By David Bandurski – Take China’s commercialized media landscape, add stringent controls on real news and information, and you’ve got a bull market for all things inane and extraneous. So perhaps it’s no surprise that a seemingly inconsequential blog post about Chinese tourists riding New York City’s Wall Street Bull has been inflated into headline news in China over the last week.
The controversy – now being called the “Wall Street Bull-Riding Affair” (华尔街骑牛事件) – began on November 15 as Wang Fang (王芳), a host for Beijing TV, posted several photos of Chinese tourists riding the Wall Street Bull she had taken while in New York. The accompanying blog post, “A Group of Chinese Tourists Actually ‘Ride’ the Wall Street Bull”, said “foreigners on the scene sighed and moaned as Chinese tourists made a show of riding the bull.”
Wang’s post added: “Their behavior drew a crowd of tourists from various nations, and a cleaner came over to see what all the fuss was about. Talking with him I learned that in the two years he had worked there he had never seen anyone ride the bull.”
Wang Fang’s post spread like a wildfire through Chinese cyberspace, sparking discussion on many online forums. Early on, most of these postings attacked the Chinese bull-riders. Most everyone agreed this revealed the poor manners of many Chinese tourists and reflected badly on Chinese generally.
It wasn’t long before the story was hoisted into commercial newspapers across China, becoming a national incident. Even newspapers in Hong Kong and Taiwan picked up on the story, running it in one case with the headline, “Taking Photos Riding the Bronze Bull in Mockery: Mainland Tourists Show Their Ugly Side on Wall Street”.
Then came a moderating voice from Hong Kong’s Ming Pao: “What’s most disgusting is that [things like this] should always be elevated into a question of Chinese character.”
The next turn came as photos began appearing in Chinese chatrooms depicting foreign tourists of all stripes riding the Wall Street Bull. Web users then turned their anger on Wang Fang, whose blog had initiated the controversy. Riding the bull didn’t seem to be such a big deal after all. Had Wang exaggerated the response of onlookers?
[ABOVE: A special topics page at QQ.com gathers together the pro's and con's of the "Wall Street Bull-Riding Affair".]
In an interview with Southern Metropolis Daily on November 24, Wang Fang said she was taken aback by the response. In her view, her blog was simply an online diary containing her personal reflections and viewpoints. “Most people who read my blog are mothers, and my goal in writing the blog is reaching these mothers and helping them educate their own kids,” Wang said. “I personally believe this was uncivilized behavior [to ride the Wall Street Bull].”
Views on the “affair” posted by Web users on QQ.com over the weekend expressed both support and criticism of Wang Fang:
59.40.30.*: With such a level as this she can still be a host for Beijing TV? She should be fired.
209.188.58.*: Wang Fang is right. Chinese people should learn from this, and its only because of her love of the country that they will bear it in mind.
125.91.80.*: Oh, so Chinese and dogs shouldn’t be allowed to ride the Wall Street Bull [apparently a reference to restrictions under colonial rule in treaty ports such as Shanghai barring admittance to certain areas to dogs and Chinese.]
222.81.98.*: And what does is say about Wang Fang’s character, to generate such clap-trap?
125.127.94.*: So foreigners ride the Wall Street Bull too. Clearly this is about making something out of nothing and poking fun at the Chinese people.