China’s crackdown on foreigners called “xenophobic” by CNN columnist. Yet Japan’s been overtly doing the same to its NJ for generations without similar criticism.


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Hi Blog.  Today’s post is about geopolitics and concomitant media attitudes.  Here we have an American media outlet (CNN) publishing a Old China Hand’s fears about the “specter of xenophobia” in China because of a crackdown on “illegal foreigners”.

Fine, make that case.  I would agree.  It does encourage xenophobia.

But note how what China is doing (and for what has been announced as a temporary amount of time, but nevertheless the precedent has been set) is what Japan’s been doing for years, if not generations, to its foreigners:  Random racial profiling street ID “spot checks”.  Police hotlines to report “suspicious foreigners”.  Preemptive measures during high-profile events to promote “public security”.  Public funds for ferreting out “foreign criminals” through “foreign DNA” testing research (oh, wait, AFAIK that’s just Japan).  The CNN author’s citations back to the Boxer Rebellion and public resentment towards “foreign devils” in Mao’s China may be a tad alarmist (and any historian could match those with Japan’s occasional ee ja nai ka anti-Christian demonstrations and the anti-foreign propaganda during WWII Japan (cf. Dower, War Without Mercy) — and then fear a backslide into bad habits), but the point is this:

Why does China get harshly criticized for this yet Japan once again gets a free pass?  Well, geopolitics, of course.  Japan is a trusted ally, China is an untrustworthy adversary.  CNN, your bias is showing.  But it would be nice if the media could see the parallels sometime and similarly admonish Japan away from its xenophobia.  Given Japan’s ultrasensitivity to foreign media opinion, it might even deter.  Arudou Debito

(PS: Note how China’s official media mouthpiece also treats non-citizens as “guests”.  Why isn’t that made an issue of?  Is the Guestism discourse that dominant and accepted even for our CNN columnist?)


China’s crackdown on foreigners raises specter of xenophobia –
By Jaime A. FlorCruz, CNN
June 3, 2012 — Updated 0506 GMT (1306 HKT), courtesy of MS and AJ

Editor’s note: “Jaime’s China” is a weekly column about Chinese society and politics. Jaime FlorCruz has lived and worked in China since 1971. He studied Chinese history at Peking University (1977-81) and was TIME Magazine’s Beijing correspondent and bureau chief (1982-2000).

Beijing (CNN) — “Does this mean I must now carry my passport everyday?” my wife Ana wondered aloud with a mix of bemusement and exasperation.

She was reacting to news reports that Beijing had started a 100-day campaign to “clean out” expatriates illegally living or working in the Chinese capital.

Until the end of August the Beijing Public Security Bureau has decreed that all resident foreigners are expected to show their passports for “spot checks” of visas and resident permits.

Hinting at stern measures for violators, a campaign poster features an image of a giant fist.

Police have conducted a sweep of communities where expatriates frequently congregate, like the university belt and the Sanlitun district of the city, which boasts an eclectic array of shops, restaurants and bars.

But finding violators may not be easy. There are almost 200,000 foreign residents in Beijing on short-term or long-term visas, according to the Beijing Morning Post, which quotes police sources.

Mood darkens amid crackdown on ‘illegal foreigners’

The campaign has enlisted the help of the Chinese public, who can call a telephone hotline to report “suspicious foreigners.” Violators will be fined, detained or even deported.

However, the crackdown has made the expat community in Beijing uneasy, with many wondering why the authorities have decided to take action now.

China watchers wonder whether this is simply a preemptive measure to ensure security and stability months before the Communist Party hold its once-a-decade leadership transition later this year. A similar sweep was conducted several months before Beijing hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics.

Others see the high profile campaign as yet another hint of the xenophobic tendencies in the “Middle Kingdom.”

Days before the police campaign commenced, shocking videos purportedly showing a British national sexually abusing a Chinese woman went viral on cyberspace. It prompted an avalanche of angry posts on social-networking sites.

Soon after the campaign was announced, Chinese TV anchor Yang Rui poured gasoline onto the fire when he posted scornful comments on his microblog calling for the expulsion of “foreign scum.”

Some observers say China has good reason to go after law-breaking foreigners. “The crackdown makes sense in the light of the large number of illegal migrants that have made it into China, some of whom may have been involved in illegal or violent activities,” said David Zweig, a professor at Hong Kong University’s Department of Science and Technology.

But he said foreigners should be treated fairly and equally, according to law.

Crucially, the crackdown seems to be popular with many ordinary Chinese.

“Of course we should send home those foreigners who have entered illegally, just as we Chinese won’t be allowed in other countries without legal documents,” one Beijing resident told CNN.

“To be a strong nation, you need not just a good economy but also strong diplomatic policies,” said another. “That shows a nation’s self-respect and dignity.”

Another resident was more blunt: “China as a big nation should get tougher. We’ve been too soft for too long.”

As China’s economic and military might grow, the people’s pride and nationalistic feelings rise.

There’s nothing wrong with promoting patriotism, experts say, but they warn against chauvinism. “The Chinese have to be careful about underlying chauvinism which can lead them to behave inappropriately towards foreigners in the country, and in their foreign policy,” said Zweig.

During the last century, China experienced how nationalism led to xenophobia during the Boxer Rebellion in the early 1900s — when groups of peasants banded together to rid the country of foreign influences — and the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), when Mao Zedong attempted to reassert revolutionary values in China by purging what he described as bourgeois influences.

No one wants to experience xenophobia. I have seen how ugly it can be.

Like most foreigners who lived in China in the 1970s, I saw a closed, xenophobic society riddled with ingrained racial stereotypes. Foreigners in Beijing were virtually quarantined.

While we enjoyed special privileges, such as access to special “friendship stores”, train compartments, hospital wards and beach resorts, we were cut off from spontaneous contact with ordinary people. Diplomats and journalists were segregated in gated “foreigners’ compounds”, which we use to call foreign ghettos.

Local residents resented such special treatment. They often targeted foreigners with scorn and disdain. Foreigners were disparagingly referred “waiguo guizi” (foreign devils).

Although infrequent, I do remember an anti-foreign backlash that led to occasional altercations and even rioting.

To be sure, China has changed significantly since Deng Xiaoping launched his market reform and open-door policies in 1978. Over the years it has gradually integrated into the global village through diplomacy, trade, tourism, academic exchanges and the media.

But some expatriates in Beijing still detect anti-foreign tendencies. “I find it difficult to understand why resentment is aimed at foreigners in general rather than at those who break the law or behave badly, regardless of nationality,” said one.

“There is definitely an issue of Chinese having stereotypical views on foreigners, and a very clear us-versus-them attitude,” said another. Neither person wished to be identified.

China scholars believe many Chinese still harbor racist tendencies and lack the open-minded tradition of self-reflection when they feel or express such views. “This lack of self-reflection,” Zweig opined, “allows for anti-foreignism to lurk under the surface.”

That partly explains why, in its long and checkered history, China has capriciously swung from a sentimental love-affair with things foreign to angry rejection — and back again.

Is xenophobia rearing its head again?

“This is not xenophobia,” a recent China Daily editorial stated. “It is people’s desire to live in a civilized society. Our government is under an obligation to make sure citizens live in a law-abiding country. The ongoing action against illegal immigration in no way compromises our hospitality to foreign guests.”

That is the kind of reassurance that expatriates in China badly need.


PRC’s response:

Home / Opinion / Editorials
Foreigners are still welcome
Updated: 2012-05-25 07:54 ( China Daily) Courtesy of MS and CNN

Just as some in the West have wondered why most people here didn’t share their obsession with Chen Guangcheng, some people here have difficulty understanding the latest allegation that we are xenophobic.

Of course we feel wronged. We are anything but.

There are even some who feel that we have been friendlier to foreigners than to our own citizens.

If a few foreigners feel mistreated in China and conclude that we hate foreigners, or a few Chinese people feel that foreigners enjoy preferential treatment, it is only natural in a country with such diversity.

But when foreign media amplify such sentiments out of all proportion it is different, as normal public indignation at some foreign individuals’ misconduct is transformed into a “deep-rooted nationalistic hatred” for foreigners, and a routine crackdown against illegal immigration is castigated for being a crusade against all foreigners.

It is true the distasteful conduct of a couple of foreign nationals toward two Chinese women has provoked angry comments on the Web. And true, a nationwide action launched before the incident is still underway to clamp down on people who have entered the country illegally. But such occurrences are not unique to this country.

What is not true is the expat community in China is living in fear, as some overseas reports seem to suggest.

You would think that for those to whom the words “freedom of speech” come so readily to their lips would be tolerant of others’ words, even if those words seem less than friendly to their ears. But instead it seems such utterances are enough to incriminate the entire nation.

It is natural to criticize anyone who ignores basic social decencies and to prosecute someone who breaks the law.

And those countries accusing China of xenophobia for tackling illegal immigration should cast the beams out of their own eyes first as their immigration policies are a great deal harsher and stricter than ours.

Foreign nationals in China have nothing to fear as long as they have valid visas and do not break the law. Instead of receiving hostility or a cold shoulder as their home media try to suggest, they will continue to be treated as welcome guests.

China is not xenophobic, nor will it be because it aspires for more exchanges with others. Perhaps the overseas media’s portrayals of China’s hatred are really just a manifestation of their own xenophobia.

(China Daily 05/25/2012 page8)

12 comments on “China’s crackdown on foreigners called “xenophobic” by CNN columnist. Yet Japan’s been overtly doing the same to its NJ for generations without similar criticism.

  • untrustworthy_adversary says:

    Debito, you are pretty much spot on with [..] geopolitics, of course. Japan is a trusted ally, China is an untrustworthy adversary.”

    In fact I was discussing the media’s focus on China’s human-rights violations and their (planned) ignorance of the same problems when it comes to Japan. Right now Japan is mainly featured when there is a new Fukushima story or when talking about the countries financial and demographic woes. Nothing about human-rights issues :/

  • The example of China is quite different than China.

    First, China is unquestionably a dictatorship and without any meaningful levels of democracy at all.

    Japan of course is not a dictatorship, although it is far from a modern liberal democracy.

    Second, China does unquestionably have xenophobia, but it does not have the racial myth that Japan does in its Yamato people.

    China unquestionably has ethnic minorities, and in great numbers, who are unquestionably viewed as citizens of the nation.

    They are second-class citizens, but their citizenship is not questioned.

    A visit to Dandong, for example will show large numbers of ethnic Koreans, and they are not viewed as foreigners who should be expelled. And in Hainan, I have met many Miao people who clearly are treated as an integral part of that province.

    Similarly, in Xinjiang,I personally met with Tajik Chinese who are blonde haired and were clearly Chinese citizens and whose ancestors had resided there for millenia.

    A photo of one is:

    This is not to say that xenophobia is not common in China — it is.

    But the definition of what is Chinese is far more complex than the definition of what is Japanese — given Japanese myths about their relationship to Amaterasu and Jimmu and Yamato.

    And, the use of race is far less common in China than it is in Japan or Korea as a means to identify who is Chinese.

    Third — because China is overtly a dictatorship, the question arises as to how and at what level xenophobia would exist were the Chinese government not to use xenophobia as a tool to legitimate itself, as enthusiasm for Communism wanes.

    In Japan, xenophobia is more unquestionably a sincerely held belief of its adherents, rather than a belief that is imposed by the government and must be supported for one to obtain governmental benefits.

    Finally, China, in my experience, is far more welcoming of outsiders who permanently settle in their country than Japan.

    As this report:

    says “Alone among Asian countries, China has allowed refugees to settle down and integrate into society, even though it was still a poor country when they arrived.”

    It is damning that a MUCH wealthier Japan cannot accept large numbers of refugees.

  • exactly debito japan has been doing all these things for years and they are still doing them and the UN has also documented these things but it seems like nothing will change over here.

  • The issue in China, which I think is somewhat unique, is that most work opportunities (at least the ones that I encounter) are technically illegal. They make sure that the foreign labor economy is largely underground…and then they say they’re only ‘enforcing the law.’ It’s true, but one wonders what motives they have for doing this. It’s problem with Chinese people as well as foreigners: the economy would be very diminished if it were not for these grey markets.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    I went to China a couple of years ago to conduct research. My (admittedly) superficial impression was that the large economic disparities play a large part of the problem (which I feel the C-gov likes to cash in on from time-to-time). For example, Chinese friends would tell me that I was a ‘good foreigner’ (sound familiar?), but that the country was over-run with opportunists who were taking advantage of Chinese people, and Chinese girls specifically, with flashy shows of money. I think this is just a symptom of China’s opening, and economic growing pains maybe.
    As a side note, I wore my (made in Japan) AVG ‘Flying Tigers’ flight jacket, and people loved it, and often bought me drinks. Perceptions are fickle things, are they not?

  • I too saw the CNN special about chinas xenophobia, and found it to be quite tame compared to what I and others have endured here in Japan. I often see Kim or whatever her name is, the Japan rep for CNN reporting about touchy feely subjects about Japan, not what really goes on here. China has been taking a beating in the media recently, I find that odd, while Japan always gets away with anything. I have many chinese friend, but I am unable to get close to any Japanese, due to my gaijiness.

  • Baudrillard says:

    Max Weber would say there is no real difference between a post facist “democracy” and a post “communist” capitalist dictatorship, they (China and Japan) are more similar than they care to admit, and both very rationalized societies. Arguably though, China is so vast it is just impossible to regulate everyone. I have seen quite a few anarchic tendencies in Shanghai I have never seen in Japan such as 1. everyone crossing the street when the lights are red and 2. a passenger giving lip to a station official (and he was not even drunk)-questioning the rules of the station.

    So I tend to prefer certain parts of China, apart from the squeaky clean (on the surface)obssession with almost sterile levels of clean streets in Tokyo/post quake reconstruction. On the micro level, just the (chinese) people are more spontaneous, more genuine, easier to make friends. In Japan I am the one always forcing a conversation or trying to meet people, and it gets tiring. As Mike says above. Another blogger said “striking up a conversation with a Japanese was like approaching a scared rabbit.” I am not saying it is just Tokyo, it is probably any number of westernized cities, so again as Weber said, this is the result of rationalization- a life that holds no surprises, such as you speaking to a gaijin-wow what a surprise.

    I feel that in Japan rationalization and the loss of meaning of signs and symbols have created an identity crisis in post war Japan and the Japanese. As a result they have a problem communicating or making lasting relationships, other than ones based on functions,be it needing a tennis partner or whatever, as we have discussed before on other threads.

    Now I am sure some apologists are reading this and thinking 1. Baudrillard hates Japan and 2.They have many Japanese friends, they are just the same as western people, you are the one with the problem blah blah.

    Actually anyone who thinks that is naive or a tourist; Japan is not in the west or of the west. It has merely adopted western symbols which have no deep roots or meaingful connections with Japanese traditions which are deeply buried, but not easy for people to connect to. Some Japanese buy into these western buzzwords or symbols but when they try to live a western style life e.g. the young employees trying new ideas, they are soon rebuked by their bosses and elders who bring them back down to earth of the reality of doing things in the kaisha.

    People in the west have only recently started to wonder if they do in fact live in a “free” world. During the cold war it was easy, the lesser of two evils. Now things are not so black and white. Sure, China has a nasty dictatorship but Britain has more camera surveillance than Russia or China. And as Guy Debord said, western people especially are dazzled or mesmerized by the media, TV etc which prevents them from realizing that this is all only temporary and can be overthrown by revolution.

    Sure, China has a 99% conviction rate under it’s prosecution heavy legal system…ah, oh errr no that is JAPAN. See what I mean?

  • Seeing as this entry is comparing Japan and China and coverage in the media, I feel compelled to comment.

    The comments made by Debito and others above are quite right: Geopolitics of China being a scary “Commie” country versus Japan as a nice member of “the Club” plays a massive part in how the media reports on China. China does one thing that the US or Japan have been doing for decades, and Western media cries foul.

    The other thing to consider is that China has only been open properly to foreigners staying, living and working for 10-15 years. Yeah, China has allowed foreigners back since 1976-7, but they were only the odd reporter or student. Since then in the 1980s-90s it was mostly students staying for a year of Mandarin study or the odd business man staying to visit a factory.

    Due to this, China’s visa regs are still geared to those people. Now, all the people who are coming to teach English or work freelance or do internships in Chinese companies occupy a visa grey area. They are all mostly on “F” (visiting business) visas, the kind designed for the business man here to inspect a factory. There is a huge black market of a few companies that use their connections with the police to charge 10x the normal price for a 6-month visa – and people have to pay it or leave…there are no legal ways to obtain a visa if you work in a private English school or a small Chinese company, neither or which can ‘legally’ employ foreigners.

    Which brings me on to the law: Incidents like this one where one or two idiot foreigners are accused and supposedly caught in the act of committing an offense set the authorities in a frenzy and they start enforcing all the laws that everyone ignored before in exchange for backhanders. For the next 100 days, if you’re a foreigner in Beijing and don’t have a legit way to renew your visa…tough…but only for the next 100 days.

    These things never last – unlike, perhaps, in Japan. The Chinese make a fuss because the “pride of China was hurt” and then it dies down, until the next time.

    The other MAJOR difference with Japan is that foreigners in China have a much easier time dealing with official harassment than the locals do. Reading Debito I notice how he often compares such-and-such unfair treatment of gaijin, when all the time Japanese people would rebel if the police ever demanded the same of them. In China, it’s the exact opposite. I am certainly not saying us foreigners in China deserve such treatment – I am saying the Chinese, unfortunately, get it much worse. If I may close by linking to this spoof article about the xenophobic campaigns which makes this same point about how now foreigners can feel “just like a real Chinese person” – on the receiving end of police bullying.

  • Devin Lenda says:

    Apart from the China/Japan comp angle and so a bit off topic, I found the last bit amusing:

    “’This is not xenophobia,’ a recent China Daily editorial stated. ‘It is people’s desire to live in a civilized society. Our government is under an obligation to make sure citizens live in a law-abiding country. The ongoing action against illegal immigration in no way compromises our hospitality to foreign guests.’

    That is the kind of reassurance that expatriates in China badly need.”

    So what expats need is empty assurances that the actions clearly aimed against them as established in the same article are not actually aimed against them. I’d think what expats need is the absence of actions aimed against them. So even though China gets less friendly treatment than Japan for the reasons outlined by Debito, the western journalist doesn’t meaningfully challenge authority or even understand how political power works (every political act from purges to invasions to gulags is accompanied by good-intent justifications). It’s just a casual hit piece aimed at an enemy state.

  • Baudrillard says:

    Charazu, you said Japan of course is not a dictatorship, although it is far from a modern liberal democracy.

    I wonder about this.

    Consider your life in Japan and in China. You are a foreigner, you have few rights, you are here as a “guest” and anyone can shop you in to a “suspicious foreigner” website or to immigration. Immigration officials may come a calling or may even force open your flimsy door.

    Disapraging comments about the ruling party may not go down well in company or conservative circles, though private jokes are allowed. Some people are keen to talk to you, others not at all. If you have an argument or disagreement with a local, the police may tend to believe the local.

    You start to feel a bit paranoid, that you might someday be the fall guy for some scam or be accused of something you have not done. The conviction rate is 99% and prison conditions are notoriously bad. Some foreigners have died in police custody.

    Which country am I talking about, China or Japan? the answer is both, though the last sentence was about Japan (as I am not aware of figures for this in China).

    Now lets look at the SYMBOLS that these 2 similar Asian powerhouses use. Japan- their traditional stuff plus American stuff.They hold elections but the same old guys get in. Politicians makes gauffes like “the people may mistakenly think they have power” China- their traditional stuff plus communist stuff. They hold elections but the same old guys get in. Their politicians make speeches about how they are a “people”s democracy”.

    Pretty much the same difference for the average foreigner, I would think!

    Japan looks nicer, maybe.

    I welcome comments to the contrary. The only thing I can think China is worse at is 1. persecution of human rights activists on a larger scale, but foreign critics just get kicked out.

    Ah, but what about that guy who made “the Cove”?

    Same difference, quite arguably.

  • Baudrillard (#10),

    “Ah, but what about that guy who made “the Cove”?”

    And what about that Chinese guy, Li Ying, who made the Yasukuni documentary in 2007? Despite the box office success, he has been sued and also denied any other work opportunities in Japan, it seems (Check here: ).

  • Baudrillard says:

    @ Dk, indeed. Japan’s imposed free speech is threatened or hindered by its right wing, post fascist crowd, with sympathizers at every level of society, including high up.

    China’s dictatorship is threatened by moves towards democracy at the grass roots, with sympathizers at every level in society, including high up.

    Which is progressive, which is reactionary?

    But for Joe Foreigner, both countries are arguably a similar experience, except you might get more sweetheart treatment in China as they are not so jaded about the “novelty’ of foreigners as Japan, though this last point is purely my opinion and arguable.


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