Monday, May 21, 2012

Yang Rui takes a crazy pill

The current surge of xenophobia in China took another unpleasant turn a few days ago when the search engine giant Baidu joined forces with popular BBS site to launch a campaign to expose 'foreigners behaving badly' via the leading social networking site Sina Weibo. Weibo, it seems, is just an innocent channel for this latest outpouring of fenqing outrage, but if Baidu is initiating it, I think we can assume that it's probably been given the nod by someone quite high up in the government. This is one of the less positive consequences of China's explosion in mobile Internet use.

And now Yang Rui, the lead anchor on Dialogue, a daily political talk show on the English-language CCTV International channel, has joined in this witch-hunt rhetoric with a Weibo post that is so intemperate it would be frightening.... if it weren't so extreme that he simply comes off as doolally. [We're all "spies", apparently! And "snake heads" - I'm not exactly sure what he means by that, but it isn't anything good. Most vile of all, he crowed over the recent unfair expulsion of American Chinese journalist Melissa Chan, referring to her as "that foreign bitch". At least a good number of the Chinese responses to this incoherent burp of hate have been critical, and sometimes scathingly satirical. My translator friend The Weeble tells me that one of them said, "You can't just stop taking your meds like that..." Check out a translation of Yang's statement and some of the Chinese Netizens' reactions to it in this excellent ChinaGeeks post.]

I used to try to take a charitable view of Yang Rui. His fumbling delivery and constipated demeanour do often make me wince with embarrassment. And yes, he does regularly come across as prim, pompous, and condescending - occasionally even a little rude to his foreign guests. But it seemed to me that this was a classic example of someone being promoted beyond his abilities. I was prepared to believe that he was quite a bright guy really, and that his English might be dazzlingly fluent in everyday conversation, but - like so many of the Chinese presenters on that channel - the stress of having to interact with native English speakers on camera completely overwhelms him and turns him into a bumbling ninny. [And that's when a show is being pre-recorded. When these presenters have to do something live, it's bunny-in-the-headlights time. You have to feel sorry for them.]

However, a year or so ago I met some young folks from CCTV who'd worked on his production team, and they were more scathing about him than any foreigner I've heard. They called him "a moron" and "an embarrassment to China". Even then, I wanted to make allowances for him. I thought this might just be an overreaction from sensitive junior colleagues who'd found him difficult to work with, or - as I've encountered very often in the radio and television industry here - an outpouring of the disenchantment of frustrated ambition: bright kids fresh out of university resent how unreasonably difficult they find it to progress in their careers, particularly as presenters (as in so many areas of public life in China, it's almost all down to guanxi - who you know - rather than talent, I'm told). That frustration naturally becomes even worse when you have someone who is so egregiously unqualified - in intellectual acuity, English ability, or cultural awareness - as Yang Rui holding such a prominent position. But still, I sympathised with the difficulties Mr Yang faced in such a demanding role. I was prepared to be amused by his frequent gaffes, without judging him too harshly. He didn't come across as the sharpest tool in the box, but I wouldn't have called him a moron.

Now I would call him that, and worse. This Weibo outburst was so outrageously objectionable - so downright irresponsible at a time of such strain in the relationship between the Chinese people and the foreigners living amongst them - that CCTV really MUST disown the remarks, and Yang Rui himself. He must be sacked.

Unfortunately, it's unlikely that anyone at the station will have the balls to take the initiative to do something like that without a lot of external pressure. Yang Rui is something of a sacred cow; he's been there for years, he's got a very high profile, he must have guanxi up to the eyeballs, and he doubtless wins favour among some of the high-ups in the government with his toadying promotion of the party line on so many of the topics addressed in his programme. But he's also a fool, an idiot, and a xenophobic hate-monger - he CAN'T be allowed to continue in this position as one of the main 'faces of China' that CCTV presents to an international audience.

Charlie Custer, the proprietor of ChinaGeeks, one of the best blogs of China news and commentary for the past few years, and himself a guest on Yang Rui's Dialogue programme a couple of times, has taken up the banner in denouncing Yang Rui's contemptible and ludicrous remarks: he suggests that all foreigners should refuse to appear on that show until Yang Rui is removed.

I would like to see the campaign go further. I would like to see people undertaking not to appear as guests on any of CCTV International's shows. I would like to see viewers undertaking not to watch the channel any more (not many people do anyway, but it's the principle of the thing). I would like to see sponsors/advertisers boycotting the channel (not that they have many anyway; but it would be nice to see companies issuing statements that they never will advertise on the channel while Yang Rui still has a job there). Above all, I would like to see cable networks suspending the channel, dropping it from their packages (unlikely, I know, but we can dream).


Mr Custer aptly notes in his piece: 
"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."

I imagine CCTV will try to take the heat off him for a while by using only their alternate anchor Tian Wei (who's vastly better anyway) on the show, or perhaps by 'resting' the programme completely for a few weeks. Not good enough. Nobody should go on the show with Ms Tian either - not while Yang still has a job.

Get active on this, people. Tell your friends, tell your workmates - Chinese and foreign. Use Twitter, use Weibo, use Facebook, use anything. Lobby cable networks. Lobby advertisers. 

Bombard CCTV with e-mails (try the programme's feedback address: Bombard them with phone calls or faxes (Tel. +86 [0]10 6850 9230 or 8824 4002, Fax +86 [0]10 6858 1282). 

This monstrous and hateful incompetent has to be strung out to dry - and soon.


Curiously, Baidu's American PR spokesman Kaiser Kuo hastily denied Baidu's involvement in setting up the 'shame a foreigner' forum I mentioned in my opening paragraph here. That's a whole other story in itself. I'd love to see some analysis of where that People's Daily story came from and what it was trying to achieve. And I'm slightly sceptical as to whether Baidu's hands are as clean as Kaiser is trying to make out.

Eight days on from this post there was no sign of Yang Rui being sacked - or even suspended - from his post on CCTV's 'flagship' current affairs show. I therefore felt impelled to repeat my call for mass lobbying of the station to try to get them to take the appropriate action against Yang.

Around five months later, Yang Rui made some further public statements of a vaguely apologetic character on this matter. Well, he claimed to have offered "sincere apologies" on numerous unspecified occasions to Melissa Chan, and acknowledged that his choice of words may have been "incautious", and proffered the vapid aphorism that "writers should take responsibility for what they write". He didn't really seem to be taking a lot of responsibility himself, and he certainly didn't come out plainly with a 'SORRY'. Moreover, he hemmed his remarks around with a lot self-justifiying - and indeed combative - crap about the furore being a situation of "mutual demonization" (=Why is everyone so angry with ME? It's so UNFAIR!). And he reverted to ominous nationalistic bombast at the close, saying, "A rising China needs to be more self-confident, and should not be afraid of being criticized for criticizing others." God help us from a 'rising China' that's full of pricks like this!


John said...

Wasn't someone else fired recently for saying a lot less on his Weibo account? I can't remember who it was or what he said unfortunately although I have a feeling it was foreigners related.
I like that Rui studied in Cardiff back in the 90s. It's a small world when this moron was living around 10 miles away from where I used to live back when I started high school. Wales's capital doesn't seem to have made much of an impression on him however.
I laughed when I read the People's Daily article; you're not on a stable income Froog, does that make you a major source of crime?

Froog said...

Really? It's pretty rare for anyone to be sacked for being an arsehole here. It's more-or-less a job requirement for any position that entails good standing with the Party, after all.

I think that presenter who said "The Philippines have ALWAYS been Chinese" got a wrist-slap or a suspension or something.

Gilman Grundy said...

According to Kaiser Kuo, Baidu never approved the foreigner-bashing hotline and it's been shut down.

I've always found Yang Rui totally unwatchable - always so completely smug, and always spouting the party line word-perfect.

Froog said...

I haven't had time to watch what's happening with this, but Baidu was featured very prominently in the first stories about this. I'd be interested to know exactly what their involvement was - how much pushing, how much reluctant, how much later pulling out.

You don't need to do very much to seed these things any more. Once the bottle is open, it starts smelling stronger and stronger. Baudu shuts down the original complaint forum and a dozen others will sonn sprout in its place.

Gilman Grundy said...

Here's what Kaiser Kuo said:

"The People’s Daily story is erroneous. Baidu has launched no such campaign. It was something done originally on Baidu PostBar but not under official auspices and we have now removed it."

Which of course begs the question of how it got on Baidu PostBar, but he seems pretty adamant that it was nothing to do with Baidu corporate. And yes, Shop-A-Foreigner websites will proliferate if people want them to.

Froog said...

This was the most prevalent element of the spike in xenophobia that I witnessed during my last few days in Beijing, the constant 'joking' about denouncing foreigners online or calling a government 'hotline'.

If Baidu weren't involved in promoting this project, where the f*** did the People's Daily story come from? Someone in the propaganda machine is pushing this idea - and I would bet that some people at Baidu are playing along with it, without acknowledging as much publicly.

I haven't seen any denials of the story of the 'police hotline' yet. It's all so very Cultural Revolution.

John said...

Surely if people are joking about it then isn't it considered tongue-in-cheek by the average Beijinger with half a brain? Sure there's the other half and a lot of those are probably immigrants from the countryside so is the greatest animosity from China's proverbial bumpkins?
I'm just spouting thoughts here, I've learnt not to lump every Chinese citizen into the same category. In fact, being a computer enthusiast, I've found the online community (the "netizens") to be an increasingly agreeable bunch over the years. This is arguably to be expected but it does blinker my experiences somewhat what with me having never experienced China at first hand.
Anyway, hope you're enjoying the weather!

Froog said...

Yes, I think a lot of people realise it's all a bit ridiculous. But this is a kind of 'joke' that just isn't funny for foreigners who are in vulnerable positions with their visas, and are starting to feel pointed at, persecuted.

And the more this idea goes around, the more some people will start to take it seriously. I found the atmosphere was getting very uncomfortable this past week.

Richard said...

Being married to Chinese and having a child, I did not find this story humorous. We have already had our fill of problems being a mixed family in China. This did not help. I would like to sue Yang for his comments, as they directly affect me.

Gilman Grundy said...

@Froog - Kaiser Kuo is Baidu's official PR rep.

Froog said...

Well, one of many. I think Kaiser mostly does their English-language press releases, doesn't he? I'd be curious to know how closely they align with statements they've been putting out in Chinese.

It's a very odd story, this. Was that People's Daily article simply a fabrication, or rather a piece of sloppy reporting.

Someone who knows their way around the Chinese Internet should do some rooting around to try to discover the origins of this. Presumably one of the early shop-a-foreigner online forums was hosted on (but perhaps not initiated by the site itself?), and it did get promoted on Baidu Postbar (HOW?)... but subsequently Baidu and/or dissociated themselves from this kind of forum.

Was this news story just sloppy journalism (lots of that in China!), or was it intended to encourage the establishment of such forums, and perhaps even to pressure leading web companies into facilitating them?

However it arose, it gained a lot of prominence, and did fan the flames of anti-foreigner sentiment.

I don't find a simple denial of involvement by Baidu particularly comforting - or convincing. I'd expect to see a much more detailed explanation of where the hell that story came from.

Froog said...

Sorry you got diverted to spam at first there, FOARP.

Blogger is being a bit finicky of late. Possibly better to avoid these Twitterspeak @s.