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China Daily Website

The thing speaks for itself

Updated: 2012-05-22 16:10
By Harvey Dzodin ( chinadaily.com.cn)

As a foreigner who is neither a thug, a rapist nor a substandard Western piece of garbage, I take serious issue with the intemperate and inflammatory Weibo posts of Yang Rui, the host of CCTV News' Dialogue. I think in light of these comments CCTV News management should give serious consideration to more fitting titles in keeping with Mr Yang's outbursts. Perhaps "Monologue" or "Diatribe" are a better fit.

As a former vice-president of the ABC TV Network, I know that it is standard practice in most media outlets around the globe to prohibit news personalities from expressing their own personal opinions either on or off the job. The reasons are obvious. First, the channel's appearance of neutrality and objectivity would suffer, not to mention its advertising revenue. Second, the audience might reasonably believe that the views expressed by the news personalities were those of the media's owners. 

If his views represent official opinion or even some important segment of it, then this is troubling from both a personal and a policy perspective.

Even though he back-tracked on some of his remarks and said that China "should be on guard against xenophobia and the perversions of the Boxer movement" he reaffirmed his main points including that "sweeping out the foreign trash is necessary". And in any case, the damage had already been done.

Yang apparently is considering a lawsuit against a blogger who accused him of being a xenophobe and thereby damaging Yang's reputation. In law, we have a term for something obvious on its face: res ipsa loquitur, Latin for "the thing speaks for itself". Yang's words speak most clearly for themselves and his beliefs.

Spewing such bile does a disservice to China and the many countries with which it has relations. Yang knows full well that every country, including China, has good people and bad people. Just by being foreign, doesn't make us trash.

I used to think that Beijing was the safest place in which I have ever lived. I still do, but with comments like these, I have to begin to wonder if things will change.

I have a foreign friend here who keeps telling me that sooner or later we could see some sort of Boxer Rebellion, the Sequel. He didn't mean that it was a flick that was going to be shown in the new Wanda-AMC theaters in America but that a rebellion against foreigners could happen right here in Beijing. I used to think of my friend as some sort of nut job when it came to this issue, but I now have to concede that Yang has provided food for thought, if not validation.

Last week, a Chinese friend approached me to see if I was going to write a column about the Public Security Bureau's 100-day campaign to catch foreigners illegally in China. He was surprised when I told him that I certainly was not going to do any such thing. While I am privileged to be a guest in this country, I believe that the government has every right to stop me or any foreigner they want to make sure that we have followed their regulations.

I have written quite frequently about China's soft power, most recently in chinadaily.com.cn. My point there was that China is just starting to exercise its soft power in a meaningful way, especially with the increased emphasis of Chinese companies partnering with Hollywood. Now I am not quite so sure. China has spent billions of yuan on its soft power efforts over the last few years. I am fearful if opinion leaders like Yang stir up the masses and this view becomes more prevalent, most of that investment will be money down the drain when it becomes known outside China.

Nothing is perfect but I have to say that such comments can also throw a huge monkey wrench in Sino-American and China's other bilateral relations.

Extreme comments that frighten Americans, if they become popular, cannot help but detract from the real progress that has been achieved between China and the United States and which needs to be achieved going forward.

A BBC worldwide poll released last week showed that China was more popular than the United States. It also showed that views of China improved the most in Britain by 19%, and in Australia, Canada and Germany, each by 18%. In the US people holding negative views of China fell from 51% to 46% and the number of Americans holding positive views rose from 42 to 46%. Incendiary comments about foreigners will surely not help augment these positive attitudes in the future.

Yang's outbursts have been most educational. They should be carefully studied for the many implications they raise. Perhaps he deserves a back-handed compliment for bringing these issues into the open.

The author is a senior adviser to Tsinghua University and former director and vice-president of ABC Television in New York.