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 ...

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.

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

Isaac Stone Fish is a journalist and senior fellow at the Asia Society’s Center on U.S-China Relations. He was formerly the Asia editor at Foreign Policy Magazine. Twitter: @isaacstonefish
Tag: Media

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