Weekend Tangent: China Daily publishes snotty anti-laowai article


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Hi Blog.  Turning over the keyboard to Debito.org Reader R for commentary about some pretty nasty (and repetitive:  how many ways can we say “you don’t get it”, and “you don’t belong here” in a single essay?) anti-foreigner media published in a major English-language daily in China for a comparison.  And I thought 2-Channel was bad.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo


Subject: “gaijin” discrimination in China
Date: January 18, 2010

Dear Debito, I am a regular reader of your blog, even though I do not usually participate or leave comments.

I am quite interested in your work about discrimination in Japan (where I currently live) ; I also keep an eye on what happens in China (I was living there before).

I found this article in China Daily online the other day (http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/life/2010-01/12/content_9304769.htm).

When I was reading it I was thinking 2 things :

– there is discrimination in Japan, but hopefully it won’t get as obvious as the tone of this article. Can you imagine this kind of article about “Gaijin” in Japan (FYI, Laowai means Gaijin in China) published in a serious english newspaper, like Japan Times for example ?

[Ed: Yes I can. I’m thinking something like Amy Chavez and Japan Lite. Although in the case I will cite I think if it more as failed sarcasm than borderline hatred. Both are snotty and asinine, however.]

– this article reminded me of your work. unfortunately we have nobody like you in China to prevent that kind of article from being published 🙁 Because the truth is I was very shocked by the tone if this article and how it pictures white people living in China.

Well, I know it doesn’t talk about Japan at all, but I thought you could be interested by what happens in our neighbour country… Best regards, R


Dear laowai, don’t mess with our Chinese-ness
By Huang Hung (China Daily) 2010-01-12


Now, listen up, you foreigner boys and girls, Chinese New Year is around the corner and I want to talk to you seriously about fireworks.

I saw this picture in a newspaper, where a smiling, cordial Chinese girl (rather pretty as well) was explaining the tradition of lighting fireworks to a group of foreign guys. They all looked very happy.

I will let you know that is false information. Fireworks are no small matter, and no laughing matter either. So wipe that smirk off your face and listen up.

As a Chinese, I want to be honest with you. For the past 30 years, we have opened up to the West, and welcomed foreigners like yourselves to come here to do business, to make money, even gave you some easy credit to let you buy real estate, marry our women, whatever. But this does not make you Chinese. There are things we reserve for ourselves, and it really doesn’t matter how long you have been here, just don’t assume you can be one of us, and don’t touch the following three things:




Most of you are well trained enough to withhold your chopsticks, whichever way you are holding them, and stay away from the chicken feet at Chinese dim sum restaurants. But some of you are show-offs. Most of the time, you are trying to prove to your Chinese girlfriend’s parents that you are so Chinese. “Look, I am eating chicken feet. Mmm … Good!”

Don’t do that. We really get annoyed when foreigners try to chomp on chicken feet. Sometimes, you are so polite, you don’t spit out the bones, you chew them and try to swallow them. That’s totally unacceptable. Because, when you do that, most Chinese start getting anxious about you choking to death on the damn chicken bones. And it is very difficult to enjoy dim sum when you are anxious.

Sea cucumbers are not for you either. Most of you are rather intimidated by slimy sea things – jelly fish, sea cucumbers. But, there are those of you who are so brave that you insist on trying it, and pretend to enjoy it. Most of the time, you are a foreign businessman, you don’t want to offend your Chinese host by not eating the most expensive dish ordered.

I’ve got some news for you. Guess what? He didn’t order it for you! He ordered it for the Chinese at the table! Do you know how difficult it is to soak the sea cucumber so it acquires the right slimy texture? No one can master it in his own kitchen. Only the restaurants can. So stop trying to pick up the sea cucumber with your chopsticks, it will probably end up in your lap anyway. Just politely put the untouched dish back on the lazy susan. We are not impressed by sea cucumber chivalry.

Now fireworks. It is strictly, strictly for us Chinese. We really don’t want you anywhere near fireworks. First of all, it is dangerous. You don’t understand why 1.4 billion people have to turn into pyromaniacs for one night. It’s totally beyond your comprehension. But we love it; we have been setting off these things since we were three and for 5,000 years. So let me just say that fireworks are not for barbarians like you. You don’t get it. On the other hand, we Chinese have great tolerance for fireworks; it’s one night when you can do some damage and get away with it. For example, you can burn a building down, a brand new building, with stuff in it. How can you comprehend that level of generosity?

And, don’t you dare try to do the same, we simply have no tolerance for it. You try to burn a building down, we will kill you, because, you were probably high, and we really don’t give a hoot whether you are mentally disturbed or whether your prime minister is going to make endless harassing phone calls.

So, you better be good, you better be nice, because firecrackers are coming to town!

(Huang Hung is an opinionator on arts, lifestyle and showbiz.)

[Ed:  And [comes off as] a nationalistic asshole.]


20 comments on “Weekend Tangent: China Daily publishes snotty anti-laowai article

  • This sounds like how we joke around with our Chinese friends from back home. I laughed. It seems like this is obnoxious satire rather than a get out of our country you non-Chinese! rant.

  • Are you sure the author isn’t actually criticizing racism in China. That’s the way it reads to me.

    — I don’t see it. I think the article lacks a “wink to the audience” somewhere.

  • Incredible! It would be extremely laughable if it weren’t actually so tragic. This sounds like written dozens of years ago. Since Huang Hung mentions “our women,” it’s obvious what kind of [stripe] he is.

    Re his list of the “forbidden trio,” by the same token, the author should conclude that no Chinese should use a fork, wear jeans, nor eat any pizza, borscht or, say, sushi for that matter.

    I wonder if he would agree with that and if he would think his country/people should limit the number of people who emigrate or perhaps naturalize in other countries, “trying” to “become American, British, German…” That’s the same question I’d love to ask anyone who is afraid that there are too many foreigners in his/her country actually.

    — Read more carefully please. The author is a she.

  • Huang Hung, I’m sure you have and know a good place to stick the chickens feet, sea cucumbers and fireworks. Let me know if you need some help. Another reason on my list why not to visit China.

  • There are nationalistic people like this in every country on the planet. They will never go away. Living in a country where you are the minority, where you are viewed as an outsider is challenging. I find it funny though. Many nationalists complain about how foreigners or outsiders come to their country. However, they ignore the fact that many of the everyday gadgets etc that they use are not from their country, but from another country. If foreigners are such a bane on society, then stop using your ipod, stop eating Mc Donalds, don’t use a fork anymore, no more coca-cola, and no more movies unless they were made in your country. If it wasn’t invented in your country, you can’t use it anymore. The world is a big place, each country has been influenced and continues to be influenced by other countries. Countries are now much more dependent upon each other for survival. The nationalist will find it difficult to make a living if they were to give up all the wonderful things that came from countries other than their own one.

  • Well, I understand that some would find this laughable. However, for the many foreign (looking) people living in China, and trying their best to integrate there, I find this article insulting, and even depressing.
    Those interested in this topic can have a look directly at this article at its source. You would see the comments and how many people were truely affected by this article. Satire should make people laugh, but this article made people feel deeply BAD ; probably because it sounds that any effort made for integrating is just worthless.

  • Doug in Kamakura says:

    It also seems to me that it was meant to be humorous. It’s not particularly funny (maybe I could appreciate it better if I had ever lived in China), but it doesn’t seem to be anti-foreigner. You could easily substitute natto and helping shoulder a festival mikoshi; or moonshine and shootin’ for squirrel; or haggis and wearing a kilt, I suppose; depending on the country/area of the newspaper. It’s that kind of column.


    OK, a quick search on ChinaDaily found a column in which a different writer wonders how so many people seem to have not seen Hung’s attempt at humor:

    It doesn’t appear that she is a “nationalistic asshole.”


    Life> Kaleidoscope
    Just in jest
    By Raymond Zhou (China Daily)
    Updated: 2010-01-15

    A humorous column in the paper this week has caused ructions, begging the question: Why do foreigners always take us so seriously?

    When a Chinese person uses comic irony, others tend to be confused. But sometimes, it is the best option to get a point across.

    An American friend of mine once had a vigorous argument with me over what was important to learn in the United States. My feeling was that appreciating fast food was an entre to American culture.

    “It’s really stupid of you to gorge yourself on so much fast food,” he said.

    “But it’s important for me. If I cannot distinguish between a KFC burger and a McDonald’s burger, my credibility as an American-trained Chinese will suffer. Nobody back home will believe I spent so much money and effort in the birthplace of fast food,” I defended myself.

    “But this is junk food. It’ll kill you,” he warned.

    “Where I come from, the Golden Arches are the symbol of the best American cuisine,” I said.

    “But that’s wrong. You should try something else.”

    “Other burgers?”

    “There is more to American cuisine than burgers.”

    “Like what? French fries? I thought they were from France.”

    My friend is a serious guy, not the typical American with a strong sense of humor. Had he adopted a different approach, say comic irony, I would have had an easier time accepting his point.
    For example, he could have extolled the virtues of US fast food thus: “There’s no point trying our burger, you’ll never get our culture. You think it’s just a burger, but it’s the quintessence of American gastronomy – munchable Americana, so to speak.”

    My curiosity would have been piqued.

    “I see, I really have to savor this burger and appreciate its American-ness next time,” I might have told myself. Then, it would occur to me he was being sarcastic, and this would make my burger-odyssey appear foolish. I might wake up and broaden the scope of my culinary adventure.

    Now, if you place the above two approaches in a Chinese environment and substitute “burger” with “chicken feet” and “sea cucumber”, you should get the scenario in Tuesday’s “China Chic” column (Jan 12, page 18).

    Huang Hung’s article, Dear laowai, don’t mess with our Chinese-ness has been getting a lot of negative comments. These people angrily asked: “How can a mainstream newspaper like China Daily use such words as ‘barbarians’ to refer to citizens of a foreign country?”

    Well, it was tongue-in-cheek and said for comic effect.

    I’m not speaking for Ms Hung. But from what I know, no way could this thoroughly US-educated woman (from the age of 12) be a xenophobe. If anything, she is a darling of the Western press in Beijing, acting as a conduit between Chinese phenomena and Western interpretation.

    Comic irony is a tool rarely employed by Chinese writers – less by Chinese writers who write in English. We Chinese have this image of being hard working, but no fun to be with. Our press used to translate Onion pieces as straight news. We don’t have a TV talk show like Jon Stewart’s – and we probably never will, as things stand. Our movie comedies bomb in Hong Kong and have no chance of crossing the Pacific. When Zhang Yimou made his folksy farce, A Simple Noodle Story, even our own literati sneered at him.

    When a Chinese person tells a joke, it can be really confusing. A few years ago, Time magazine selected “You” as Person of the Year and included blogger Wang Xiaofeng as the only Chinese person in its honors list. For that type of recognition, a typical Chinese response would run like this: “I’m really honored to be chosen by such a prestigious publication. I’m just one of millions of bloggers in China. This honor belongs to all of them. I’ll work harder to make China’s blogosphere a wonderful platform for world peace and harmony.”

    But instead of such clichs, false modesty and nonsense, Wang wrote a vivid “account” of how he chanced upon Time’s editor-in-chief and bribed him into giving him the honor. It was so hilarious and un-Chinese I decided to translate it into English for our Hotpot column. I dithered for hours as to whether I should put an explanatory note at the end to the effect this was fictional and meant to be self-deprecating. With the note, I’d spoil the fun; without it, at least half the readers, I figured, would take it wrong. In the end, I opted for no note. (Our editors had the same hesitation for Hung’s controversial column.)

    I heard the Time editors in Beijing were really upset. Had they studied Wang’s blog, they should have known he throws barbs at everything and everyone, which is what makes his writing so outstanding.

    Sometimes we use sarcasm out of necessity. We don’t say “You’re bad” to mean “You’re good” – or vice versa – just to be cool, but to circumvent certain constraints. At one time, Chinese intellectuals were so adept at this game that the ensuing riddles were a hundred times more complicated than the Da Vinci code. You had to read between the lines to detect the author’s true intention. The only rules were unspoken rules. I see a lot of that in Chinese movies nowadays, where the messages are so layered you can get multiple interpretations – some contradictory.

    I wonder why few people deliberately misunderstand an American comedian. If every joke or parody on Saturday Night Live was accompanied by a disclaimer, it would be unthinkable. The reason could partly be the context. Because Chinese are not known for humor and satire, our double entendres must be taken at face value. Because China Daily is a “serious” newspaper or “poker-faced mouthpiece”, a humorous piece in the Life section is tantamount to an editorial. Because Chinese writers shift tones from piece to piece, you cannot tell when they are being serious or when they are being ironical.

    In a sense, it is just like making a food choice. As satire is considered more an American than a Chinese art form, does it make me less Chinese if I embrace it? Does it turn me into a pale imitator, or shanzhai version, as we term it in Chinese?

    I once wrote a defense of Zhang Ziyi dating non-Chinese men. If I had adopted the usual commentary style, it would have boiled down to just one sentence: She has a right to date whomsoever she wants.

    But my message would have been lost in cyberspace. So, instead of espousing the obvious, I adopted comic irony. I argued Zhang should marry only a Chinese man because she could help solve one 20 millionth of the country’s gender imbalance. Fearing my sarcasm was not obvious enough, I ended up saying Zhang should not marry anyone, but put herself on a pedestal and declare herself a chaste goddess.

    I got quite a few responses from expats accusing me of racism.

    But how else could I expose the absurdity of the original arguments from China’s “angry youth” netizens (which were indeed tinged with racism) if I did not push it one step further? We live in a cauldron of black humor. For those who believe it is still the age of innocence, all I can say is, sorry folks, I don’t want to burst your bubble, but it’s a jungle out there and I’m using a double-edge sword.

    — So let’s see: We have a column which uses humor as its defense (when writing humorously is risky because it MIGHT NOT BE FUNNY!), and then it’s the readers’ fault (moreover the “expats”; again, not fellow residents of China) for not getting it? Because it’s “Chinese humor” now? Sorry, but that’s essentially the same “us-and-them” thread being promoted all over again, and I don’t buy it. Cos it wasn’t funny. Or winking to the audience.

  • “You try to burn a building down, we will kill you, because, you were probably high, and we really don’t give a hoot whether you are mentally disturbed or whether your prime minister is going to make endless harassing phone calls.”

    Isn’t that the wink? It’s too extreme to be serious.

    — The wink was a little too slight for me, sorry.

  • FWIW Debito, I do believe this is the same web periodical that you praised before for the way it bluntly critcized racism in the Lou Jing affair.

    Huang Hung has made her name on this kind of humor, which is almost all poorly-written attempts at humor that don’t come off very well. I don’t even pay attention to her stuff anymore. It was an attempt at humor, but it fell flat on its ass.

    — A periodical is composed of individual writers. When one steps off base, he or she will be criticized. When one writes well, praise shall ensue. Surely you can work that puzzle out for yourself.

  • This article is definitely tongue in cheek. Huang Hung is a very well known and very progressive media figure in China. Speaks impeccable English, has traveled widely, and has worked closely with many foreigners in China, including the founder of the very popular laowai-run danwei.org. Sea cucumber and chicken feet are disgusting to most non-Chinese and if you’ve ever been to China during Lunar New Year, you’d know that they are nearly homicidal with fireworks. I can see how people who never lived in China would take this article the wrong way, but I can also imagine myself writing something similar extolling the virtues of country music, rodeo, and ice-fishing (traditions of my home town that are generally looked down upon by outsiders).

    — Duly noted, thanks. But, again, using humor towards ethnicities to poke fun at oneself is a very dangerous game. Write it well. Or incur the wrath of those being targeted until you do. She will hopefully learn something from this and do better next time.

  • I couldn’t really take the article seriously – it just seemed to be a hamfisted attempt at being humourously ironic. While advocating for more progressive rights for minorities is important, it’s also important to focus your efforts and pick your battles; newspaper columnists are generally pretty pathetic creatures who have to continuously developed easily-digested yet outrageous points of view to drive readership to their work and preserve their jobs.

    Perhaps the writer’s attitude represents how Chinese folks view NC residents of China, but in the short term there’s nothing much to be done about it except continue on, eating sea cucumber and chicken’s feet and enjoying life.

  • If the favorable interpretation is to be believed, this article was written for the foreigner-in-China audience as a means to lambaste nationalist sentiment. A letter to the outsiders, from one who straddles the gap between the worlds. Having never seen the situation on the ground in China, I (and, I assume, some other readers here) am doubly an outsider, and as a result I can’t so easily distinguish between racism and its parody. Obviously, this is a trouble when things get outside their local context (the NC scene) and are open to all varieties of interpretation by the Internet at large.

    It reminds me somewhat of the American comedian Carlos Mencia: jokes about racist stereotypes making fun of both sides, both the dominant group for believing them and the minority group for somewhat fulfilling them. I don’t particularly care for much of it, and I don’t think it’s usually very productive at improving the status of minorities. The jokes get old fast, and we foreigners can do better than fall into caricatures of ourselves.

    Still, I have to give some credit: it’s better-written than anything I’ve seen from Amy Chavez.

  • I think Chinese people doesn’t have a sense for sarcasm, or even humour. Quit trying to act like US foreigners, we laugh when you do. You Chinese will never be one of us.

    …I, uhm, can write that because it’s only a joke.
    Really. A joke. Come on, stop being so boring and enjoy it in your major newspaper.


    Banyan Column
    The Chinese are coming
    Mar 4th 2010
    From The Economist print edition

    To a sitting room, mobile telephone or supermarket screen near you soon

    ON MARCH 1st China Daily got its biggest makeover since the newspaper was launched in 1981 as China’s first English-language daily. As well as a new look, the paper is boosting the number of its foreign correspondents. With a new investigative-reporting feature, China Daily said that it was aiming to “set the news agenda instead of just follow it”.

    So far, this agenda seems unlikely to set foreign pulses racing. Next to this bold new feature China Daily splashed an “exclusive” interview with the foreign minister, Yang Jiechi, under the headline “FM: China is doing all it can in foreign affairs”. Still, the makeover marks a departure for the vapid broadsheet. And China Daily is only the latest Chinese media organ to revamp itself in what President Hu Jintao calls an “increasingly fierce struggle in the domain of news and opinion”.

    On a visit in 2008 to the People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s mouthpiece, Mr Hu lamented the “West’s strength and our weakness” in the global exchange of ideas. To stress the message that China intends to redress the balance, he presided in Beijing last October over China’s first “world media summit”. China’s party-controlled press shared the stage with global media giants such as Reuters, the BBC and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.

    Change is coming thick and fast. Since last April a racy new English-language tabloid, Global Times, has given China Daily a run for its money. China’s state television network, CCTV, has a three-year plan to increase the number of foreign news bureaus, from 19 to 56. CCTV launched Arabic and Russian channels last year, building on existing English, French and Spanish services, with Portuguese to follow. The English channel, CCTV-9, is already widely available in the United States. Now Xinhua, the party’s wire agency, is moving into television, with short programmes screened outside embassies, in supermarkets and on 3G phones. In all, the government is reported to have committed 45 billion yuan ($6.6 billion) to global expansion. Both CCTV and Xinhua aspire to 24-hour English-language news services.

    If it sharpens the media’s reporting instincts, this is all to the good. At the time of the Asian tsunami in 2004, China had many more reporters in South-East Asia than did the American networks and the BBC. But Western television made all the running, and even Chinese broadcasters had to rely on it.

    At home, competition is already encouraging higher standards. Since the 1990s the government has slashed subsidies to all but the clutch of media organisations that report directly to the party’s propaganda department. In a bid for readers and advertising revenues, other outlets now flirt with racier, more inquisitive reporting. Global Times, though controlled by the People’s Daily, is a remarkable innovation. The Chinese-language version has long been popular among hotheaded nationalists. But the English edition strays into realms once thought taboo.

    On March 1st it put a scandal concerning an underage Chinese Olympic bronze-medallist on its front page, a story shunned by China Daily. Last year it was the only paper to report on the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests and their suppression in 1989. Recent articles include an investigation of internet censorship. A full-page spread reported on “happy endings” offered by male masseurs to women in Beijing massage parlours (headline: “A little of what you knead”). Yet even here, limits are implied. The clientele were not China’s demure womanhood, but frustrated, sexually voracious expatriates. More seriously, the press does sometimes expose and criticise official wrongdoing—one this week, for example, editorialised against the police’s use of torture. And, in a highly unusual campaign on March 1st, a dozen publications ran identical editorials calling for modest reform to the household-registration system that discriminates against rural Chinese. But here again there are limits. Within hours, the editorials had vanished from most of the papers’ websites.

    As for China’s media offensive abroad, the limits will also become clear. At bottom, Mr Hu’s frustration is with his country’s deficit of soft power abroad. For all China’s might, as David Bandurski of the China Media Project at the University of Hong Kong puts it, the world seems impervious to its charm. To the country’s leaders, an epiphany came with the Tibetan upheaval in 2008 and subsequent protests abroad against parades of the Chinese Olympic torch. China’s soft-power aspirations, they concluded, were frustrated by an anti-China bias whipped up by a dominant Western press. The leaders also believe that a better reputation abroad would boost their popularity at home.

    The medium and the massage

    “Monopoly is the enemy of freedom,” railed a party journal, Qiushi, in August. This was no call for press freedoms at home, but rather indignation at China’s not having a place among the world’s supposed media monopolists. It underscores the fallacy in China’s media push: that controlling the communications channels abroad is enough to win friends and influence people.

    At home, journalists in service to the Communist Party are taught mind-numbing courses in “the Marxist view of journalism”. The mission is to embed propaganda messages in supposedly objective reports. In the marketing of dictatorship, consent is manufactured and controversy snuffed out. Mr Hu promotes “harmony” as a singularly Chinese virtue by stifling the media. In Chinese journalism, an emphasis on party leaders’ activities trumps reporting unwelcome facts, which can be suppressed. An example is the large number of children killed by shoddy school buildings in the Sichuan earthquake of 2008. Journalism is also venal, shaped by payments from officials and businessmen. It leads to a stilted public debate at home and, no matter how snazzy the packaging, will mean poor journalism abroad.

  • I think it’s obvious that the article isn’t written entirely seriously but I also this it’s just poorly written in general. Why try to analyze a piece of writing that was probably slapped together in 20 minutes?

    — Because it was published in a flagship international newspaper. Duh.

  • When I was a white girl growing up in the American South, I know that I said several times (to other white people, fortunately) that I didn’t understand why African-Americans got sooooo offended at things like word choice, if it was obvious that nothing mean was meant by it. Now that the shoe’s on the other foot, I can say without a sliver of doubt: the line between humorous and offensive comes down to one thing, whether or not the people being talked ABOUT are offended by it. I can understand that some people have never been there, and can’t know how it feels. But if you know that someone has been offended by something you did and said… especially LOTS of someones, I think you have a duty as a decent human being to apologize, and try your best to change in the future.

    I read this and re-read this and it doesn’t seem humorous to me. If it’s “Chinese humor” that only native Chinese would “get,” by all means pass it around at a party to which only Chinese have been invited. But it’s not funny to the international audience about which it was written…. seems like it crosses the line to me.

    — Then there’s the phenomenon one sees every now and again when the shoe’s on the other foot for people here and there. “Hey, I was discriminated against in America. So it’s only fair that Americans/Caucasians etc. get discriminated against over here.” (Call it the “Karma’s a Bitch” excuse.) It’s one way for bullying to enter a new generational revival, as the bullied become bullies themselves. It should lead instead to “I didn’t like it being done to me, so I won’t do it to others”, but some people can be vindictive SOBs, can’t they?

    That said, I doubt the author’s intent here was to bully. I just think she shouldn’t give up the day job and become a comedian, or an ironic columnist (wait, that is her day job…!)

  • The wink alludes to this “we Chinese have great tolerance for fireworks; it’s one night when you can do some damage and get away with it. For example, you can burn a building down, a brand new building, with stuff in it. How can you comprehend that level of generosity? “ http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/02/09/cctv-building-on-fire-ico_n_165186.html

    And as Smithson and Doug noted it is self-depreciating humor but it may be lost if you don’t get the references. The use of ‘Laowai’ included. And as Alan noted the reference to being high is the equivalent of ‘I got it from a foreigner in Roppongi’, the ‘harassing phone calls’ from a Laowai Prime Minister which will fall on the deaf ears of the CPC… it’s all actually quite subtle but rather amusing IMO.

    — A little too subtle for its own good, IMO. I think a good disclaimer before or after would have helped loads.


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