Good Foreigner, Bad Foreigner – By Anne Henochowicz

China’s love-hate relationship with expats.


The more than half a million foreigners living in China exist in a legal and ethical gray area. Over the past 60 years, the Communist Party has often attempted to keep foreigners at a distance. In the 1980s foreigners shopped at special supermarkets in Beijing, buying goods that were forbidden to most locals. Today, expats can live in the same apartment buildings, shop in the same stores, and even get cozy with Communist Party officials, as the murder of former Bo Xilai confidant Neil Heywood revealed. Chinese police tend to be more lenient to (non-African) foreigners than to locals, wary of provoking international incidents; foreign journalists receive far more leeway to write and report than their domestic counterparts. Chinese companies will even hire white expats to pose as company executives, simply for the business a Caucasian face brings. This gap, however, might be closing.

Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images

On May 8, Chinese Internet user “Ajian” uploaded a video to Youku, China’s largest video sharing site, of a British man sexually assaulting a Chinese woman on the streets of Beijing. A man in a black jacket leads him away from the woman. In the next scene, the same man beats him senseless in the middle of the street. You can hear Ajian breathing heavily and cursing the Briton behind the camera. Viewed more than 11 million times, the video seems to have inspired a city-wide campaign to catch and prevent foreigners from behaving badly.

Ajian’s Beautiful Workshop’s YouKuvideo

The Communist Party likes numbered slogans. Mao led the “Three-Anti” and “Five-Anti” campaigns in the early years of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to root out enemies of the state, then attempted to destroy the “four olds” during Cultural Revolution; then-President Jiang Zemin introduced the socio-political ideology the “three represents” in 2000.

A week after the Briton’s assault, Beijing announced a three-month campaign to “clamp down” on foreigners. The cartoon above, which the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau (PSB) posted on its Weibo account @PeacefulBeijing, shows a fist slamming down on those engaged in the “three illegals”: entering the country illegally, residing illegally, and working illegally. Under the new directive, police may ask foreigners to present their passports and papers, targeting “communities believed to have large numbers of such aliens.” The cartoon contains a phone number that citizens can call to report suspicious foreigners.

Beijing PSB Weibo

Anti-foreigner sentiment exists throughout China. Some netizens voiced their support for bringing the campaign to Shanghai, which has more than 200,000 foreigners as of 2010, nearly double that of Beijing. Surprisingly, the Yanbian PSB in the northeast province of Jilin announced its own drive to track down unwelcome foreigners on May 23, according to the magazine ‘s Weibo account.

Yanbian shares a border with North Korea, and thousands of North Koreans live and work in Yanbian; others who defect pass through Yanbian on their way to Thailand, Mongolia, and South Korea. A few weeks ago, North Koreans captured 29 Chinese fishermen and held them for the un-princely ransom of 1.2 million yuan (about $189,000) in a rare public spat between the two allies.

“Our comrade-in-arms has stabbed us in the back,” wrote blogger Wang Sixiang, reacting to the news. The cartoon above, drawn by cartoonist Rebel Pepper, shows China holding the blind human rights activist Chen Guangcheng hostage; in the next panel, North Korea is holding a Chinese citizen hostage. The website See China gives the cartoon the title “Little Brother, You Learn Quick!” Although the fishermen were eventually released, Beijing has tried to manage the resulting public anger: notably, not a single comment has been left on ‘s post, likely because of deletion.

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