Blogger rubs salt in Korea-China wounds By Sunny Lee
BEIJING - Cha Han-phil, a reporter with the major South Korean daily
Hankyoreh, runs a weblog titled "So, You Still Dare to Go to China?" The
provocative title is to draw people's attention, said Cha, adding, "It's like
bait and switch." It has certainly worked.
When his latest post, "Shameless Chinese people", hit the front page of the
Hankyoreh website, it immediately became a clicking craze, and as many as 120
people replied in a short span of time;
some replies took almost a full page.
Unfortunately for Cha, most replies were negative toward him. Some even went as
far as to say that Cha is a racist and the
company should fire him.
In the post, Cha described a scene in China that he had experienced while
riding a train from Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan province, to Shenyang, the
capital of Liaoning province. This is part of what he saw: a mom let her
toddler urinate right on the carriage floor; people disposed of instant-noodle
cups by throwing them out the window; men went shirtless when it got hot;
people didn't flush after using restrooms; a young couple pulled off the seat
cover to shine their shoes before they got off the train.
Cha continued: people hulled sunflower seeds (a favorite travel snack for
Chinese) and spat them on the floor haphazardly; some spoke on their mobile
telephones at the top of their lungs without any consideration for other
people; men smoked everywhere without seeking consent from others.
Cha concluded: "While watching these people, I couldn't help but think that
Chinese people solely pursue their own convenience and interest. They utterly
lack public morals."
Perhaps to Cha's surprise, most respondents - presumably all South Koreans -
strongly condemned Cha. They said Cha ought not to generalize about the entire
1.3 billion Chinese population based on his brief encounter with a few
"shameless" Chinese people he had seen on a train. Some added that South Korea
was no better than China 20 years ago. More seriously, some said, Cha's writing
was biased and carried a racist sentiment.
"You're a racist down to the bone. I cannot believe Hankyoreh hired this kind
of narrow-minded nationalist and a racist as its employee," fumed an angry
That person added: "What worries me most about this piece is that the
reporter's view is based on circa-2007 South Korea and judges China based on
his own vantage point. His writing lacks comparative local perspective on what
is regarded 'shameful' in a particular country and utterly lacks a sense of
respect for the country. This is the same as the Western imperial powers that
colonized Africa and Asia, calling them 'primitive' and uncivilized heathens."
Cha has come to his own defense, saying there was a misunderstanding. "I didn't
mean to create a controversy. I don't mean to appear [to be] looking down on
China. I wrote just what I saw and felt," said Cha in a telephone interview on
Cha went to China in 2004 on a fund from the Journalists Association of Korea
and lived there for two years.
"This is my personal blog. So I wrote in a freewheeling, unrestrained manner,"
said Cha. "To a certain extent, it could be also be seen as my affection for
"China is a country that will hold Olympic Games next year. If there are
elements in China that don't make sense from a universal common-sense view,
then there is room for change. I hope it will serve as an opportunity for
Chinese to raise the level of good citizenship and public morals as China is
joining the globalization process."
Cha added that it's unfair for some people to launch an emotionally charged
attack on him and also point their fingers at his newspaper, demanding that the
company fire him.
But a respondent questioned his lack of professionalism: "I am not going to
comment if it were written by a layman. I may simply brush it off. But I cannot
pardon you, because you are a reporter with the Hankyoreh."
The South Korean vernacular newspaper was founded by a group of reporters who
had been sacked for advocating democracy and demanding freedom of speech when
the country was under military dictatorship. Grassroots donations from citizens
financed its launch. Loyal readers of the newspaper were upset with Cha for, in
their view, defaming the reputation of the newspaper in that his pieces
allegedly lost professional balance and journalistic cool.
Cha's other recent blog posts include "Unreliable Chinese police", "Lawless
Chinese bus", and "Life-threatening life in China". All his blogs end with the
characteristic punch line: "So, you still dare to go to China?"
Cha said the inflammatory title only aims to draw readers' initial attention.
He said his main purpose is to educate South Koreans about China.
"I am not saying people should not go to China. China has already become an
inalienable partner to South Korea," said Cha. "But many South Koreans go to
China without knowing much about the country. And they often fall into
embarrassing situations, or unwittingly place themselves in disadvantageous
situations. I am telling them to know a bit about China before they go there to
prevent those unfortunate things happening."
Cha recently stopped replying to readers, saying, "Their brutal and emotional
charges already went beyond the level of engaging in a constructive discussion
on the topic."
Those who support Cha say his writings are persuasive because they are based on
his actual experiences. However, one reader said it was probably not a good
idea to link his blog on the front page of the newspaper website.
South Korea recently took over from Japan as the country that sends the largest
number of tourists to China. Every day, about 10,000 South Korean travelers
land in China. South Koreans also form the largest foreign expatriate community
in China with some 450,000 residents.
Last year, Cha wrote a book titled Rising Korean Community in China, which
he said was placed on the "recommendable book list" by the South Korean
Ministry of Culture and Tourism.
Cha also hopes to publish the contents of his blog in a book. But he's not sure
whether he could find a publisher this time: "The contents may need some
A Korean blogger who identified himself as a naturalized citizen of Australia
said Cha should not think about publishing the book because the Chinese
government would be very upset and wouldn't allow Cha to visit the country
again, and he would be beaten by Chinese people.
"I think there may be such a possibility," Cha said. "But the fact that I wrote
something that is not favorable to China doesn't necessarily mean that my whole
aim is to criticize the country.
"Besides, there is a need for China to change. Actually, China is already
acting upon some of the issues that I mentioned. I hope it embraces my
criticism generously in that sense."
Sunny Lee is a journalist based in Beijing, where he has lived for five
years. A native of South Korea, Lee is a graduate of Harvard University and
Beijing Foreign Studies University.