A Few Thoughts on Yang Rui


Posted on May 22nd, by matt_schiavenza in Uncategorized. 7 comments

On May 16th, the Chinese television personality Yang Rui wrote the following message on his Weibo account (links via Charlie Custer):

The Ministry of Public Security is getting rid of foreign trash right now, arresting foreign scum and protecting innocent Chinese girls from them; but in order to do that, we need to focus on Sanlitun and Wudaokou, and target those who frequent the areas and its event organizers. Foreigners who can’t find a job in their home country come to China and get involved in illegal business activities such as human trafficking and espionage; they also like to distribute lies which discredit China to persuade locals to move abroad. A lot of them  look for Chinese women to live with as a disguise to further their espionage efforts. They pretend to be tourists traveling around the country while actually helping Japan and Korea make maps and collect GPS data for military purposes. We need to take action, first kick that crazy foreign journalist from Al Jazeera out of the country and close their Beijing office, and then shut everybody up, all the members of the foreign press who demonize China.

Yang’s comments, while inflammatory and exaggerated, are unremarkable. Many Chinese people would probably agree with him, and the practice of media personalities demonizing foreign nationals is hardly exclusive to China. (Lou Dobbs, anyone?). Plus Yang, for all of his pretenses as an urbane, sophisticated journalist (check out this embarrassingly fawning profile of Yang by Philip J. Cunningham) has always been a reliable spokesman for Chinese conventional wisdom. Anyone who has seen an episode of “Dialogue”  knows the drill: Yang harangues his foreign guests with an artfully packaged version of the Party line. (Here is James Fallows, himself a former guest on the show, with a version of this story). The whole charade becomes tedious after awhile and as a result, I have met very few foreigners in China who take “Dialogue” seriously at all.

So why would Yang Rui’s statement be a big deal? The answer relates to something international relations geeks refer to as “soft power”. CCTV News, the station that airs “Dialogue”, represents part of China’s strategy to sell itself to the outside world. China is keen to show that it can produce an international television network that can compete with CNN, BBC, and al Jazeera. The network would have a Chinese-centric viewpoint, of course, and would counter-act what China perceives to be negative and inaccurate coverage of the country in the “Western” media. But for that to work, it would  have to maintain professional standards. By offending the audience that CCTV News purportedly seeks, Yang Rui undermined this goal and, by extension, China’s attempt to build its “soft power”.

The question though is this:  is China capable of producing a television network as good as al Jazeera or BBC? This isn’t a question of resources, of which China has plenty, but rather of limitations within the Communist system. Television networks gain respect through their editorial independence, but no network owned by China can be independent simply because it would remain subservient to the Propaganda Department. No amount of journalistic talent can change that equation.

The Yang Rui incident also provides a glimpse into how micro-blogging has changed how the media operates in the country. In a previous era, Yang’s impolitic remarks would never have seen the light of day due to editorial constraints. With Weibo, though, Yang can simply take a deep breath and hit “publish” and make his ideas accessible to his more than 800,000 followers. The Yang Rui incident, thus, neatly illustrates how social media has thrown a wrench into message discipline in China. This lesson- rather than that of “soft power” may be what we take from this incident in the end.

 

 





7 Responses to “A Few Thoughts on Yang Rui”

  1. Chris Waugh says:

    I’m not sure about these coupla lines:

    “Yang’s comments, while inflammatory and exaggerated, are unremarkable. Many Chinese people would probably agree with him, and the practice of media personalities demonizing foreign nationals is hardly exclusive to China.”

    “…has always been a reliable spokesman for Chinese conventional wisdom.”

    You seem to be portraying Yang as presenting very middle of the road views. I don’t know Lou Dobbs, but with his little outburst on Weibo he seems to be playing the Winston Peters, Pauline Hanson, Front National, English Defence League role. Sure, he presented the views of a certain segment of the population in his Weibo outburst, and in Dialogue he does push the line of a certain faction in the Party, but he hardly speaks for the majority. It was interesting to read all the comments by other Chinese to his Weibo post mocking or abusing him for his xenophobic paranoia.

    Did you see YJ and Brendan’s posts on this at Rectified.Name? Very interesting, particularly YJ’s take on the issue.

  2. matt_schiavenza says:

    I agree that his comments are divisive, but xenophobia and anti-foreign sentiment are fairly active strains in Chinese cultural life, just as they tend to be in a lot of European and American circles. I think what surprised people the most was that Yang has always been something of a staid, conventional figure in the Chinese media and clearly urbane enough to represent the country on CCTV News.

  3. Chris Waugh says:

    “but xenophobia and anti-foreign sentiment are fairly active strains in Chinese cultural life, just as they tend to be in a lot of European and American circles.”

    Yes, but my point being that these are active strains in certain sectors of society, rather than all-pervasive. There are other, competing strains that are just as active. And of course, real world society is rather complex and I’m sure there are plenty who agree on principle with what he said, but find him a bit too extreme. Yang Rui seems to be of the kind who reject all their ideological opponents as grovelling to the West when in fact an awful lot of them just want a little more of Mr D. and Mr S. but are otherwise quite happy with their Chinese identity. Hence my comparison with the more xenophobic strands in NZ, Aus, France and the UK.

    “clearly urbane enough ”

    I dunno, I never saw that in him, and his Weibo nonsense seems to have simply highlighted what always seemed to be lurking under the surface. Reading James Fallows’ post on the subject made me think that all the urbane cosmopolitanism was just an attempt to get guests on Dialogue comfortable and settled in so Yang could then go bludgeoning them with the (extreme reactionary nationalist end of the) Party line.

  4. I think you’re right- the urbane cosmopolitanism may have largely been an act, but it’s telling that he would have gone through the motions, anyway.

  5. john H says:

    Mr. Yang should be fired and CCTV should apologize. If what the writer states that Mr. Yang is unable to express himself then he has no role in presenting an English program except for teaching Chinese people how to use the language wrong.

    Previous remarks of Mr. Yang qualify him as a racist. His actions should be examined and if any wrong doing is confirmed, he should be punished

    CCTV cannot be the platform that stimulates hate between races. China has many nations and to the law they are equal.

    If millions of foreigners visit China there will be of course crimes committed by a few individuals. Just as crimes get committed by Chinese visiting the West.

    People breaking the law should be punished according to the law. Westerns people should observe all Chinese regulations, I do that and I think it is normal.

    Thousands of foreigners that married a Chinese citizen are the base of improved understanding between the West and the East, they are an asset, they should not be ridiculized or stigmatized.

    This farce should be stopped as soon as possible, it hurts Chinese interest, it hurts the interests of a harmonious society.

    So sentence the criminals in a fast and correct way but don’t kick the innocent. Dont make a circus out of this.

    Certainly don’t upset people that is doing and has done so much good for this country.

    All of the world is facing a recession, we should concentrate our energy on this, not on some acts a criminal did. Police and the court can handle him very well, they don’t need this help.

  6. Paul Mooney says:

    Hi Matt, I actually found Yang Rui’s comments quite remarkable. He was not just saying foreigners should not be able to get away with breaking the law (not sure where that comes from because I don’t know anyone who espouses that claim), but he was throwing out outrageous accusations. From his blog:

    “Foreigners who can’t find a job in their home country come to China and get involved in illegal business activities such as human trafficking and espionage; they also like to distribute lies which discredit China to persuade locals to move abroad. A lot of them look for Chinese women to live with as a disguise to further their espionage efforts. They pretend to be tourists traveling around the country while actually helping Japan and Korea make maps and collect GPS data for military purposes. We need to take action, first kick that crazy foreign journalist from Al Jazeera out of the country and close their Beijing office, and then shut everybody up, all the members of the foreign press who demonize China.”

    Sounds quite strange to me.

    Paul

  7. Alex Benoist says:

    This article is very interesting, I didn’t pay attention to Chinese politics and political tv shows until quite recently, and I must say that you seem to be able to translate this Yang Rui’s words quite accurately and in a precise manner. Now, that’s impressive ! Congratulations. I strongly disagree with his views according to which a lot of foreigners in China are seen by the population as scums, intruders, sexual rivals and predators. Actually, my experience has been quite opposite to this one. Most Chinese people I’ve met show a remarkable tolerance and open-mindedness towards the young tourists or students who visit their country. They are eager to discover their identities, their special cultural features, their reasons in coming to China and they show genuine interest. Then, some attitudes of certain Westerners in China is often on the verge of being Chaotic and disorderly as in some parts of the country and some areas of some cities, like bar-streets, and club venues, they like to indulge in flirting and promiscuous dancing with sexy Chinese girls who live with their grand-mas, it’s a different culture, everybobdy should get used to that, somehow. The other question about the Chinese public broadcasting network being able or not to create an alter-ego to the likes of Al Jazeera and the BBC, or even France24, or even Arte, and why not include others like the Raï, or Pravda tV !! (LoL) I don’t think it ‘s a relevant question. It’s more a question of negociation in terms of occupation of the spectrum of signal necessary for the diffusion of the national China media materials to a broader international audience. It’s already hot enough to watch the CCTVs in HK, if you know what I’m saying. LAst but not least, cheers for this fine article. Bye !

Leave a Reply