Maybe not the best choice of words? Photographer: Noam Galai/Getty Images
Maybe not the best choice of words? Photographer: Noam Galai/Getty Images

On Monday, China’s state-owned CCTV-13 news channel replayed some offensive remarks that Fox News's Bob Beckel made last Thursday during "The Five," which he co-hosts. In response to a New York Times report on Chinese hackers intruding into U.S. government databases, Beckel called the Chinese “the single biggest threat to the national security of the United States," and then added: "Do you know what they just did? As usual, we bring them over here and we teach a bunch of Chinamen -- eh, Chinese people -- how to do computers, they go back to China, and they hack into us." He went on, and concluded by saying, “So China” and making an obscene gesture.

A bravura ending, indeed. But the subsequent outrage focused largely on Beckel’s use of the derogatory term "Chinamen." Soon, the clip circulated on Chinese blogs and microblogs, and comments piled up. (Beckel issued something of an apology on Monday's episode of "The Five.")

In the following days, commentary on Beckel's words accumulated slowly, but not without some pointed and influential responses. How do we oppose such insulting remarks?" Xinhua, a state-owned news agency, tweeted from its Sina Weibo microblogging account. "We should clearly demand that the West take off its colored glasses.”

Anger at American television personalities and networks for real and perceived slights against China have long been television and online staples. Last year, Jimmy Kimmel was a target after a segment aired on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" in which a child suggested that the way to deal with U.S. debt to China was to “kill everyone in China.” China’s online communities exploded with indignation that persisted -- and trended -- for weeks.

Apologies were given, but the issue was much larger than a controversial clip. In China, the news media typically speaks for the government, and so Kimmel became the focus of its ire. People took to the Internet to air grievances against the U.S.'s treatment of Chinese immigrants -- and, by extension, all Chinese.

Throughout the heated discussion, often more like a one-sided rant, newspapers and bloggers invoked the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, whereby the U.S. federal government imposed severe restrictions on Chinese immigration. (Congress formally apologized for the act in 2012.) “The Chinese people waited for nearly 130 years for an apology for the Chinese Exclusion Act,” wrote Liu Xuesong, a commentator for ifeng.com, in a widely circulated article before Kimmel’s apology. “Today, the American media owes another apology to the Chinese, and we don’t want to wait another 100 years for it.” To non-Chinese readers, Liu’s rhetoric may seem over-the-top; in China it was a mainstream sentiment in the Kimmel incident's aftermath.

Here's perhaps the most curious aspect of Beckel’s latest ugly moment on Fox (in February 2013, he mentioned that his eyes after a swim “made me look Oriental”): While it's become a big issue in the Chinese-American community (a California state senator called for Beckel's resignation), it hasn’t generated as much heat inside China as one might expect after the Kimmel controversy. This may be in part because the term “Chinamen” doesn’t translate as a derogatory term and needs to be explained to non-English speakers. (It certainly doesn't resonate like “kill everyone.”)

But there's also a sense that -- despite CCTV’s best efforts to cause a stir -- there’s little in Beckel’s comments that hasn’t been heard before in far more offensive terms. (Kimmel’s segment was compared to Nazi propaganda in a prominent Chinese paper.) Summing up the feeling, on Monday, Lin Zhibo, a provincial bureau chief for Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily offered the microblogged equivalent of a shrug: “Racism still exists in the hearts of some white men.”

To contact the author of this article: Adam Minter at shanghaiscrap@gmail.com.

To contact the editor responsible for this article: Zara Kessler at zkessler@bloomberg.net.