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 mop.com 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).
YANG RUI MUST GO.
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: email@example.com). Bombard them with phone calls or faxes (Tel. +86 10 6850 9230 or 8824 4002, Fax +86 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!