Are Expats no Longer Welcome in China

Expats in Shanghai are speechless after a recent dawn raid on a popular expatriate nightclub has led to accusations uneasiness and accusations of xenophobia.

On Thursday 31st May Shanghai police raided the popular expatriate nightspots on Yongfu Road, in Shanghai’s trendy former French Concession demanding to see formal passports and identification documents. Those without passports were detained. On Dutch expat, who witnessed the events told an expat newspaper that he avoided detention with a small bride, which was the equivalent of approximately $47 USD. However, he described how other expats were not as fortunate: “I saw at least 12 foreigners in the back of a police van,” he said. “The door was closed and the van drove away.”

According to news sources, the raid was part of the 100-day crackdown, which originally started in Beijing and is aimed at identifying illegal immigrants and visa violators. However, recent events in Shanghai have now prompted expatriates to question the political motives behind the actions of the police, with many of them accusing the authorities of xenophobia. On one expat blog an expatriate commented: “Suddenly the government launches a crackdown on all laowai [foreigners] like we are some sort of plague.” It is believed by many that the scandal involving the downfall of Chongqing Communist Party chief Bo Xilai, a slowing economy, corruption, domestic food safety concerns and the widening gulf between rich and poor is causing unease within China and is prompting a backlash at foreigners.

Many people are also suspicious that the recent raids on expatriate hotspots are the result of anti-foreigner sentiment that has begun to stir after a video that purportedly showed an expatriate sexually harassing a local girl went viral on the Internet, attracting more than 80,000 comments to date, the majority of which were distinctly anti-foreigner.

The official line on the crackdown is that it is targeted at people who are illegally living or working in China. However, expatriate unease has heightened after a xenophobic online rant by Yang Rui, a famous television host in China who has publicly declared that there should be a campaign to protect “innocent girls” from “foreign trash, thugs and spies.”

The crackdown has prompted shocked many expats throughout China. American media worker Jacob Trent who has lived in Beijing for many years told CNN he was pulled off his bike by police who demanded his papers: “I have been living here for a decade and yet I still get treated like – and sometimes called – a foreign barbarian,” he said. Supporting Trent’s claims, British expat David Park told CNN: ‘”I have noticed a change in how I am treated. It has gone from curiosity to hostility.”

However, defending the actions of the police, one Beijing resident named Mandy Zhang commented: “Police cannot tell who is good or not. Some foreign men come here with the wrong intentions,” she said, before adding: “We treat Westerners too well and this needs to change.”