Foreigners Behaving Badly

The summer of 2012 witnessed a spike in anti-foreigner sentiment in China after two videos were uploaded to the Chinese Internet. The first video appeared on 9 May 2012. It showed a lanky foreign man trying to rape a screaming Chinese woman near Xuanwumen in Beijing. A Chinese man, soon joined by two others, confronts and beats the foreigner. Within twenty-four hours, the video logged 1.32 million views on, and Sina Weibo exploded with anti-foreign vitriol. The man in the video — reported to be a British national — was deported within three weeks of the incident.

Oleg Vedernikov. Source:

Oleg Vedernikov.

About a week after that video was uploaded, the second appeared. In it, a blond, white male in a train compartment is seen putting his feet on the headrest of the seat in front of him. When the woman seated there complains, he refuses to move, and worse, starts berating her in Chinese. Within a day of the video appearing online, the man was revealed to be Oleg Vedernikov, the principal cellist at the Beijing Symphony Orchestra. Named and shamed online, Vedernikov apologised — in Russian — with a video of his own. The Beijing Symphony Orchestra sacked him nonetheless for ‘uncivilised behaviour’ (bu wenming xingwei 不文明行为).

Apparently in response to the online fury about the two uncivilised foreigners, the Beijing police announced a one-hundred-day summer crackdown on ‘Three-Illegals Foreigners’ (sanfei waiguoren 三非外国人) — foreigners entering, living and working illegally in China. The campaign consisted of spot checks on foreigners in neighbourhoods frequented by expatriates, and the establishment of a hotline for locals to report suspicious foreigners. Into the fray stepped Yang Rui, the tweedy host of Dialogue — a current affairs talk show on the English-language channel of China Central Television — with a message of support for the police posted to his Weibo account:

The Ministry of Public Security must clean out the foreign trash: catch foreign lowlifes and protect innocent girls (Wudaokou and Sanlitun are the worst-affected areas). Eliminate foreign human traffickers, unemployed Americans and Europeans who come to China to make money by selling people abroad, misleading them and encouraging them to emigrate. Learn to recognise the foreign spies who find a Chinese girl to shack up with while they make a living compiling intelligence reports, posing as tourists in order to do mapping surveys and improve GPS data for Japan, South Korea, the United States and Europe. We kicked out that shrill foreign bitch and shut down Al Jazeera’s office in Beijing; we should make everyone who demonises China shut up and fuck off. (Translation by Brendan O’Kane.)

The ‘shrill foreign bitch’ refers to the Al Jazeera journalist Melissa Chan, whose work visa was not renewed by the Foreign Ministry — a move that was widely seen as an attempt to intimidate foreign media organisations into reporting less negative news.

With no further videos of unruly foreigners, the rest of 2012 passed without much anti-foreigner bile on the Internet. In April 2013, it emerged that Neil Robinson — a British national wanted by the UK police ‘in connection with the distribution of indecent images of children and the rape of a child’ — was working as a teacher at the private school Beijing World Youth Academy. Soon after the news broke, Robinson handed himself in to the police in Beijing. There was almost no reaction from Chinese online commentators.