Time for Mr Yang to face some home truths?
I was having dinner earlier this week in one of the northern suburbs of Beijing in the company of a Canadian, an American and a Scot; and not surprisingly, the topic of conversation shifted inevitably to the “clean up foreign trash" remarks made on a micro blog by CCTV presenter Yang Rui.
Mr Yang is one of the hosts of a program called Dialogue, which goes out nightly (with multiple repeats) on CCTV News – the old CCTV9, a station that is part of the Chinese government’s charm offensive to project the country in a good light around the world.
Which makes it all the more surprising given some of the remarks he came up with…
“People who can't find jobs in the US and Europe come to China to grab our money, engage in human trafficking and spread deceitful lies to encourage emigration. Foreign spies seek out Chinese girls to mask their espionage and pretend to be tourists while compiling maps and GPS data for Japan, Korea and the West," he wrote, adding that an Al Jazeera journalist recently expelled from China was a "shrill foreign bitch" and suggesting that "we should make everyone who demonizes China shut up and get out"…. and much more besides.
The post has attracted criticism from many netizens, and his comments have been reported right around the world. If Mr Yang wanted international fame, he has done a good job; but I doubt he ever would have planned it this way.
For someone in the public eye who is one of the “faces” that China uses to seduce the West, you’d think this man would have had a bit more gumption than to launch a personal tirade against foreigners in the way that he has. Quite irrespective of the rights and wrongs of the arguments he puts forward, wouldn’t you think that it might just have passed his mind - if he had stopped to think about it for a moment - that his remarks were incompatible with his high-profile role at CCTV?
I don’t know about CCTV’s policies, but in most of the work contracts I have signed up for, there has invariably been a clause saying something along the lines of “the employee must in no way embarrass the employer in either his professional or personal life.”
So this also begs the question of what has been CCTV’s private reaction to this episode, since, apart from embarrassing the program and the TV station itself, Mr Yang’s comments were also carried on his micro blog feed on the official CCTV website. A CCTV spokeswoman said: "His micro blog is a personal account. It does not represent CCTV; it was a very personal post." Hmmmm…. Wouldn’t you just have loved to be a fly on the wall in the hallowed portals of CCTV the day after this all blew up?
Of course, I am assuming here that perhaps Mr Yang might actually have given the matter some thought before posting his now infamous blog. But judging by his regular performances on Dialogue, I might be giving him a bit more credit than is due. I don’t wish to knock the man when he is down, but I was always taught that a current affairs anchor should be there to coax out of his studio guests their views on a particular topic rather than tell the guest what the right and wrong of the matter actually is.
Mr Yang’s colleague, Tian Wei (they anchor the show in turn), for me gets the balance just right. She acts as “devil’s advocate” – putting forward an opposing point of view to that given by the studio guest to tease out from him the reasoning behind his assertions. Mr Yang, on the other hand, appears much more mindful of putting his guests “in their place” and telling them in no uncertain terms when they have got it wrong!
For me the sad part of this whole unhappy episode is that not only has it undone so much of the good that the Beijing Olympics and years of quiet diplomacy has achieved, but it has also given ammunition to a whole load of people who frankly know little about what they are talking about – though this of course doesn’t stop them adding fuel to the fire.
Comments such as “Western media and Internet forums are full of racist China-bashing comments, based on lies and half-truths, with the object of spreading hatred towards China.” “The reactions to Yang Rui's comments only go to show that Westerners cannot hack it when they get a taste of their own medicine.” “Westerners think that they can bum around in China or in Asia, get money teaching English, and a girlfriend for fun, and then go home when they are done. Westerners better get over it and learn to behave themselves, or be booted out,” can now be found right across the blogosphere …
… as can the other side of the spectrum, such as “As for Yang Rui, he is boring, pompous and a legend in his own mind. And, he most certainly should be fired. If he is CCTV's liaison with expats in this country he is definitely a poor example.” “The person who should really shut up is this idiot." "At the minimum, we now know his true feelings about people who disagree with the party line, as if it wasn't obvious enough through his broadcasts.” “Want to ask, can you speak Chinese? How can someone so incoherent become a TV host...”
Poor Yang Rui. I’m almost beginning to feel sorry for the guy! He too is obviously feeling sorry for himself and has threatened to sue one American resident of Beijing who accused him of being xenophobic. His criticism was a "libel against a sincere and conscientious host who has been devoted to international cultural exchange for 13 years," Mr Yang reportedly told a Chinese newspaper.
Heavens! 13 years? And he still hasn’t learned when to keep his micro blog mouth shut?
But seriously; he does have a point. In fairness there are a lot of foreigners working in China and a large amount of them are very brash, very rude and very arrogant. Not just that, but Mr Yang was stressing the problems of illegal immigrants in China without mentioning the contributions other foreigners have made to the country. In my limited experience of Chinese people, picked up from just a year living in Beijing, the public generally holds a kind and friendly view toward foreigners. I personally couldn’t ask for a warmer reception.
But the fact is that Mr Yang has embarrassed his employer, and I wonder how many foreign experts will be so ready to appear on his show again - certainly in the near future. In England, we have an expression “to take gardening leave”. I think the time has come for Mr Yang to look it up, if he is not familiar with the term, and take a bit of it himself.
[Addendum: The gods above obviously got their own back on me for writing this. After leaving China Daily I joined CCTV as a newsroom editor; and on my very first day when I went to see HR I was told that 'because of my vast broadcasting experience' they had decided instead that I should work on current affairs programmes. I would be reporting directly to Yang Rui! I can tell you that he was as awful a manager as he was a broadcaster and it took me a year to get away from his programme and to work elsewhere in the organisation. Apparently he has now, finally, been retired off. ]