Yang Rui, etc.

For any foreigners currently living under a rock ((by which I mean not on Twitter)), I suppose I have to start by showing you this rant, posted by CCTV Dialogue host on Sina Weibo:

The Public Security Bureau wants to clean out the foreign trash: To arrest foreign thugs and protect innocent girls, they need to concentrate on the disaster zones in [student district] Wudaokou and [drinking district] Sanlitun. Cut off the foreign snake heads. People who can’t find jobs in the U.S. and Europe come to China to grab our money, engage in human trafficking and spread deceitful lies to encourage emigration. Foreign spies seek out Chinese girls to mask their espionage and pretend to be tourists while compiling maps and GPS data for Japan, Korea and the West. We kicked out that foreign bitch and closed Al-Jazeera’s Beijing bureau. We should shut up those who demonize China and send them packing.*

There are a lot of things I want to say about this, and most of them are swear words ((I seriously considered titling this post ‘Yang Rui Can Go Fuck Himself’)). However, you’ve probably got some creative epithets of your own swirling in your mind at this point, so let’s move on to some slightly more constructive avenues of discussion.

On Integrity

On reading this post, the first emotion that struck me — after anger, that is — was extreme regret. I have taped two episodes of CCTV Dialogue with Yang Rui, although the first one was never aired ((I never heard why, but I was speaking pretty candidly about the Wenzhou crash and I suspect that may have had something to do with it)), and now I really wish that I hadn’t. Of course, I had no way of knowing that nearly a year later, he’d be spewing such hateful nonsense, but I wish there was a way to delete myself from the program retroactively.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. Yang was quite rude to me when the cameras were off before and after my appearances on Dialogue. At the time, I chocked it up to the ego that comes with being a professional television anchor ((albeit on a show that I don’t think anyone has ever watched a full episode of)). In retrospect I wonder if perhaps there was something more going on.

Either way though, I want to make it clear that what I regret is the association with him, not my appearance on CCTV in general. In the past, certain people have suggested foreigners who appear in or work for state media — myself included — lack integrity. I think that is nonsense. Although I long ago stopped writing occasional op-ed pieces for the Global Times and I have no intention of ever appearing on CCTV again, I don’t think having done either of those things has damaged my integrity. In both instances, I spoke honestly and directly in defense of my own viewpoints, and eschewed self-censorship ((which is why much of my work fell afoul of ACTUAL censorship)). I don’t regret anything I wrote or said ((At least not for political reasons. I regret a few of my Global Times columns just because they were bad writing, but that’s a separate issue.)), and I don’t think appearing in State media is tacit support of the Party or the Party line if what you’re saying is just as critical as what you’d say to any Western media outlet. Nor do I think taking their money to write content that discredits their editorials and their bosses is doing them any financial favors.

Some may disagree with me on this, and I do understand that point of view. But if I have a chance to go on State media and criticize the response to the Wenzhou train crash, I think that’s just as valuable, perhaps more valuable, than only sharing my criticism here. ((That said, as previously stated, I’m done with Dialogue and probably CCTV as a whole.))

On Soft Power

It’s interesting that this outburst came from Yang Rui, who is in some ways one of the faces of China’s soft power push. Dialogue is an English-language program, which means it is targeted at foreigners in China and abroad by default. The fact that its host (one of them, anyway) is apparently a racist xenophobe is probably indicative of how successful China’s soft power push is likely to be.

But beyond that, it is rather incredible that someone who has been talking to foreigners for years — indeed, someone who is supposed to be one of China’s representatives to foreigners — apparently knows so little about us that he actually believes crazy shit like this:

Foreigners who can’t find a job in their home country come to China and get involved in illegal business activities such as human trafficking and espionage; they also like to distribute lies which discredit China to persuade locals to move abroad. A lot of them look for Chinese women to live with as a disguise to further their espionage efforts. They pretend to be tourists traveling around the country while actually helping Japan and Korea make maps and collect GPS data for military purposes.

It’s so shocking, in fact, that some have wondered if this isn’t satire. I suppose it could be, but if so, Yang seems content to let people continue to think he was being serious; he has updated his Weibo numerous times since that post but none of the updates suggest he was kidding, and some of them suggest he definitely wasn’t. Plus, he doesn’t really seem like the sort for that kind of sarcasm.

If this were any other country, there would be rampant speculation that Yang Rui was about to lose his job. But this is China, and I think we all know that he won’t. That being a rabidly xenophobic (and apparently extremely stupid) person doesn’t disqualify you from holding a post that is dedicated entirely to dealing with foreigners is as strong a sign as any that China has no real interest in soft power. Or perhaps is just utterly incapable of implementing it.

Xenophobia and Weibo Responses

Yang’s comments come at a particularly sensitive time for foreigners, many of whom are concerned about their safety after a British scumbag and a Russian idiot have stirred up a lot of nationalist, anti-foreign sentiment online (all foreigners are the same, so we’re all guilty by association). Probably related is the crackdown on illegal foreigners in Beijing that Yang was commenting on. This crackdown is perfectly fair in theory — every country has immigration laws and the right to enforce them — but the language and imagery that’s being used to promote it is sort of concerning, as is the idea that foreigners will now be required to carry their papers at all times ((technically this has been legally true for a long time, but I’m not sure I’ve ever heard of it being enforced, and there’s no reason to enforce it because it’s pretty ridiculous)) and submit to random checks. Suddenly, Beijing is feeling a bit like Arizona (that’s not a good thing).

Anyway, the response to Yang Rui’s rant is comparatively heartening. Although there are some commenters who agree with him, there are many who don’t, and as usual, their sarcastic condemnations of his idiocy bring warmth to my twisted foreign heart. Some examples:

Host Yang, you haven’t gone far enough! We should bring back all the officials’ wives and children from overseas to help build the motherland, we must not allow them to be polluted by foreign trash, yes, and also we should close the borders/forbid international travel, so that there is no contact with overseas forces.

There is a reason fewer and fewer people are watching TV…

Yes, and we should close down all the TV channels that speak foreign languages! [Yang works for CCTV English]

At first I thought that it was just Mr. Yang’s English [abilities] that were disappointing, but now I see there are many disappointing things about him.

The fact that this CCTV host isn’t writing editorials for the Beijing Daily is truly a waste of talent.

Isn’t your daughter studying in the US?

Haha, so Yang Rui is really this big a dumbass. A dumbass pretending to be cool but actually a Boxer.

So this is the quality of CCTV? Anyway, where did you study your English? Do the people there think about you this way?

I want to ask, can you speak Chinese? How can someone so incoherent become a TV host…

This is exactly how the Boxer Rebellion started…

Of course, there are also comments in there that are serious and seriously disturbing. But it’s heartening to see that the sane people still seem to outnumber the racist xenophobes.

Stay safe, everyone.

ADDENDUM: This is probably obvious from the post itself, but I would strongly suggest that foreigners boycott CCTV Dialogue and decline any future invitations to appear on the program. There are numerous other ways to interact with the Chinese media; there is no need to support the efforts of a man who so clearly has nothing but hatred for foreigners.

*Note: I have switched out the Global Times translation for the better translation offered by the Wall Street Journal’s China Real Time blog. (Click that link for their full post on Yang).

The Tea Drinkers’ Guide

Human rights activists in China would not be strange to “tea drinking”, which means an interrogation summoned by the state security police. Various acts of citizenship could trigger “tea drinking” – it could be writing a blog about freedom and democracy, attending political gatherings, signing online appeals for certain demands, or merely expressing interests in protests. It can be said that “tea drinking” is something that you need to go through if you aspire to become a citizen in China through acts of public defiance.

In an article written at the Human Rights in China Biweekly (translated below), Wu Gan (twitter: @tufuwugan, “Super Vulgar Butcher”) extensively analyses “tea drinking” and suggests strategies on dealing with it for aspiring citizens. Wu is a prominent Chinese rights activist and netizen reporter, well known for his sense of justice, enthusiasm and resourcefulness. He actively supported Deng Yujiao and the Three Netizens of Fujian, and was involved in the citizenship investigation into the death of Zhejiang village head Qian Yunhui.

Translation: The Tea Drinkers’ Guide

In a land without freedom, “tea drinking” is the only way to become a real citizen. “Tea drinking” usually refers to interviews by the police because of your civic actions or speeches. In fact, no tea or even no water is served for most of the time. I think that overcoming the fear over “tea drinking” is very important in the process of fighting against the dictatorship machine in China. Personally, I’ve been through the evolution from being fearful of to being accustomed to “tea drinking”. I intend to share this guideline to other people who will soon face “tea drinking”. Of course, this is only my personal opinion. Personal experience and the specific circumstance will make each case unique.

In “tea drinking”, the public security agents you face will be from either the Bureau of Internal Security Protection (guobao) or the National Security Bureau (guoan). Guoan will be involved in cases linked to foreign countries, while guobao deal with internal affairs. Guobao are usually more visible, while guoan maintain a low profile. While they execute orders from the dictatorship machine, they are all human beings, and we can classify them into three types:

(1)The brutal type: Such kind of people are of low quality and may have psychological problems. They abuse their power to sustain violence and have no respect for human nature. They use persecution and violence to prove their existence and authority, and derive pleasure and satisfaction from it.

(2)The understanding type: They know their work is disgraceful, and understand the nature of the dictatorship machine, and that the machine will not last long. Therefore, they will not take the initiative to do evil, but will only execute orders, just for a living.

(3)The robotic type: They are hopelessly brainwashed, and have thinking no different from that of the dictatorship machine. They think what they are doing is right, and even consider their work as honorable.

In “tea drinking”, it is either they visit you or they force you to their place. The main objectives are to warn you and create fear, forcing you to abandon your civic actions. They will also teach you political lessons and brainwash you with ideas they think are correct, such as “you live your own life, why are you doing these things?”, “now the country is rising, you need to trust the government and the party”, “these social problems are very normal during reforms, the party will be able to resolve them”, “so and so is an enemy of the party, you need to be aware, don’t be close to him”, “there is deep water behind that event, foreign elements are out there, don’t be utilized by them”, “if you don’t listen, we will not be so kind next time”, “you need to think for your family”, etc. Sometimes, notes will be taken and detailed questions will be asked about the ins and outs of a case. You may even be asked to sign a confession.

I’ve talked about what “tea drinking” is and the types of people you may face. Now I turn to things you need to be aware of.

As you cannot escape from the dictatorship machine, all you can do is to dance with the wolves. You need to go through “tea drinking” before you can become a real citizen, and that takes wisdom and preparations. I advise you to do the following:

(1)Make sure you can afford what you are doing, and be prepared for harassment, house arrest, “tea drinking”, labor camp or even imprisonment.

(2)When you fight for civil rights, it is important to be transparent, open and just.

(3)Be prepared in case you lose your freedom after “tea drinking”. Think about ways you can release information, seek legal assistance, and keep in touch with your family and the outside world.

Things to note during “tea drinking”:

(1)Be well mannered. Don’t show your fear. Don’t fall into their trap and be agitated in face of violence and insults.

(2)When asked about yourself, only tell your own part and not someone else’s. Act as if you are a fool. “Couldn’t remember clearly”, “I forgot”, “not sure about that” and “don’t understand” are all good excuses.

(3)Tell them what you are doing is open, just, and for all to see, and that you have made preparation for possible consequences.

(4)Try not to form personal enmity. Tell them that you have decided to go ahead and will bear the consequences, and ask them not to confuse public and private matters. Some sort of contract spirit is needed.

(5)Don’t insult, confront or humiliate them, online or otherwise, unless they did the same to you.

(6)If you form a personal enmity, you might want to investigate him privately. I personally have no objection to righteous blood revenge.

(7)Don’t believe what they say, and don’t try to convince them. And, very importantly, bear in mind that there is nothing they cannot do.

(8)Whether or not to sign a confession depends on the situation. Sometimes, you can sign it to end all the unnecessary entanglements. These confessions are for them to please their bosses. Confessions signed under threat are not binding and there is no need to comply with them.

(9)The best way to interfere in public affairs is to do so from another place in order to avoid troubles caused by local interests.

(10)Sometimes they will contact your employers, relatives and friends to create pressure on you. This is the most difficult thing to deal with and you have to face it. Let the people around you know what you are doing, and let them know you are doing something open and righteous. It is difficult to get their support, but you have to fight for their understanding and respect. This can ease the pressure on you.

When you are on the path to citizenship, you are either “drinking tea”, or on the way to it. When everyone is not afraid of “tea drinking” but treats it as an honor, we can say our society is progressing.

The Government Taking the Easy Way Out

By now, hopefully everyone has heard that Al-Jazeera English has been forced to close its China bureau after the Chinese government refused to renew correspondent Melissa Chan’s visa or grant one to a replacement correspondent. The Committee to Protect Journalists has already issued a statement condemning Chan’s expulsion, as has the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China.

Chan herself has told reporters she’s not authorized to comment, but I’m sure she will be glad to see the attention Al-Jazeera English’s expulsion is already getting. And we may also take some small consolation in the fact that she herself is apparently moving on to some pretty cool things and will remain with Al-Jazeera English.

That said, the expulsion of Chan and Al-Jazeera is a despicable act of cowardice on the part of China’s government. Although no particular reason was given, this section of the FCCC’s statement provides some clues as to the motivation behind denying Chan’s visa:

Chinese officials had expressed anger at a documentary the channel aired last November. Melissa Chan did not even play a part in making that documentary. They have also expressed unhappiness with the general editorial content on Al Jazeera English and accused Ms Chan of violating rules and regulations that they have not specified.

So Al-Jazeera’s crimes include airing a documentary that China didn’t like — not one that was factually incorrect, mind you, just one they didn’t like — and violating unspecified rules and regulations. Neither of these are good reasons to expel anyone from any country, but the latter is particularly concerning because it seems to be an increasingly common tactic used by the Chinese government to attempt to bully foreign reporters and keep them from covering certain stories. In 2011, for example, some reporters who covered the “Jasmine Revolution” protests were told that they had broken the law by failing to obtain prior permission to report there. Journalists outside Chaoyang Hospital reporting on the Chen Guangcheng case were recently told the same thing.

In fact, China’s regulations on foreign reporters contain no such requirement as far as I can see (original Chinese version). To conduct an interview or reporting, foreign reporters must have the prior consent of anyone they’re interviewing — which is common sense — but there is no requirement that they must apply to anyone else for permission to cover anything.

Of course, the fact that Chinese authorities are apparently operating outside the framework of their own laws will not be news to anyone, least of all anyone who followed Chan’s excellent coverage of China during her five years here (that link leads to just a small portion of it). She served as a voice for the voiceless, often putting herself in dangerous positions to get stories of injustice out in the open.

And that’s ultimately exactly why she — and Al-Jazeera English in general — won’t be allowed to continue reporting in China. Al-Jazeera was giving a voice to people the Chinese government doesn’t want heard — prisoners, petitioners, and regular people from all walks of life who had stories they wanted told. In doing this, it really was operating no differently than other foreign media outlets, or even domestic media outlets (especially the gutsier ones like the Caixin and Southern Media publications). That is, after all, what journalists are supposed to do. As George Orwell once wrote:

Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed; everything else is public relations.

Of course, there will be some people who will attempt to justify Al-Jazeera English’s expulsion by saying the network was too negative. There will even be people who say that the network is just a piece of the larger Western conspiracy to smear China ((an especially ridiculous claim given that Al-Jazeera is decidedly not Western and still considered the terrorist network by many ill-informed people in the US.)). I find the idea that a media organization should attempt to orchestrate some artificial “balance” between positive and negative stories patently ridiculous ((among other things, whether a story is positive or not depends largely on who you ask)), but even if you believe that, it’s beside the point here.

Because the truth is that kicking Melissa out of China is just the Chinese government taking the easy way out. The coward’s way out. Chan wasn’t reporting about how the government needed to be overthrown; for the most part, her negative reports concerned specific local problems that probably could have been resolved if the central government put much effort into attempting a resolution. Black jails, for example, have been a stain on China’s reputation for years, and both foreign and domestic media have reported on the issue before. I find it impossible to believe that if the government were truly interested in closing black jails in Beijing, it would be incapable of doing so. The government could close all the black jails in Beijing if it wanted. But it’s easier to attack the people who report about it; put pressure on the domestic reporters (or just censor their stories) and threaten or expel the foreign ones. Solving the problem would be harder.

This is an approach we’ve seen over and over again, most recently with the Chinese government’s recent exhortations that the US Embassy must take steps to prevent Chinese citizens from entering its consulates, as if that were the real problem. Chen Guangcheng and Wang Lijun ran to US consulates because, although they came from entirely different backgrounds, both men had no faith in the ability of China’s government to protect them. If China wanted to prevent citizens from fleeing to the US embassy, it might start by reforming its own byzantine petition system, which almost never resolves petitioners’ problems and is responsible for the existence of the aforementioned black jails. But reforming the petition system would be really hard. Writing editorials condemning the US for interfering in China’s internal affairs? That’s really easy.

China’s government is not alone in its pursuit of the easy short-term non-solution over the difficult long-term real solution, but the specifics do make China’s case particularly disheartening. Chan is the first journalist to be expelled from China since 1998 — although China has been expelling journalists since at least the 1980s — but given the way journalists covering the Chen Guangcheng case have been treated ((Cordoned off, press credentials and IDs photographed, dozens called in and accused of breaking the law, etc.)) one wonders if she will be the only reporter forced out this year.

In any event, the expulsion of Al-Jazeera English is depressing and ominous, and it will negatively impact the reporting atmosphere in China. I had the good fortune get to know Melissa a little bit before her expulsion, and China is worse off without her coverage. Her removal is an embarrassment, the childish retribution of a government it seems is perpetually more concerned with silencing problems than with solving them.

Chengguan, Hard at Work

Another entry in the vein of illogical law enforcement. My wife passed this video along earlier today. It’s actually a couple months old now, but still making the rounds on Chinese social media, and it has racked up more than two million views.

Note: To be fair, I’m not entirely sure the men in this video are chengguan (city management officials), as the video isn’t clear enough to read anything on their uniforms, but they seem to be performing the duties of chengguan and are identified as chengguan in the comments, so let’s just assume they are.


Nothing about this is surprising, of course, but it’s worth noting the the ridiculousness of this kind of “enforcement strategy,” which happens all across China with alarming frequency. Chengguan are tasked with keeping the city’s streets clean and ensuring that vendors are in the proper places, with the proper permits. Frequently, they’re not, and I do understand China’s desire to regulate this (in theory), but the practice often leaves much to be desired.

The kind of enforcement we see in this video doesn’t solve any problems. All it does is create problems. Where previously there was a calm woman on the street selling fruit, now there is an angry woman on the street, a small crowd of onlookers, and a huge mess because the chengguan decided to dump her fruit all over the sidewalk. The chengguan have effectively turned what was a regular street in China into a mess of emotion and spilled fruit. What has society gained from this?

Nothing, obviously. The chengguan don’t even gain anything personally, aside from the minimal ego boost that comes from bullying people you have some power over. It is a needless show of force, the desperate demonstration of an insecure bully who is terrified that if the people’s fear ever subsides for a moment they’re going to see just how pathetic he really is.

(Another sign of the times: in the video comments, some commenters have pointed out that these guys are actually quite restrained for chengguan; they may have stomped and dumped out her baskets, but at least they didn’t physically attack her. Disturbingly, this is enough to pass for ‘restraint’ these days.)