In search of 'a foreign scoundrel'
Zhang Jiehai , a professor, was behind a highly publicised vigilante campaign last year to hunt down an expatriate he described as a 'foreign scoundrel on the internet'. The purported English-language teacher, called Chinabounder, uses his 'Sex and Shangh
Q: How did your online campaign to expose the so-called 'promiscuous language teacher' start?
A: A female friend referred me to the 'Sex and Shanghai' blog in August. The blogger claimed that he was a language teacher living on the mainland. At first, I was shocked by the graphic details and derogatory language he had used to describe his sexual conquests of Chinese women. While I felt disturbed, I said to myself that this guy did not force women to sleep with him. These women chose to give themselves away. There is no doubt that this guy is flawed, but also some people in this country are even more flawed.
But you did try to find the blogger - why?
I just wanted to let people know what was on the minds of some foreigners like him. I also wanted to tell those women that they might have thought they were being smart and could have gained something from sleeping with these foreigners, but these guys are even smarter and are only taking advantage of you and have nothing to lose.
Why did you respond so strongly to the blog?
The 'Chinabounder' incident is not just about some lurid accounts of sexual encounters. It reflects how sick our society has become and the looming identity crisis people in this country are facing under the domination of western culture. Some people just can't wait to turn their backs on what their ancestors have passed down to them in favour of anything exotic. On top of that, I have a strong belief that all men are equal, and if for some reason we're not as better off or powerful as others, it doesn't mean we were born inferior.
Many people did not expect an academic to lead such an emotionally charged campaign. Do you worry about being labelled a nationalist?
At first I was very emotional when I started the online call, but what I tried to do was promote a rational view of ourselves and the outside world. I was labelled a nationalist when I offered some harsh views on foreigners living in China and then I was perceived as a follower of western culture when I criticised Chinese people and Chinese society in my essays. I am who I am. Besides, I don't think nationalism is a problem right now in China. If people sometimes overreact, that's because they're insecure and have low self-esteem. It's not an indication of nationalistic sentiment.
Were you upset when some started to question your motives after you failed to find the blogger?
I'm disappointed. But look, the blog may be just a pile of lies or an account of someone's sexual fantasies. But does that mean the things described will go away? On the contrary, they are actually happening in many big cities.
But you did publish a book.
Yes. But it was actually a collection of essays I wrote between 2005 and 2006 and only one third was dedicated to discussion of the 'Sex and Shanghai' blog.
It's said that your book tries to offer a psychological analysis of Chinese society. What do you think is wrong with Chinese people?
We have to admit that the country has been less developed for the past century or so, and as a result, people easily fall in love with things from the west or anything exotic. They tend to look down on themselves and can't wait to embrace western values, particularly American culture, whole-heartedly. On top of that, they try to deny it.
Do you have a solution?
You've got to confront your low self-esteem and admit you have a problem. While we should admit that we are not as good as others in some aspects, we should not try to give up everything we have. Many aspects of our life are not comparable; cultures are unique in their own ways.
Would you act the same way if another 'Sex and Shanghai' blog popped up?
Absolutely, because it would have far-reaching implications. I'm proud of making my voice heard to wake up the whole nation, and I think even if it hadn't been me, someone else would eventually have stood up to do the same.