by Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: Christopher Raymond Hall
IT IS A COMMON joke by now that Taiwan only makes international news whenever something bad happens. Recently, it was the video of a Taiwanese man harassing British expatriate Christopher Raymond Hall on the MRT which went viral on the Internet. During the video, Hall was attacked as a foreigner with a Taiwanese girlfriend, with the man calling Hall’s girlfriend a “whore” going out with a “piece of trash foreigner” who should just get out of Taiwan.
When Hall’s response was—apart from recording the incident—to question the man as to whether he just hated all foreigners and wanted all foreigners to get out of Taiwan, the man denied this, then proceeded to call Hall “ugly”, “dirt poor” and unable to “scrounge an existence” outside of Taiwan, which leaves him with little else to do but to seduce Taiwanese women. The man also insists that all Taiwanese would agree with his evaluation of Hall, that the “whole of Taiwan is repulsed by him”, and claims that Hall is poorer than the average Taiwanese, asking Hall to produce a ten-thousand NT bill to prove his financial ability.
The subway racist, daring Hall to record him on video. Photo credit: Christopher Raymond Hall
Hall’s video of the incident with inserted segments of commentary by himself on what happened quickly went viral. Hall would later release the unedited video, which does in fact demonstrate that Hall made no cuts to to the video. Although Hall mentions that he runs a YouTube channel with over 2,000 followers on the video and threatens that he would upload the video in his confrontation with the racist, within the original video, Hall explains his commentary that he only uploaded the video to his YouTube channel after police inaction against the man. The man apparently had been staring at then following Hall and his girlfriend on the MRT before the verbal confrontation recorded on Hall’s video.
The “subway racist,” who has been identified as an employee of multinational firm ISS, but whose identity is not yet public knowledge, was later arrested. Although, to be sure, he appears to have been stalking Hall in some manner and at point says statements which may be construed as physical threats, some have suggested that his arrest was only a formality with the real reason being to cover Taiwan’s international loss of face.
The “subway racist” claiming all Taiwanese would agree with his evaluation of Hall. Photo credit: Christopher Raymond Hall
Nevertheless, if it is that the “subway racist” claimed within the video that all Taiwan would side with him, the responses from the Taiwanese public have been precisely the opposite. Apart from Taiwanese netizens quickly identifying the man and bombarding him and ISS with hate mail, sympathetic responses to Hall have been many. Hall, a YouTube personality, mentions in the video that he had 2,000 followers. At the time of writing, he now has close to 25,000.
We might focus on two aspects of the incident. First, the contradictory statements of the “subway racist” himself, are worthy of discussion. Second, we might discuss the responses to the event by the Taiwanese public, expats living in Taiwan, and international responses.
National Anxieties and A Deep-Seated Sense of Inferiority?
AS HALL HIMSELF quickly remarks upon in his confrontation with the “subway racist,” the “subway racist”’s comments contain a strange mixture of asserting Taiwan’s superiority while inferiority. Hall asks the “subway racist” at a point out of a deep-seated sense of inferiority about Taiwan, that is, whether he despises Hall because he thinks that no foreigners would want to date Taiwanese women or to live in Taiwan apart from losers. Again, the “subway racist” actually denies hating all foreigners in the video, only “piece of trash” foreigners. But, particularly within his constant references to Hall’s Taiwanese girlfriend as a “whore” we can detect a sense of national anxiety.
The “subway racist” confronting Hall’s girlfriend. Photo credit: Christopher Raymond Hall
Much has been remarked upon about the phenomenon of couples consisting of white men and Asian women in East Asian countries with sizable white expat populations. There are certainly also those white men who flaunt their ability to sleep with Asian women, or embrace “yellow fever” in various forms. If it white men dating Asian women and that there are far less cases of Asian men dating white women is, in fact, a visible phenomenon, this leads to much anxiety about nationality on the part of Asian men in these countries.
After all, who is it that is the that dominates the world at present, politically, economically, and culturally? Obviously it is the West. Hence individuals hailing from non-western countries often feel a sense of inferiority and anxiety towards white individuals from western countries. But the national anxiety felt by Asian men towards white men in such cases is often a particularly male phenomenon, with the notion that westerners are taking away “their” women. Oftentimes, women dating white men are labelled as “whores,” seduced by the superior socioeconomic ability or wealth of white men. The often common prevalence of foreigners in nightlife in East Asian countries contributes to this perception.
The subway racist insisting on Hall’s poverty. Photo credit: Christopher Raymond Hall
We can certainly see this in the case of the “subway racist,” who insists that he does not hate all foreigners, only “piece of trash” ones, and that Hall is one of those “piece of trash” foreigners he despises on the basis of his perception that Hall is ugly and poor. Would the “subway racist” have had no problem with Hall if he had deemed Hall to be good looking and financially able? Hall is probably correct to note the “subway racist” has some sense of inferiority as a Taiwanese man, given that he insists Hall is lower than any Taiwanese, but seems to derive his own sense of superiority as Taiwanese from insulting Hall. This also seems to be why he is is so emphatic upon that Hall’s girlfriend has in some way betrayed her “Taiwaneseness” through going out with a “piece of trash foreigner” like Hall.
Are Expatriates in Asia Privileged?
AT THE SAME time, we might note that it is also true that white expatriates such as Hall do occupy a relatively privileged position within Taiwanese or other Asian countries. There are many tales by expats of suffering “racism” from local Asian populations on the basis of, for example, differing treatment between whites and non-Asians, the added complications of job procedures or immigration status which foreigners are made to deal with, or the disinterest of police in dealing with cases regarding foreigners. All very true, except we might point to where expats are sometimes altogether quick to jump to charges of “racism” or to cast aspersions onto the Taiwanese people writ large, as a matter of “national character.”
YouTube comment on Hall’s video
However, would the Taiwanese public been so quick to jump onto finding the culprit of Hall’s case, for example, if Hall had not been a white expat, but a brown-skinned one? As the joke goes, only white people are afforded the privileged status of “expats”, brown people are “migrant workers.” If Hall had not been white, would anyone even bothered with the incident? And, again, as was mentioned, it also is still a question as to whether the “subway racist” would have been arrested for the desire to save face for Taiwan.
Moreover, as is unsurprising, whenever an incident in the news involves a foreigner, it becomes an object of disproportionate discussion to its significance even in cases where it is simply a foreigner suffering a minor injury in some way. And incidents involving foreigners become hotly debated among foreigners, sometimes moreso than major political incidents in Taiwan.
Comments on Hall’s video on Reddit, where the video was the #2 top link for a day
Yet if this has become an international news story, now we have the complicated element of many individuals entirely without knowledge of Taiwan weighing in on the issue. Accordingly, responses have been divided. Some, looking into the issue, noted positively that Taiwanese had themselves been rather condemning of the “subway racist”. Still others’ responses was to ask Hall why, being a British man, he would bother living in a third world country to begin with. But all these responses may be altogether too much predictable.
Broader Questions of the “Other” in Taiwan and Elsewhere
IT IS POSSIBLE that the “subway racist” may have been hoping to provoke Hall into hitting him, in order to sue Hall. This is altogether also possible. However, there are also those cases of disturbed individuals who do, in fact, take issue to foreigners and harass them for no real reason. Indeed, though not white myself, similar incidents have happened to me in Taiwan, China, and Japan alike as an Asian man who does not exactly resemble the local population.
We do well to remember that national anxieties are not only in regards to the relation of the non-white residents of non-western countries to western countries with predominantly white populations, but largely in regards to any other national “Other” which leads to anxieties about national identity that threaten one’s sense of anxiety. So it may be that, for all the media spectacle which ensued in regards to the “subway racist” incident, the ultimate takeaway we should perhaps have is to ponder these deeper questions of race relations, and national anxieties as provoked by “Others”—white, Taiwanese, or otherwise. And if such questions are raised, they may require a deep look into the mirror on the part of all.