Russian cellist fired for rant on train

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 May, 2012, 12:00am


A Russian cellist caught on camera insulting and swearing at a Chinese woman on a train has been sacked by the Beijing Symphony Orchestra for 'damaging its reputation'.

His abuse of the Chinese passenger on the service to Beijing has added fuel to anti-foreigner sentiment circulating online. His sacking came days after a mainland television presenter called for China to kick out 'foreign trash'.

The orchestra issued a statement yesterday saying it had dismissed the musician, Oleg Vedernikov.

'His conduct has badly damaged the orchestra's reputation,' it said. 'We have decided to sack him in accordance with orchestra regulations and the terms of his employment contract.'

While many internet users applauded the sacking, some questioned whether the response was proportionate.

It came against a background of recent anti-foreigner sentiment after a British man molested a Chinese woman outside a Beijing subway station two weeks ago and strong nationalist fervour over the South China Sea dispute with the Philippines. The launch of a police campaign to remove foreigners who are staying on the mainland illegally and a call by China Central Television host Yang Rui for the 'clearing of foreign trash' have led some foreign observers to question whether xenophobia is on the rise in China. It has also spurred discontent among foreigners living on the mainland.

Vedernikov, the orchestra's principal cellist, was shown in a video clip refusing to take his bare feet off the seat in front of him after a woman passenger asked him several times to do so during a train journey on May 14. When the woman used a magazine to slap his feet, Vedernikov replied sarcastically in Chinese: 'It feels good, like a massage. One more time.' The woman then shouted, 'You are a shame to your country,' and threw a plastic bottle at him. In response, Vedernikov called her a 'silly ****' and swore repeatedly.

Many internet users praised the sacking, saying Vedernikov deserved it for such gross violation of civil behaviour. 'Foreigners enjoy many privileges on the mainland and they are much better treated, which has spoiled them and given them a sense of superiority,' one said.

Other internet users questioned whether it was appropriate to sack an employee for moral misconduct.

The 45-year-old musician posted a video online last week apologising in Russian for his behaviour on the train. But that failed to calm online anger, with some still questioning why it was not in Chinese, given that he swore so fluently in the language.

Meanwhile, the case of the British molester appears to have spurred Beijing police to launch a 100-day crackdown on foreigners who have illegally entered, overstayed or worked on the mainland - the so-called 'three illegals'.

Police said many had no proper income, no stable residence or job, and some had turned to crime.

They said a steady 10 per cent annual increase in the number of foreigners entering and leaving the mainland over the past decade had resulted in a mixed quality of people entering the country.

Official data shows that more than 27 million foreigners entered the mainland last year, with police finding 20,000 'three illegals' - in 1995 the number was only 10,000.

Another set of figures shows that in 1980 there were 20,000 foreigners living on the mainland for more than half a year. Last year the number was 600,000, a third of them in Beijing.

CCTV host Yang supported the crackdown on his Sina Weibo microblog on May 16, saying it was necessary to take out the 'foreign trash', who were traffickers, spies or people without jobs from the West.

He called Al-Jazeera's former China correspondent, Hong Kong-born Chinese-American Melissa Chan, who was expelled from the country last month, a 'foreign bitch'.

Yang's comment drew particular ire from foreign observers because he hosts an English chat show on CCTV called Dialogue, where he invites foreign guests to exchange ideas.

He told The Wall Street Journal this week that he was referring only to a minority of expatriates and that the silent majority are friendly and 'travel, do business and make a living here honestly'.

Also on Monday, Yang was quoted by The Guardian as saying that his wording was 'very strong and incompatible with my image as host of a professional talk show and I can say for sure I am sorry for hurting those who respect my profession'.

His original posting can still be found on his microblog and despite calls by several foreign bloggers on the mainland for a boycott of the daily show, he is still hosting it.

One foreigner who has lived on the mainland for a decade teaching English at a university, said the current atmosphere made him uncomfortable, citing a Chinese customer who jokingly told his friend, who operates a restaurant, they would report him to the police.

'I think this is the kind of level the xenophobia is at,' he said. 'It has achieved a high degree of awareness among the Chinese public, even if most of them aren't taking it at all seriously as yet. It creates an uncomfortable atmosphere, especially for those of us who feel especially vulnerable, even if we are quasi-legitimate in our status here.' A proper visa for working or studying was difficult to obtain in the first place, he said.

American businessman Michele Scrimenti, who has lived on the mainland for six years, said some elements of anti-foreigner sentiment had always existed in Chinese society, but it was only apparent during times of uncertainty. 'I would hope this is an abnormal nationalistic spasm that will fade,' Scrimenti said.