No Goodwill

The recent “goodwill” game on August 18th between the Chinese basketball team the Bayi Rockets and the American college team the Georgetown Hoyas will unfortunately go down in history as an infamous case of unsportsman-like conduct. But the coverage of the game by the American press will also go down as an exemplary case of unabashed bias and sinophobic bigotry.

Even in the US’s long history of yellow(peril) journalism against China, coverage of this game is a salient example of lack of balance and outright prejudice against China and its people.

The background to the game seems harmless enough, even auspicious. Joe Biden Jr. was visiting China on a trip (his first official trip there) seeking to foster better political and economic ties. The Georgetown Hoyas were also touring China on a goodwill mission playing some local teams.

Since 9/11, American hostility towards a rising China have somewhat abated and shifted towards the Middle East and other Muslim countries. China’s economic, political, cultural growth and influence seem to have engendered more respect among Americans but with that perception of global power there also remains plenty of fear.

On the 18th, the Bayi Rockets hosted the Hoyas and during a game that saw the Hoyas commit 28 fouls and the Bayi Rockets 11 by the fourth quarter, a vicious brawl erupted.

Many reports from the US either did not mention the foul count or quickly tried to explain it away by claiming that rather than it suggesting the Hoyas were playing more physically aggressive than the Bayi Rockets, it indicated the hometown officiating was heavily biased against the Americans (the source for this claim is usually one of the US coaches or an observer of the game from the US side).

As can be seen from a professional camera‘s perspective, the fight started after a tall Chinese player was seen trying to defend a pass from a Hoyas’ guard near half-court. The Chinese player seemed to unintentionally foul the Hoyas player attempting to block his pass. It is then clearly seen in the video the Hoyas player walking up to the Chinese player and throwing a wild sucker punch at his face (missing).

The Chinese player then can be seen walking towards him and shoving him hard. Fighting immediately ensued among the other players on the court as both Hoyas and Bayi players rushed to the scene and many players and coaches off the court joined in the melee.

One Chinese player could be seen chasing down a Hoyas player and knocking him down to the ground and repeatedly raining down punches on him while he was on the floor (a technique known in mixed martial arts circles as the “ground n’ pound”). This was captured in a separate shakier and quite grainy video apparently taped from a member of the audience’s cellphone.

Certainly this whole fiasco is a shameful episode in China-US relations and in international sports. But how the US media handled it is even more shameful and the bias rhetoric expressed I would even say is dangerous.

Media headlines decried the incident as a clear instance of brutality by the Chinese team. The New York Times highlighted the beating the Hoyas guard received.

In the video, a Rockets player can be seen ramming the guard Aaron Bowen through a partition and pounding on him with fists as he sat on his chest. Before the Georgetown coach pulled his men off the floor and called the game quits, Chinese players and spectators threw punches, folding chairs and full bottles of water.

In many of the articles written in the US press on this incident rarely any of the Chinese players are ever mentioned by name. Instead the press is comfortable leaving their identities in the dark while naming, describing, and giving sympathetic portraits of the Hoyas players and coaches. The press were often quick to mention that the Chinese players were culled from the People’s Liberation Army, a nameless, faceless mass and portraying the Hoyas players as innocent kids caught up in a fight they did not wish to participate in.

Nearly all the reports did not show or even mention the existence of the clearer professional-grade video but repeatedly showed the cellphone video. Curious as the clearer video clearly shows a Hoyas player throwing the first punch precipitating the brawl but this occurred outside the camera’s frame in the cellphone video. The only exception was the ABC news channel which showed the tape and was where I got the video you see in the above link.

Reports mentioned that the game was “sent over the edge” by a “hard foul” from a Chinese player. Some reports claim the Chinese players “swarmed the court, kicking one Georgetown player on the ground.” Another report claimed a “group” of Chinese players chased “a Georgetown player down under the basket” and while “sitting on his chest” began punching him. These reports tried to give the impression that the Hoyas were victims of a surprise attack by overwhelming numbers of Chinese players. How this is possible considering that both teams have an equal number of players is of course left unanswered and from both the videos one can clearly see that there were plenty of players and coaches from both teams on the court.

The media also were quick to mention that even many in the Chinese online community seemed to be condemnatory or had “slammed” the behavior of the Bayi players posting angry comments on online forums. Angry messages from Chinese discussion or microblogging boards critical of the Chinese team’s conduct and accusing them of instigating the fight have been repeatedly quoted here and here, for example.

One wonders what these Chinese netizens would have said if they had seen the clearer video of what precipitated the events. Sadly, they probably received the same biased information as people in the west. However no mentions of any Chinese fans voicing alternative opinions supportive of another perspective are ever given.

Reports often mentioned that a Chinese player could be seen “wielding” a chair menacingly and that the Chinese fans threw water bottles at the US players and coaches. Of course, Washington Post reporter Gene Wang in his description of the game mentioned that the Hoyas player Moses Ayegba carried a chair onto the court but was quick to excuse it by pointing out that he had been “struck” and was merely acting in “self-defense.”

Wang additionally explains that the Bayi team were being “embarrassed by a college team” and they couldn’t “beat ’em squarely playing basketball” so they grew frustrated and instigated the brawl. This claim is oblivious to the fact that the score was tied at 64 apiece when the brawl started. Wang also claims that the foul by the Chinese player knocked the Hoyas guard down (as the videos show, this is false) and that when the player got up, he “had some words” with the Chinese player which then escalated into punches. Wang, of course, like the rest, fails to mention that the Hoyas player had more than just words for the Chinese player but a closefisted swing at his face nor did Mr. Wang ever show the clearer video.

Interviews from any of the Chinese players or coaches are completely omitted from the American press (though some of the players on the Bayi team apparently did microblog their side of the story claiming they were subject not only to intentional rough play risking serious bodily injury throughout the game by the opposing players but subject to their repeated taunts as well). Pictures, videos, accounts supportive of the Chinese player’s perspective are literally wholly absent from what I’ve read in the reporting in the US press. It’s as if an alternative perspective didn’t exist. It has been completely expunged from public consciousness.

The online community in the US was aghast with posters venting their sinophobic rage. Even most of the more moderate voices seem to simply take it as a given that the Chinese side started the fight and were the principle agents of misconduct.

One commentator, however, from the New York Times discussion forum, taking a seemingly solitary stance, begins his post with the question “IS EVERYONE BLIND HERE?” This poster then noted that a Hoyas player was the instigator of the whole incident and ended by adding this piece of good advice:

everyone’s comments on this story shows how easy it is for people to jump to mistaken conclusions and onto a bandwagon swell. This is precisely how larger confrontations are born – with the blind leading the blind; add a little bias, nationalism along with some political extremist looking for votes and you have a foundation for a good war. My advice – get a pair of glasses, sharpen your perspective and avoid the war hawk mentality (unless you want to add another trillion dollars in military expenditures to our national debt).”

The really astounding thing in all this maybe the fact that in all its one-sided, fear-mongering, hatred-inducing coverage of this incident, this may simply be the norm and not the exception in the US’s China-related reporting and perhaps it is so for most of the countries in the west. I see no reason to suspect that the coverage here is biased beyond the usual. Readers who are critical and vigilant China-watchers may be all too aware of this. One wonders how people in the west will ever see China and its people on equal, respectful terms with coverage like this.

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