Chen Guangcheng

Foreigners in need of reassurance

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 May, 2012, 12:00am


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Foreigners working on the mainland have an uneasy feeling. Videos of shocking behaviour by compatriots went viral on the internet, spawning a torrent of comment that veered towards xenophobia. Shortly after, authorities in Beijing announced a 100-day crackdown on foreigners without valid visas or work documents, a move greeted with rapturous approval by some on Chinese microblogs. Then, the most visible presenter on CCTV's main English-language channel launched an online tirade against 'foreign scum'. The apprehension is perfectly understandable, coming as it does in the wake of Beijing's criticism of the US embassy over the case of blind activist Chen Guangcheng and sabre-rattling with the Philippines over territory in the South China Sea.

It all goes against the grain of what foreigners on the mainland generally experience. In one of the videos, a Russian cellist with a Beijing orchestra is seen hurling vulgarities at a Chinese woman after she complained about him putting his feet on her train seat. An official is seen telling her to ignore him as he is a musician. Such treatment is not surprising to those from other countries, but the images in the other video certainly are. They show a British man on the ground being kicked after being chased for sexual abuse. Nor do foreigners expect to see people like CCTV's high-profile face in English, presenter Yang Rui, post views on his microblog that could readily be perceived as racist. That words criticising the government are instantly removed from the internet, but that none of those critical of outsiders have been taken down raises further concern.

Accompanying China's rise and might are pride and nationalistic feelings. During the Boxer and Cultural revolutions last century, nationalism led to xenophobia. The crackdown on illegal aliens has been blamed for raising tensions, but only those who have broken rules need worry. Authorities have to preach tolerance and do more to assure law-abiding foreigners that they are not being unfairly targeted.