Racism in Chinese state media

This is a guest post from a freelance journalist named Eva Cohen, on her time working in state media in Beijing. China is in the midst of a temporary crackdown against foreigners, but discrimination in China against black people is far more permanent reality of life there:

There is currently a campaign against foreigners in China in the country "illegally" working under business or tourist visas. I know several people working as English teachers whose schools have been raided, but the only person I know who lost their job since the crackdown began last month is an African-American teacher in Beijing. He said in China professionally it is difficult for him because of his color. Another African-American in Beijing said he has given up on taking cabs entirely because they hardly ever will stop for him, while an African woman I know, who speaks with what sounds like a British accent, said on one occasion last year she interviewed for a job in Beijing on the phone where they were happy with her, but when she arrived in person, she was told, "sorry, we don't hire Africans."

I had been working for state-run newspaper The Global Times for four and a half weeks as a copy-editor.  Two weeks ago, a European colleague had written an article about the visa situation, quoting foreigners from East Asia, North America and Europe. When the page came to me to copy edit, the top half of the page had a huge photo of Africans standing sullenly in a line-up as a Chinese officer scrutinized one of their passports. The message from the photo: there might be a crackdown on all foreigners, but we particularly don't want black people.

I said that the photo needed to be changed. The Chinese editor in charge said the graphic designer does not like to change things, and although she seemed to recognize the photo was racist, she said it could not be changed.

Several hours later, the photo was still on the page and the editor asked me to copy edit the final draft of it. I said I wouldn't look at the page anymore unless the photo was changed. She said, "But it's your job." To which I responded: "If it's my job to be racist, then I guess I won't have a job anymore." Luckily after I left for the day, more senior foreign staff saw to it that the photo was changed. The next day, I was called into the office of deputy managing editor Li Hongwei, and he fired me, allegedly for "not having passed my probation period." I mentioned the photo but he didn't respond.

Update June 5th: Global Times responds to Cohen's post:

I am writing in response to your blog post of June 5th, by Eva Cohen, entitled "Racism in Chinese state media." The picture Ms Cohen references, which was not run in the paper, was chosen from a selection of stock images by the page designer, also a foreign expert. Several staff noticed that the picture could be seen as having unfortunate implications, and brought the issue to editorial attention, after which the picture was changed to the version that actually ran.

Ms Cohen was then in her initial probationary period at the paper. We decided to let her go following poor evaluation reports from her fellow staff concerning both her editing and interpersonal skills. We also received information from her former employer, CRI, that she had been fired from her post there for similar problems and more, information she had not included on her resume.

Yours faithfully,

Li Hongwei, Deputy Editor-In-Chief, Global Times


Message from the Chinese Market

Forget Occupy Wall Street. In Shanghai, the stock market itself seems to be fighting the system. The Shanghai Stock Exchange opened at 2346.98 on Monday, and the Shanghai stock market fell 64.89 points that same day. Take a closer look at that those numbers. They mark - the first one written backwards -- the 23rd anniversary of the June 4, 1989 bloody suppression of the protests in Tiananmen Square. Because of this uncanny and very likely manipulated numerology, searches for "Shanghai Composite" were blocked by Sina Weibo, China's twitter-like micro-blogging service.

Like a seasonal cold it just can't kick, every year on and around the anniversary of June 4, something happens in China. In preparation for the date, the Chinese government marshals its censors to prevent online discussion of the event. The square itself, usually lively, falls quieter, hemmed by security officers and plainclothes policemen.  Prominent dissidents are guarded, and urged to stay off the streets.

In 1995 a dissident launched a hunger strike; in 2004 AIDS activist laid out a plan for a candlelight vigil before he was arrested. Other years saw other forms of protest. Bloggers try to find new and innovative ways to discuss the event; the term May 35th was popular for awhile, less so when it became too obvious.

The Dui-Hua foundation, a San Francisco-based humanitarian organization, estimates that less than a dozen protestors from June 4th remain in prison; the oldest is likely 73-year old Jiang Yaqun, convicted of the now defunct crime "counter-revolutionary sabotage." Almost all of those imprisoned in the aftermath of Tiananmen were released long ago, and still the event rankles. This year in late May the father of a Tiananmen Square victim hung himself after failing to find justice. Protests occurred in three provinces across China, according to the South China Morning Post. "We went there to vent our anger against the autocratic regime," the Post quotes a 52-year old woman named Fan Yanqiong as saying. "I'm neither a relative of those killed, nor do I have any direct connection with the June 4 crackdown...But I simply can't help bursting into tears whenever I see pictures or read articles about the suppression of the movement over the years." The protest apparently lasted for two hours, disbanded peacefully, and featured the mobilization of what the Post optimistically refers to as "more than a dozen activists."

The bizarre numbers from the Shanghai stock market is an ideal form of protest (if that is what they were; no one has claimed responsibility yet). Subtle, but eerie, and consequential: a clear signal to investors that China's stock market can fall prey to non-market forces. And to a government that's often seen as an oppressive force watching over China, it's a sign that people with other opinions are there, watching back.

Ed Jones/AFP/GettyImages