Yang Rui and Soft Power

You probably can’t blog about soft power and ignore the weibo message Yang Rui (杨锐), a CCTV-9 presenter, reportedly wrote. But during this busy first half of the week, there are other things to do. Besides, while this is certainly relevant information to be processed, I’m wondering why the response from many foreigner is so heated. True – the message in question is – to put it carefully – running counter to anything like “soft power”, but to me, the only explanation for the angry foreign replies to it seems to be that they expected Yang to do better. I don’t even know Yang as a television personality. I can’t remember that I ever watched the channel. All I know is that CCTV-9 is state-owned, and broadcasts in English, mainly for a foreign audience.

Maybe what Yang wrote about Melissa Chan, the al-Jazeera correspondent who had to leave the country, is actually a semi-official answer to questions foreign-ministry spokesman Hong Lei had previously been asked – questions to which there hasn’t been a really telling answer. Yang’s would be a nasty and strange answer (and maybe that’s  why Hong wouldn’t want to provide it), but basically not a surprising one. The only remaining question for now would be if Yang wrote the message on his own behalf or on behalf of the CCP.

That’s all I can think of – and speculate about – at the moment, and how I should connect this to the topic of soft power, I don’t know yet. Maybe I’ll know on Thursday or Friday.

18 Responses to “Yang Rui and Soft Power”

  1. I think the idea is not to help Yang Rui but to get him sacked. It’s interesting to see how one can just throw in a bait every now and then, and Yang Rui will just take it & carry on like a looney tune. I heard from a friend that CCTV is now seriously thinking of replacing him, as he proves himself time and again to be a liability.

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  2. The guy’s a douche and needs bringing down a peg or two. That’s reason enough for me.

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  3. FOARP: The best way to let Yang Rui know his behaviour is unacceptable is to persuade his potential guests not to appear on his show. So if know of anyone who has recently been approached for a guest appearance on Dialogue, I would appreciate if you could persuade them not to do it, or send their names to me and I’ll make sure they receive the right kind of information.

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  4. Let me put it this way, C.A., foarp: I’m confused – not about Yang Rui, I believe, but about foreign reactions to his message. I believe that Yang is the right man at the right place: CCTV-9, a propaganda broadcaster.
    If I had been asked to show up as a guest in one of his broadcasts in the past, I would have declined, just as I would decline now. I mean, the nature of the broadcasting station should be obvious. I’m not suggesting that you have to be a bugger to work in that kind of position, but it sure helps if you are.

    What does surprise me is that Yang spoke (or wrote) his mind so explicitly. But that doesn’t make things worse, in my view. Basically, demands that he should step down, eat humble pie, etc., seems to suggest that foreigners don’t mind hidden hostility, but that they do mind open hostility. If you think I’m missing something there, please let me know.

    Besides, I don’t think that campaigns to get Yang a few pegs down would make things better. Next, foreigners might turn on Huanqiu Shibao authors. I disliked the show a number of Chinese nationals pulled off in Germany, in 2008 – in fact, it was exactly that stupid show which got me started with this blog.

    I’m not suggesting that campaigns to make Yang backtrack would be as misguided as the 2008 one over here. But I think it’s counter-productive. Besides, who should be next? Some trash writer at Huanqiu Shibao? Why do foreigners think that it would be their business? Would you want The Atlantic to take orders from fenqings? You and I may see a difference between the two scenarios – but to many Chinese people, it would be pretty much the same thing. Yang, in my view, simply doesn’t matter.

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  5. OK, I admit I’m bad. The reason I (not only me, there’re others too) want to put more pressure on Yang Rui is because I enjoy to see him make more mistakes, which is exactly what he is doing now. But ultimately I don’t accept excuses for racial attacks, even if it’s done just to please his boss. Yang Rui does have a choice, even as a propaganda broadcaster. I know of many people who have worked for CCTV, China Daily and even the Global Times. None of them are assholes like Yang Rui. In fact I have great respect for several of them, particularly their effort to circumvent the system to remain truthful to their role as journalists. As for the question of racial hostility, in Australia there is quite a bit of hidden hostility towards foreigners too. As someone from a minority ethnic group, I’d rather see this hostility hidden than open.

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  6. Tell you what – I’m “bad”, too, only for different reasons. I’d wish that more people like Yang would speak (or write) their mind, because no matter if hidden or open xenophobia, there is a problem, either way. The deal foreigners got in China in the past seems to have been that they won’t usually get attacked (because that could lead to severe punishment for the perpetrators), but that the educational and propaganda system cultivates ill feelings towards foreigners anyway. What propaganda and “social management” cadres call “social chohesion” is in fact, frequently, a common fear or dislike fo things deemed “foreign”. Besides, it is easier and usually without consequence for Chinese citizens to blame foreigners for their anger (as long as it is only speech), than to blame the political system, social injustices, etc.. Yang helps to shed light on that. It is important to see the problem, and any help to shed light on that (including help from Yang Rui) should be welcome, in my view.

    It’s not exactly the same story in Australia, Germany, etc., I believe, because xenophobia in our places is more likely to result in open aggression. Therefore, I can understand your preference for hidden, rather than open xenophobia. But this attitude may also lead to a public state of denial: “racism? Not in our country.”

    Besides, at least in Germany, I can’t say that xenophobia is really hidden. When a mosque was built in Cologne, xenophobia became quite open there. I wouldn’t be glad if political correctness pushed such feelings underground. In such a scenario, where you act as if xenophobia wasn’t there, you can’t have an argument about it – and such arguments are needed. As long as xenophobic people obey the law, I believe it is good when they are open about their feelings. If they start attacking or bullying foreigners, they become criminal cases – but only then.

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  7. JR, there’s no way of influencing the douchebags at GT, but there is a way of influencing Yang Rui. GT is directed at fenqing, Yang Rui is at least supposed to be speaking to China’s foreign community and the world at large.

    And yes, I’ve always been frankly baffled by foreigners who oppose the CCP dictatorship appearing in PRC state media.

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  8. Foarp, I think the only practical measure is this: Yang Rui, so long as he is a CCTV-9 anchor, does speak to the foreign community, on behalf of the CCP. His “foreign-trash” comments weren’t made on record there, but I believe it is practical to think of those comments as authentic ones. Do you want to obliterate them, and if so, why? Aren’t you interested in knowing Yang’s state of mind? Wouldn’t you be interested in knowing the mindset of all leading soft-power engineers, if they spoke out?

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  9. @JR – Having watched CCTV 9 during my early years in China (2003-2005, forgive me, internet access was sporadic, the World Service could be heard only rarely) it is no surprise to me at all to find out that this is what Yang Rui thinks. I know this is how at least some of the GT columnists and the like see ‘foreigners’ (AKA, white folk – not that they see people of African or other non-Chinese descent as any better) . What I like to see is this being exposed rather than simply implicit in what they say and write – and then them suffering negative consequences for it, consequences which one might optimistically hope would lead them to reflect on their views.

    Of course, the danger is that they say/write these things and receive approbation for them.

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  10. I think it is understandable that people want to cause Yang Rui trouble. But I don’t think it’s practical. If Yang got sacked, maybe the audience would be lied to more efficiently in future – but that wouldn’t spell improvement. To me, foreign demands to sack Yang look like foreign expert offers to help the propaganda department, free of charge. Technically, not ethically speaking, one might as well take a job at the Global Times.

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  11. “Never interrupt your enemy when he’s making a mistake” – very, um, Napoleonic of you JR. PS – have you no shame? The French have still not apologised for the Napoleonic wars! 无忘国耻!

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  12. Dunno how you guessed that I’m a Prussian, Foarp. Anyway, that’s why I learned French, you know. To become a great spy and to steal their advanced technology, thus turning the tables on them.

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  13. Interesting discussion about open vs hidden xenophobia. I suppose I agree with JR in the sense that out in the open at least gives you a chance to debate it. I’m not so hopeful that you can convert a xenophobe, but the discussion itself might help people on the sidelines to make a more enlightened choice, perhaps.

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  14. “Dunno how you guessed that I’m a Prussian”

    Must be the ruthless efficiency with which you blog – “Up! Ansbach Dragoons!”

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