their response would be to laugh rather than to feel hurt. Then, at that time you will understand, they really don’t see you as an outsider.

I think Hecaitou does have a point in some ways, but I reject the idea that letting racial insensitivity out into the open completely disarms its power, and in many of the Chinese comments (including his) I see opinions that are based on a markedly flawed understanding of race relations in the United States. As I mentioned in the last post, that’s probably not their fault (I blame Hollywood), but seeing American P.C. culture as advocating “ignoring” race or attempting to be “colorblind” is a serious misunderstanding, and a dangerous foundation for any opinion.

I never advocated the kind of deep repression that Hecaitou and others refer to in discussing racial issues. In fact, I think that frank discussion and acknowledgement of differences is an extremely important part of interracial communication. Jokes can play a role too; stereotypes can be disarmed through the mockery comedians clever enough to turn them on their heads and expose the ignorance and fear they represent. Yet I maintain that there is a line, that not any joke is a productive joke, and that while ignorance might be a legitimate reason, it’s not going to be an acceptable excuse to anyone who ends up on the wrong end of a racist joke.

The fact is, the image we’re all discussing is racially insensitive. As one commenter on our site pointed out, its presence on a Chinese website offended one African enough to comment there, and plenty of Chinese people in the comments and elsewhere would agree the image isn’t particularly funny or productive.

Laughing about race can lighten the tension and even make connections between peoples, but only when it’s both groups that are laughing. If only one group is laughing while the other sits in uncomfortable silence, all that’s really being constructed is alienation and resentment. Living in China and according with the Chinese way on this may be simply unacceptable for many, and returning the favor doesn’t solve anything as Hecaitou suggests it might. Africans can call Chinese people monkeys, but it has none of the historical connotations that are carried in the image we’re all discussing. Of course Chinese people would laugh, the insult “yellow-haired monkeys” is comparatively meaningless and would sound ridiculous to them. It’s comparing apples and oranges, really.

I understand that the cultural baggage that comes along with the African/ape comparison isn’t something Chinese people created, and that historically, America, Europe, and white people generally are responsible for a legacy of discrimination and brutality against Africans. Many Chinese people may not recognize that image as racially insensitive, and that’s OK. They’re welcome to do as they please, just as Africans are welcome to be deeply offended by the image.

My intention was not, is not, and will never to be to tell anyone what to do. It doesn’t matter whether I’m Chinese, American, African, or whatever, trying to tell a country what to do is a fool’s errand. But I do live here (China), and many of the people who frequent this site do, too. Foreigners, and by extension foreign standards for judging things like racism, exist in China and aren’t about to go away. Chinese people can decide on their own whether or not to care, but they can’t wish away feelings of racial alienation by telling people that they “just don’t understand China.” In fact, such expressions only increase feelings of alienation.

To conclude: let’s take Hecaitou’s theoretical story about his black friend “White” one step further: White calls Hecaitou a yellow monkey for posting the image, Hecaitou laughs, and the two continue to be friends. No major damage is done, but White’s feelings are still hurt. If he saw a similar image somewhere else, his feelings would probably be hurt again, but he’s unlikely to bring it up because he doesn’t need to hear another lecture about how his being offended by something insensitive is actually just a reflection of how he doesn’t understand the place he lives. So, the next time he hears a racist joke or gets told he can’t have that English teaching job because the parents want white faces, he keeps those feelings bottled up instead of talking about them with his Chinese friends. And, as Hecaitou himself said, “If one day there comes a conflict, then these feelings which have been carefully constrained will explode outwards.”

I think everyone can at least agree that nobody wants that.

[Note: For the record, although I don’t agree with everything Hecaitou says, I don’t consider him or Wang Xiaofeng to be racist. I’m not accusing China as a nation of being racist, nor am I trying to impose my Western values on China, I’m just posting my opinion of the issue on my blog. If you read this post and feel it’s an attack on China, Chinese culture, or any of the aforementioned bloggers and commenters, then you’ve mistaken my meaning.]

Racism in China

Recently, browsing through the Chinese blogs in my favorites list, I came across a rather surprising image (click here for full size version, image after the jump), a mockup of “evolution” in several different countries parodying the classic from-monkey-to-man evolution image found in high school textbooks. The reason it was posted in China is that the “evolution” line leads to a picture of a crab with watches on (an internet meme), but the first thing that would strike any American looking at the image would be that Africa’s evolution line ends without evolving beyond apes.

It’s unclear what country this picture originated in. One might be inclined to guess China, since few people from other countries would know, understand, or care about the “River Crab wearing three watches” pun, but the China line may have just been tacked on to a preexisting image, there’s no real way to tell. That two major blogs (不许联想 and 槽边往事) thought to post this at all is telling, given that neither of them even mention the racism. Of more interest, perhaps, are the comments on these posts, though.

Some commenters addressed the issue directly but insensitively: “That Africa one is hilarious!” wrote one. Many more praised the picture generally but didn’t comment on any specifics. One commenter simply wrote: “Ten thousand years!” (a traditional wish of longevity that obviously indicates high praise here). Another wrote, “Fuck, I died laughing! Classic!”

Some commenters were a bit more astute. “That Africa picture [… people will] definitely say you’re racist, do you know?” asked one on 不许联想, the only one of 50-plus comments to really directly address the issue. Commenters on Hecaitou fared much better: “Not funny + Racist,” wrote one. “The part about Africa is a bit too offensive,” wrote another, and someone noted that “the last [figure] in the Africa line should be Obama!”

A couple commenters on Hecaitou also indicated they knew something was going on in the Africa one, though they weren’t quite sure what, writing “That Africa one…” and then not commenting further. The vast majority of commenters though, failed to comment on it at all. Reasons for that can and probably do vary, but one may well be that they simply weren’t aware of the racist implications the image has. In fact, the first direct reference to the Africa part of the image on 不许联想 goes like this:

Commenter 1: How come there’s nothing after “Africa”?
Commenter 2: With an IQ like this you still come to this site? It means there’s been no improvement in Africa, orangutans have just become gorillas.

So is it ignorance or indifference that caused most people (including the bloggers themselves) to ignore the racism and post the image? It’s difficult to tell, and for our purposes here, making that distinction may well be irrelevant. Either way, it’s indicative of one aspect of Chinese culture that’s likely to cause problems as relations between Africa and China get closer and Chinese people have to, well, actually meet Africans.

I’m willing to grant that I may just be, by some people’s standards, taking this too seriously, coming as I do from America, the most race-sensitive nation on the planet. I’m also willing to grant that the internet as an institution is practically overflowing with racism. Still, these are well-respected blogs, not 4chan. That this obvious an issue could make it under so many people’s radars might indicate an impending rude awakening in a country where people will confidently tell foreigners “there is no racial prejudice.” That, I suppose, is where the “China” part of the image fits into this discussion; racial “harmony” is, as most foreigners in China are painfully aware, superficial or downright nonexistent as soon as someone different actually shows up. That Chinese people, as a whole, aren’t racist is as much of a joke as a River Crab wearing three watches.

I don’t mean to suggest that Chinese people are a bunch of torch-bearing clan members, nor do I mean to blame them, per se. As this report points out, one possible reason for Chinese prejudices against dark-skinned people is the negative roles they’re often seen playing in films. For the average Chinese, whose only exposure to dark-skinned people ever might be through the silver screen, it’s probably easy to get the wrong idea, and that’s Hollywood’s fault.

Other influences on Chinese perceptions of Africans include media reports of wars and “backwards” living conditions in African nations, which fuel the idea that Africans are somehow inferior. Since many African nations are poor, some Chinese may also look down on them for being economically inferior.

That’s not to say things aren’t changing. According to the New Yorker report linked above, people living in proximity to the African communities springing up in Southern China have grown to accept them (being allowed to marry someone’s daughter seems as good a measure of acceptance as any). As in all countries, young people in China tend to be more open-minded than their parents, perhaps partially because many of them idolize African American basketball players like Michael Jordan and Allen Iverson, or dark-skinned footballers like Ronaldinho and the rest of the Brazilian national team.

Does the future hold acceptance or increased tension? It’s difficult to say, but one Fudan University sociologist believes there may be trouble ahead: “”Racial issues could become a serious problem as China develops and more foreigners come here seeking a job. Then we would have some conflict,” Yu Hai told the Shanghai Star.

It’s not a difficult scenario to imagine, especially for Americans who have watched centuries of racial prejudices spring from the fear that immigrants may take jobs away from natives for one reason or another. In the States, the reason for this fear is generally that immigrants are often willing to work for less (see: Chinese, Irish, Italian, Mexican, and Puerto Rican immigrants, among others), but in China, the reason might well be that they can appear more attractive to companies than Chinese workers, perhaps offering international connections for business or the convenience of native English speaking skills.

So what do you think? As ever, we invite your comments. (And if you’re wondering about explanations for the other countries, Japan’s is a robot, Korea’s is a StarCraft character, and America’s, well, no one seems to be able to tell. The most popular interpretation among Chinese commenters was “hip-hop guy”)

UPDATE: For those who don’t know already, Hecaitou has responded to this post. He offers five reasons why the post isn’t racist, which include ‘China never had slaves’, ‘black people really do look like monkeys’ and ‘black people in China are not treated differently than Chinese’. All in all, I think it supports what I’m saying in this post pretty well, but you’re welcome to go there to check it — and the comments — out.

UPDATE 2: Things are progressing faster than I have time to follow, given that I have a full time job, but check out 不许联想’s excellent response to this post and Hecaitou has also responded, this time in Chinese. His response, which I’ll translate for the sake of fairness when I get some free time, might best be summed up by this sentence from it: No matter how often you update, there’s still no racism in China. Suffice it to say, I think he’s misunderstood this post as an attack on China or Chinese people, when it’s intended as nothing of the sort.

UPDATE 3: There is a new post about this post and further discussion with Hecaitou and Wang Xiaofeng here: “Race and China: Touching a Nerve”. It includes some correspondence between Hecaitou and me, as well as additional analysis.