Richard Branson sorry to hear passenger being called a Chinese pig

By Bert Yang – Features Editor

That was Richard Branson, Virgin CEO, tweeting in response to a recent incident where a Chinese woman called Liu Wei, claimed she was called a fxxking Chinese pig by another passenger on a Virgin Atlantic flight from London to Shanghai. To make matters worse, the Virgin flight attendant threatened to throw the victim off the plane if she didn’t stop complaining. 

There has already been millions of views of the incident from Liu Wei’s sharing on social media. 

The situation remains a pretty, well, “noteworthy” one (“complicated?” I’d rather go for “noteworthy” as there’s a lot to take note of). Britain and China are indeed made up of different populations. Whilst foreigners (as in: people who are not ethnically Chinese, particularly one of China’s 56 ethnic groups such as the Han) are a rare sight in Chinese cities save for Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen (and of course, Hong Kong as well), Britain is a much more diverse society. Therefore, encountering people from, well, “a different part of the world” might very well be something quite new for the Chinese traveller, particularly if they venture out on an almost-blank first passport. (Things do get better, though, with more miles, visas, and stamps — by the time your first passport looks more like a sticker album, you should have been more “world-savvy”.)  

But, then again, save for at times rather “loud” behaviour (actually, much the “norm” in China, since they do indeed like it “hot and noisy” in Chinese circles), the Chinese have indeed been seen as quite the antithesis of a “problem group”. Any “problems” so-called are possibly the stress on others who happen to be in the same class as the Chinese, as they will often easily outperform on tests and exams. Sometimes seen as the “model group”, scoring high on standardised examinations and earning a respectable amount in equally respectable jobs, those, in particular Chinese well integrated into foreign cultures, cause incredibly few incidents and are much more concerned about their family — than starting disputes.

I do find this usage of foul, offensive, and very much discriminatory, racist, or even criminal language to be appalling. In the world today, highly mobile and with people from all over the world in major metropolises such as London, Beijing, or even Zürich, Switzerland, it simply is no longer OK to call people these “names” or to make such disparaging remarks. You would also expect protection from the flight crew and for them to back you up if such an incident occurred. 

I know I myself have been subjected to this when I grew up in Zürich — at school, and sometimes, in public places as well. I’ve also read books about other ethnic groups suffering such hateful language. My natural instinct is to ignore this for as much as possible, if only on the basis of a very Chinese way of thinking: “bie re shir” (别惹事儿), or “don’t create trouble”. This is much more pronounced in a foreign country than elsewhere. If possible, try to gather evidence and report this at a later time — but I wouldn’t let it totally go unreported. Indeed, racist and discriminatory language is against the law — and if I grew up in Switzerland, firmly knowing that rules are rules, I wouldn’t want anyone to get away with it.

Plus, in this day and age, it’s probably not the best idea to get the Chinese upset, especially mainland Chinese. Cases where there were conflicts between mainlanders and Hong Kong people ended up in the mainland Chinese shunning Hong Kong, hurting the territory’s bottom line. To keep Virgin a loved brand amongst Chinese travellers, something needs to be learned here. It’s somewhat “brutal”, so to speak, but here goes: It’s not a very smart idea to shoo those of us who have the cash and are ready to spend it on your brand. And with Chinese-language signage everywhere — Bicester Village, even Paris Charles de Gaulle airport (as I’ve seen on Twitter), you’d want to keep them coming back for more — rather than being helpless and, in doing so, shooing them away.

To much of the world, we’ve probably not seen the Chinese traveller this active in the world — if not since the days of the Silk Road, then, well, since ever. Also try to understand some of us are heading outside Chinese borders for the first time in our lives, and we are what we are today from a backward country only around 35 or 40 years ago. All of this might be new to some of us. Here’s a tip from my Swiss years that should work: It might be better if we accord one other more space, respect, and ultimately, more mutual understanding. That’s better music to the ears — than the aural cacophony of un-harmonious language at 33,000 feet.

Oh and PS: Please don’t shower abuse at all — not on people, not on animals — let’s just not be abusive at all. Full stop.

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