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Anti-foreigner sentiment on the rise in China

China is never a boring country in terms of news. But I have the feeling that right now a lot more things are happening concurrently than ever before during the past 12+ years that I have lived here. It’s a bit scary to observe this trend, especially because some of it may also affect me and my family.

Maybe this trend is due to social media, so that a lot more news comes out that the government could still keep under cover a few years ago. For example, most of the recent food scandals would have never reached the general public in pre-Internet times. Things have gotten so bad that we hardly buy any Chinese food products anymore, and we now even started making our own yoghurt…

Politically times are very turbulent as well, not only internally (with the arrest of Bo Xilai and the party trying to keep the army loyal) but also externally (tensions between China and The Philippines). And last week, for the first time in 13 years, a foreign journalist was kicked out of China.

On top of that the anti-foreigner sentiment is on the rise once again.¬†Over the years I have seen a few instances in which it was safer to avoid certain places for foreigners (the Hainan spy plane incident, anti-French tensions, the attacks on Japanese people and property (twice!)). But what’s happening now seems to target a much broader range of foreigners. Likely the government is just using it to direct attention away from the internal political problems and to make people more patriotic, but it’s scary to see what’s happening and how quickly social media can spread the moods of people.

Even big Chinese Internet companies like Baidu and Sina joined the party to crack down on ‘misbehaving foreigners’, according to an article in yesterday’s People’s Daily. And a well-known English speaking CCTV anchor put a tirade against foreigners on his Weibo, stirring up things even further.

A New York Times blog post gives a good overview of how the xenophobia started and about everything that happened over the past 10 days, give it a read if you want to understand what’s going on:¬†¬†Personally I am not too worried yet, but it’s important to keep an eye on what’s happening.

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  1. I agree that the government is trying to direct people’s attention from the internal problems to external problems. They’ve used it several times such as the anti-French movement and many Chinese people are just blind to see through the true, especially due to the education we received when we were young.

    There are lessons teaching students to follow the Party, do whatever it tells you to do and love the government (they always tell you that the government represents the country, thus love the government is love the country and vise versa) and be aware of foreign penetration through out the nine-year compulsory education.

    Though today many people know our government is doing something wrong and some of they can tell the differences between the Party, the government and the country they still tend to think bad things happen because there are a few bad person in the government and the majority are good. They also believe the system is good for China and China or the Chinese people just need more time to get used to it.

  2. Unfortunately, I felt the wrath of this anti-foreigner sentiment over the weekend. I was with two friends and one of their fathers, when after dinner we decided to go for a drink. We went to a popular club in town, and before we could get to a table we were attacked by security using bamboo poles for weapons. Myself and one of my friends (who is a 52 year old man) had to go to the hospital to receive stitches. The attack was totally unprovoked, and I had no previous incidents at that bar as I rarely go out, and have only been to that particular bar once before. What was really sad was the anti-foreigner and nationalist slogans being yelled at us by people. It also seemed that once patrons of the bar saw security attacking foreigners, they decided to get in on the action as well.
    I am really trying to not let this experience sour my overall impression of Chinese people, but reading some of the hate filled comments about foreigners on some social media websites is really quite concerning. Coupled with personal experiences, and experiences of friends of mine, it’s getting harder and harder to remain positive in my opinion of the current state of affairs in China.
    I hope that I can find a way to not let this experience leave me jaded. If I condemn Chinese people for the actions of a few I am no better than the people who attacked me simply because I am a foreigner……

  3. Don’t agree, another story blowing out of proportion….ridiculous to base a general sentiment on a single event, not constructive.
    I have been in China for 17 years, got beaten by mafia gang in Beijing a few years back and still believe it is a thing that can happen anywhere and the being foreigner was not the reason. Let’s look at what we can do the bridging between our communities and avoid black and white, “fox news” simplistic judgment. Peace:)

  4. Angelo, of course this kind of thing can (and does) happen anywhere. I do find events of the last couple of weeks (British man accused of sexual assault, Beijing’s crackdown on foreigners, Yang Rui’s comments on Weibo) to come in too quick of a succession to not be connected. As far as my own experience, a group of people attacked me completely unprovoked while shouting racial epithets, I’m finding it hard to find any other reason I was attacked other than the fact I am a foreigner. My experience isn’t an isolated event for foreigners in my city either. In the past couple weeks I have heard of other foreigners being attacked where I live (though I don’t the circumstances). I think we should at least consider the possibility of a growing anti-foreigner sentiment in China.
    All that being said, I completely agree that bridging the gap in our respective communities is the best way for foreigners and Chinese to live together peacefully. However, we need to acknowledge the gap between our respective communities first before any bridges can be built. Rushing to simplistic, generalizations is never a wise thing to do, but neither is keeping one’s head buried in the sand and pretending that we’re living in a harmonious utopian society. Work needs to be done on both sides.

  5. Let’s not confuse the two issues here. One is China wanting foreigners to abide by the countries immigration, labor and visa regulations. These have been on the statute for over 30 years. There’s nothing new there and it’s not unreasonable for the Chinese to ask foreigners here follow their laws.

    The other issue is the trash talk about it on both sides of the blogosphere. That’s all it is.

    If you want to live and work in China, get legal. It’s as simple as that. Here’s a guide to what you need:

  6. @Chris Devonshire-Ellis, you ignorant f-ck. If you ever actually had any experience of working in China other than your cushy little expat job you would know that no Chinese employer really wants to pay for your Z-visa or help to get you one.

    To obtain a Z-visa is a f-cking pain in the arse and by getting one from an agency you are technically breaking the law as the agency will provide a “fake” job for you only to give you a Z-visa. Now that Z-visa does not entitle you to any other work.

    So, in case you think that you actually can go and work on that Z-visa, then you are soooo wrong.

    Guy from Reuters with a Z-visa was doing some English teacher part-timing. Got deported. Why? You are not allowed to work anywhere except the place you hold your Z-visa at.

    To say that this BS “crackdown on illegal foreigners” is a just cause is just plain stupid and ignorant. Its the Chinese that have created this f-cked up work situation for foreigners in this country. If you don’t play ball you won’t get work. If you play ball the police will deport you. Simple as that.

    The 100-day crackdown is a big f-cking smokescreen to apease the masses. No more, no less.

    F-ck I’m sick of this country.

  7. I have worked in China for 11 years. I pay taxes and have donated a lot to charity. But recently I have noticed the anti foreigner sentiment rising. My last school owes me 40,000 rmb. The schools before that robbed me as well. Christmas, it is rare to find an honest school that won’t look at the foreign teacher as “food.”

  8. Check out latest attack on 10 foreigners by the ‘brave’ 300…Chinese street people in Kunming.
    We cant even enjoy coffee now without being harassed.
    Most of these Chinese are jealous. They envy our life, money and jobs, and apparently from Chinese blogs we are ‘stealing their women and best places to live’, forget the market economy of who can pay more.
    One foreign downed the whole crowd of 300 with pepper spray in Kunming. These village idiots were on the floor crying until the riot police arrived. Reminiscent of the Battle of the Imjin River I say. Now gangs of Chinese in Kunming roam around looking for foreigners to bash with poles and metal bars(~10 on 1).
    If Chinese do not want foreigners here then we will take back Starbucks and the rest of our culture we shared with you pathetic, lying clowns. Also Chinese who immigrated to our Western countries and do not assimilate or have shops in purely Chinese can return to their ‘motherland’ if you are so strong and proud. How about if 300 Americans stormed 10 Chinese eating dinner. It would be racism, but in China it is nationalism. 1 on 1 the Mob no matter where it is are a weak and cowardice race. I have been back and forth from China for 12 years and now live here. Most Chinese are nice but when they turn patriotic they do it in the safety of numbers. I have had arguments with groups of 5 to 10 people at dinner. In the end it is better not to argue with these idiots. Sheep are sheep, and China is full of uneducated sheep.

  9. When I taught in china, I was in Deyang in Sichuan province. Here’s a few things that happened all in that one city.

    1. I met two girls randomly in the public square close to Mc Donalds. We went to some restaurant and we had dinner together. While we were talking and enjoying our time together, two guys come up. One identified himself as “Jason” and he talks to me. While the other guy talks to the two girls. Later they invite us to go with them to the sports store the guys worked at. Later we agreed to go to KTV on friday night. We switched numbers. On Friday I tried contacting them. The girls said they were busy. The guys didn’t respond. Following monday I went to the sports store and asked what happened. They told me they went to KTV. I asked why they couldn’t contact me. Immediately they told me I had to leave cause now they’re busy.

    2. I met one girl who seemed happy to meet me. And she takes me to her family’s home. And her brother 15 minutes later told me I had to leave. The mother looked really angry. When I got outside the complex, the brother puts his arm around me and says “Let me explain the ways of china. You must be married before you do sex. If you want to do sex. First you must date my sister. Maybe 3 years. You marry. Then you can do sex. If you do sex with no marry. The police will put you in jail”.

    3. I dated a girl. We’d walk down the streets. Every person who saw us together. So many of them. They would look back at her with a rude facial expression. Walking past them, I look back then I wink and wave.

    All of this happened in February/March 2010. All in Deyang, Sichuan.

    I wish I were chinese. Wow. The rewards and benefits that come with being chinese. So awesome. So glorious. Wow. I can only image the glory and privileges I could enjoy. The benefits. If i were chinese. WOW.

  10. I’ve been here in China for 3 months teaching English, first month in Yantai and since then with the same company on the outskirts of Beijing. The looks I get astound me at their pretty evident hatred. I try to smile (as I did tonight walking in the park with a Chinese lady friend) when I get these looks. The worst ones simply don’t change their nasty expression(s) and it is hard for me not to react equally negatively at times. The ones who do change their expression and smile actually seem quite delighted to share such a smile with a foreigner, yet sadly these are in the minority, especially when with my lady friend. And she IS only a friend (not that they could know either way!). My real lady (and she is a lady, as in a woman not a young girl!) is back in Thailand where I’ve very, very rarely experienced looks on the street even remotely so unpleasant and so I’d so much, MUCH prefer to be back there, having grown quickly tired and actually incredibly unhappy at how I’m clearly viewed here!! I have lived at and visited a few different over the years and I have NEVER made enemies, only friends. What chance of the same here?