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I’ve been closely following the developments regarding CCTV Dialogue host Yang Rui, not least because I was a former editor at CCTV 9 and frequently bumped into Yang while I was in the building.  I say “bumped into” because that’s about all it was; Yang never actually entered the CCTV 9 newsroom as far as I can recall and rarely – if ever – spoke to us plebeians.  Needless to say, he wasn’t the most popular colleague among both foreign and local staff.

Before I launch into my thoughts on the case, Shanghaiist does an excellent job of summing up where we are:

For those of you that haven’t heard yet (where have you been?), Yang called on the Public Security Bureau in a post on Sina Weibo last week to “clean out the foreign trash” and to “arrest foreign thugs” because foreigners were coming to China to “grab our money, engage in human trafficking and spread deceitful lies to encourage emigration”.

In his latest remarks to the WSJ, Yang said that while most Westerners are seen by the Chinese as “friendly”, “well-educated and polite,” “some are not,” citing the example of the British man who attempted to rape a Chinese woman on the streets, and Oleg Vedernikov, the Russian cellist whose a-hole moment on a high-speed train was caught on a video by a passenger and put up on the Internet.

Oh, and he also called recently-expelled Al Jazeera English journalist Melissa Chan either a “bitch” or a “shrew”, depending on who’s translating the Chinese term 泼妇.

One of the newest (and quickly becoming one of the best) China blogs, Rectified.name, recently published a post by YJ which asks:

I don’t care whether he is xenophobic or nationalist or racist, as long as he keeps those thoughts to himself. Who the hell cares what this guy thinks? In China we have many so-called journalists like this and they are not the pride of my country.  It would be nice if they didn’t go out of there way to put their naïve and simple ideas on Weibo and the Internet.

That’s a good question.  Why do we care what Yang Rui thinks?  There’s definitely an “a-ha!” moment to what Yang wrote, because I believe there has been collective skepticism about the true beliefs under his faux-Ted Koppel veneer. Perhaps there’s even an element of schadenfreude here, considering Yang isn’t particularly well-liked to begin with.

I would submit that Yang committed a “Kinsley gaffe“, which “refers to a politician inadvertently saying something publicly that they legitimately believe is true but have not fully analyzed the consequences of publicly stating such.”  Yang isn’t a politician, but many would suspect the rest of the description fits.

Yang carries himself with a certain haughty assurance and dignified air of authority that comes across as sadly misplaced when one considers he hosts a propaganda program on a Communist Party-funded television channel that very few take seriously.  The fact is, he’s not as great as he thinks he is, because dignified television hosts have enough self awareness not to let loose with xenophobic rants on social media.

Make no mistake, if Yang worked for another TV station in another market, he would almost certainly be fired.  It’s not just the rant – which was bad enough – but the fact it was targeted at foreigners who, I presume, are precisely his target audience and his pool of potential guests.  It doesn’t get much worse than that.

His pathetic climb-down non-apologies also make the situation worse.  He has worked in a coddled and protected environment for so long he doesn’t know how to handle himself when he finds himself the subject of real news.  When one says something incredibly incendiary, the first step is a full and unconditional apology, period, even if parts of what was said were accurate.  Instead, his subsequent Weibo posts and correspondence with the Wall Street Journal just make him look petulant, and ensures he remains in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.

We are witnessing, in Shanghaiist’s words, a “douchebag” come undone.  While this can be entertaining, especially for those who may have secretly wished for his comeuppance, it’s beside the point.  What matters is the damage he has done to himself, his show, his television channel, and China’s soft power push. For that, he should be fired.





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  1. Trevor Metz says:

    I could not agree more. Well said Cam. As someone who also worked with Yang I can say you hit the mark. Of course you know he will never be fired for this though. If my time at the Global Times has taught me anything its that the more crazy and nationalistic you are the more respect you get from the brass.

  2. Christine says:

    As a former employee for China Daily, this is exacly true Trevor. We actually did have a racist as our boss that made sure young foreign journalist got fired because they questioned authority or had a bigger desk than him, to name a few reasons. One day he showed his true colors snapping out on a girl calling her a ” foreign garbage that thought she knew it all”. He got removed and became boss of a whole section of the paper and still is. As a Chinese journalist I felt very ashamed, but I guess many of us have a chip on the shoulder, and Yang Rui is a great example of that.

  3. [...] “Kinsley gaffe.” ”The fact is, [Yang Rui's] not as great as he thinks he is, because dignified television hosts have enough self awareness not to let loose with xenophobic rants on social media. // Make no mistake, if Yang worked for another TV station in another market, he would almost certainly be fired.  It’s not just the rant – which was bad enough – but the fact it was targeted at foreigners who, I presume, are precisely his target audience and his pool of potential guests.” [Zhongnanhai] [...]

  4. eyedrd says:

    Instead of defending the press freedom and a professional colleague, he used vulgarity to call name on a lady reporter. Such a gentleman and educated he is! His comments show how arrogant Chinese have become about the success of their powerful economy and how much contempt view of the economic crisis in the West. He represents the best face of China, educated, gentle and soft-spoken, well-mannered and civilized. I guess that the best that China can offer to the world.
    Best Face of China: Prominent Chinese TV host Yang Rui’s Incendiary and Racist comments.
    Had something like this happened in the West, he or she would have packed personal stuff home from the office the next day.

  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.

    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. John says:

    Wonderfully written.

    It is interesting, in today’s news, Sina Weibo has (yet again) introduced another means of censoring their users. A new contract system is to be introduced, where users start with 80 points. If they participate in promotional activities, their points go up. BUT, if they “break the rules”, their points go down. If the points system gets down to 60, they get a warning that their account can be banned.

    Look at the criteria for losing points…

    - Spread rumours
    - Publish untrue information
    - Attack others with personal insults or libellous comments
    - Oppose the basic principles of China’s constitution
    - Reveal national secrets
    - Threaten China’s honour
    - Promote cults or superstitions
    - Call for illegal protests or mass gatherings

    So, I know, the initial first reaction is a groan and a chuckle that China just can’t seem to get a handle on the fact that the internet represents freedom of speech…

    But if we play by Sina Weibo’s rules, what, if any, of those rules do you think Yang Rui broke. I think he definitely attacked others with personal insults and libelous comments. I think he threatened (whether meaning to or not) China’s honor.

    What do you think?

  7. Wen says:

    I’m glad Y.R. said nasty things about us foreigners. It’s refreshing that he called a reporter a bitch. (Not a shrew, BTW, which is an archaic term that couldn’t qualify as an accurate contemporary translation.) I’m sure the reporter, one of the best in the business and a journalist who runs rings around Y.R., can take it. But his puerile tirade shines light on the dark endeavour that is CCTV-English.
    Does anyone dispute that Dialogue is the worst show on TV anywhere? I’m sure a few people watch the first five minutes after they’ve suffered through the so-called news. But has anyone actually made it to the end? How does it conclude? Does Yang or the guest wake the cameraman?
    And does Yang Rui actually think he’s speaking English? Oh, I’ll bet he’s aced a few exams in his day. But has he ever actually pronounced a word correctly? Do we all have to guess by context what that final consonant might have been? Is that a dangerously hot potato in his mouth that causes him to speak like that or is it some kind of anti-depressant?
    Yang Rui, of course, does what many second language learners do–he speaks faster than his competency warrants. It works like this: We understand him because we’re good, after years of experience, at figuring out what the non-native speaker said by analysing the context. The speaker thinks his pronunciation is near-native and so speeds up his delivery. One can get away with it face-to-face but not on television.
    A better show than dialogue would be a kind of game show: clips of CCTV presenters uttering single words, devoid of context, would be played; native English-speaking contestants would have to type in exactly the word being spoken. You may be thinking you understand him, but could you survive the ultimate no-context vocabulary recognition test. Teams of scantily-clad ‘bitches’ and tattooed ‘foreign trash’ could fight over prizes like VCD collections of Yang Rui’s best Dialogue moments. I’d watch it.
    Yang Rui’s vulgarity inspired my school-aged sons, who are absolutely 100% fluent in English, Mandarin, and the local dialect to watch a Yang Rui performance. Within a minute they were mimicking his rapid-fire hot-potato accent with hilarious effect. But, by Minute Two he’d been switched off.
    Perhaps, if he’d go off his meds more often, and blog some more inanities, or even blurt out something interesting right on CCTV, more people might watch.