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China: Film director beats up foreigner at swimming pool

On a recent trip to the swimming pool, the commercially successful and well-known film director Ning Hao ended up getting in a fist fight with one swimmer who wanted a lane to himself in what Ning says was an already crowded pool.

In his June 3 post, ‘Thrash these faithful followers of the Eight-Power Alliance!’, which now has over 800 comments, Ning aims his harsher criticism not at the swimmer, a foreign citizen, but at the pool employees who he sees as displaying a character defect which a prevalent Chinese nationalist view holds responsible for the hundred years of humiliation:


It was hot out, so dad wanted to go swimming. My friend Xiao Jun and I felt like we could use the exercise, so we went with.


The swimming pool was far from empty, there were people in every lane, two in most, a common enough sight and no big deal; in lane one off to the side there was only one person, so dad climbed down the metal ladder on the side of the pool and jumped into the water. I was still with Xiao Jun finding a place to put our things down when I suddenly heard some shrill shriek, quite loud (it was shrieking, I don't know how else to describe it) and quite strange for an instant. When I looked over, I saw that the person in the first lane was a Westerner who was now ranting, shouting at my dad in English (the reverb was too loud, I couldn't make it out). Dad didn't understand, so he just moved over into lane two.


I was quite unhappy at this. Why was it necessary to go off on an older person like this? This Westerner has no concept of respecting the elderly. For all I know, maybe that's just not something they do in his country and he doesn't know any better, so I just ignored him. Xiao Jun had already jumped in on the other side, so I started warming up while I chose a lane. By this time, though, with dad and Xiao Jun in the water, all lanes already had 2-3 people in them, only lane one had one person in it. Without giving it anymore thought, I jumped in. Before I had even swum halfway down, I saw the Westerner swimming straight at me, pointing at me and saying something. I stopped and started treading and said to him: speak Chinese! (speaking in the language of other countries is a display of submission to the culture of said country) The Westerner kept pointing at me: one person per lane! You get out, understand? (his words)


Finally I understood the reason for his rant earlier, he was upset that my father had been swimming in this lane. This was not a competition lane, and this was a public swimming pool, so how is it that there can only be one person in each lane? Even if that's the case in your country, here in my China there are over a billion people, swimming lanes are for everyone to use. This idea of yours is really a bit too selfish. Also worth noting is that I couldn't see any willingness to discuss or be polite in those blue eyes of his, instead all I saw was an order that wasn't up for debate; naturally, this was somewhat infuriating. I turned and asked the lifeguard standing nearby if such a regulation exists at that swimming pool, the lifeguard just nervously shook his head. I asked the Westerner: whose rule is this? Then he actually pointed straight at himself and, word-by-word, said: I——told——you, one person per lane! Talking to me in that over-pronounced tone of voice, his expression suddenly reminded me of the Eight-Power Alliance! I began to lose my cool: let's take this out of the pool. Having said that, I climbed out.


The Westerner followed. Built and buff standing tall at 185 cm, he walked up to me provocatively and grabbed my wrist, saying in Chinese: ‘you want to argue?’ (I figure he meant ‘fight’). I had no intention of making a move, I just wanted to break his grip on me. At this time, dad and Xiao Jun saw what was going on and came over, only then did he let go of me. Then several pool management personnel came rushing over and I asked them: do you have a regulation here that only one person can be in a lane at a time? One manager shook his head: no we don't; when the place fills up, people have to share. I said: well then would you please tell him clearly that the lanes here are for everyone to share? At that, I saw trace of cowardice in the manager's face and no one stood up to talk to him (it's that failing those of us in China with poor English share, abasing ourselves before we even open our mouth, then from that to feeling afraid). I persisted: speak Chinese, he understands.


One kid who looked like a swim coach got up the courage to go over to the swimming lane and talk to him. It looked like there finally would be some proper ‘regulation’, so Xiao Jun and I went back to swimming in that lane. I didn't expect that again, before I'd even swum halfway down, that Westerner actually leapt back in the pool and spread his arms to block the lane, shoving us back. When I looked up, he was actually giving us the middle finger. Discriminated against in my own home by someone of another race, insulted not just once but repeatedly, I couldn't stand it any longer, this guy needed a beatdown! I stood up and started throwing punches. Water started flying around…after a few punches, the Westerner started to smarten up. I thought of that Chairman Mao saying, turns out he was just a paper tiger!


Management came over and tried to mediate: don't stoop to his level…those laowais are just ignorant! Hearing that just made me angry, it was like they were saying the Westerner wasn't in the wrong. If you stop to think about what was wrong with this picture, it was they who were being unreasonable. Why shouldn't I stoop to his level? This cowardice, it's been passed down through generations! It's self-abasement! Habitual self-abasement! It's the chronic disease of worshiping foreigners and fearing them at the same time that has afflicted the Chinese people for over a hundred years! Didn't several generations of revolutionary martyrs shed both blood and life in fighting for equality and freedom for the Chinese nation, so that Chinese people would no longer bow before Westerners? If people are going to pick a fight with you, you need to see it through to the end!!


Now that the Chinese economy is becoming increasingly important, greater numbers of Westerners are coming to China with economic aims. Of those, there is no shortage of friendly and equal, even selfless and supportive people, and to those international friends making a contribution to the socialist construction of my country, I show my respect! But nor is there a shortage (and possibly not a minority) of full-on certain utilitarian and egoistic individuals in existence who hold all things foreign in holy reverence.

大多是在西面混的不好,换个钱多人软的地方碰碰运气;到了中国简直就是天堂:原本不宽与的收入换做人民币居然消费力甚为可观,这里的民众又大多有“尊敬”外宾的传统;即使有点矛盾他们也会抱着 “让着”“不一般见识”的态度;(只要说句英文他们就足够怕了);还有很多主动热情说英文的“向导”(不知什么心里,以与外国人为伍交流为荣者,过去叫二毛子)甚至天天换女朋友也不是问题(总有前仆后继的姑娘往上冲)等等等等;原本在自己国家得不到的尊重和自信在这里得到了极大的满足……长此以往毕生娇纵,霸道也就在所难免!可怜,毛病都是国人惯出来的!

Many of these are people who struck out back home in the West, now trying their luck in a place where the money is flowing and the people are easy; coming to China is like heaven for them: having gone from having such low income to now where the consumption power of the renminbi is quite considerable, many of the people here still maintain a tradition of “honoring” foreign guests. Even when some conflict occurs, they still rush to “let it go” or the attitude of “seeing eye-to-eye” (all you have to do to put the fear in them is say a few words in English). Then there are those many ‘tour guides’ so active and enthusiastic to speak English (I don't even know what kind of mental state that entails, in the past those proud to be associated with foreigners were called fake Westerners), and even when [foreigners] change their girlfriends on a daily basis, that's not a problem (whenever one girl gets shot down, there's always another one ready to rush to the front line), and so on. Where back home they didn't get much respect or have much confidence, here they are satisfied to the maximum……anybody who lives in such a way for too long will inevitably become spoiled, and ending up feeling like you can do whatever you want would be hard to avoid! What's pathetic is that we indulge this kind of defect!


My hope is that my compatriots will allow for some introspection, and warn these misbehaving laowais: be more respectful! This is China! Your tantrums are not allowed!!!!!


  • Dave

    This article interested me because I worked at a multiracial pool in the U.S. For about 5 years. There we always dealt with the issue of crowded lane lines. Most of the time te problem was young kids playing when older swimmers wanted to swim. In that case I can assure you we cater to our elder just like in China. However when it came to too swimmers sharing lanes we rarely had problems. I believe that he had full right to confront the westerner. If he spoke Chinese then he has no excuse for not following protocol and sharing his lane. It seems as though he was just an irate foreigner who needed to be taught a lesson about living in another country other than his own.
    I think more westerner should understand that they are living in someone elses hom. Even though they may be welcome at times, the social rules must always be followed if not respected.

    Thanks for the post, and translation!

    tl;dr he may have been white but he’s no Michael Phelps!

  • Mike

    The old guy was right to ask to swim in the lane.

    But the all article is just discusting. People easyly argue and fight in China for the same reason. So why does this director has to turn it in a “Chinese against colonialist army” things? How stupid is it? And racist when he describe the “blue eye” of the foreigner to insist on his not only cultural difference.

    This director is worse than any fenqing!

  • stephen

    Any idea of the Laowai’s country of origin? Ugly American by any chance?

  • perspectivehere


    You’re right. The attitude of the director here is “discusting”. He’s just as bad as uppity black people in America, always bringing up slavery and getting soooo angry when white people get their way. Why can’t they just forget about something that happened a hundred years ago? Black people complaining about white privilege are just as racist as Chinese people complaining about colonialist attitudes. They should just forget that slavery and colonialism ever happened.

  • @ perspectivehere: Please. There are certainly times when it’s appropriate to examine the history behind something, but this is just a case of a selfish dick who got punched at a pool. I agree the “8 Nation Alliance” crap is completely irrelevant here; this could just as easily have happened if the guy was Chinese (and imagine what would happen to Ning Hao if the guy had been a Chinese official!). What Ning Hao is complaining about is an annoying inconvenience at the pool, not nationwide devastation and theft at the hands of foreign invaders. And whatever vestige of the leg he had to stand on was destroyed when he fell into the idiotic “foreigners are all playboys” stereotype, and then had the gall to end his giant tantrum by telling foreigners “your tantrums are not allowed here.”

    Notice he doesn’t actually say anything about how the situation ended. My guess is, management told the guy he had to share the lane, and then Ning Hao went swimming. What a disaster. Totally fair to draw an analogy between that and the century of humiliation (eyeroll).

    There’s no need for such a ridiculous appeal to xenophobia (and if you doubt that’s the effect this had, read some of the comments on the original post). Just brush it off as yet another asshole (lord knows China has plenty) and move on with your life.

  • Henry

    In fact, as an American living in China I have been witness to several “foreigner tantrums” and they made me quite angry. One time it was a German yelling at a young Chinese female employee for something which was clearly her American boss’ fault. Another time it was an older British man yelling at an older Chinese bus driver for a ridiculous reason. Another time an Australian man started pointing at an overweight Chinese schoolgirl and started yelling “Look at the fat girl! Too fat from eating too many cookies! Fat spoiled little girl!” The embarrassed girl didn’t understand him and just walked away. All of these tantrums occurred at Hash House Harrier meetups. Eventually, I stopped participating in the Hash House Harriers. While the majority of hashers are decent, hash runs still seem to attract some of the worst ex-pat elements, and when they are all together they feel emboldened to take out all of their frustrations on Chinese people who are unlikely to fight back. The hash runs themselves were usually conducted on farmland, so you ended up with a lot of hashers, Chinese and ex-pat alike, running through terraces, sometimes trampling crops, and always scaring the locals. What also surprised me was the attitude of the Chinese hashers, who told me, “Oh, don’t worry about the peasants. This land doesn’t really belong to them.” This is perhaps legally true, but a rather callous statement nonetheless. Anyway, I agree with this Chinese film director that Chinese people should not let foreigners abuse them. Too often I have seen Chinese cower in the face of a foreigner’s temper tantrum and there is no good reason why this should be so.

  • Good for you. I applaud you for standing up to that self-centered foreign fool who wouldn’t share the lane in a crowded public pool. He was arrogant.

    I’m an American and I’m a Caucasion so I want you to know that we are all not like that. However, I have a neighbor like that. In America, more than one generation whom we call the “self-esteem” generations grew up to be spoiled by their parents and a culture that somehow came to believe that children should be raised to believe they can do no wrong and will succeed at whatever they do and always get his or her way–no matter what.

    This has spawned millions of Americans who behave like the foreigner you described. These people act as if they are better than everyone else and the world belongs to them and we are all below them.

  • perspectivehere

    @C. Custer

    Please yourself. Read the article carefully. The anger Ning Hao felt was not only directed at the “selfish dick” but also at the pool authorities for failing to take action to enforce sharing of the lane.

    Like any person, Ning Hao draws upon his personal history and “cultural baggage” to make sense of this. Ning Hao interprets the conflict through the lens of the history of extraterritorial rights in China, where foreigners could behave with lawlessness and impunity while local officials were prohibited (due to unequal treaties signed under duress) to stop them.

    I applaud globalvoicesonline for posting the translation of this essay because I believe it reflects a deep and widespread attitude among not only Chinese in China but among overseas Chinese as well. It is much less frequent in English language media to hear and have the chance to identify with the perspective of the local Chinese person in relating to foreigners.

    What caused Ning Hao to turn this from a personal conflict to a matter of public principle is that he wants to be treated with equality and dignity. He took a stand, and now he wants others to do so as well — hence writing the essay. He wants other Chinese to stand up for their rights. It would be wise for foreigners to pay attention because we’re likely to see more, not less, Chinese demanding equality of treatment in the future.

    It’s hard for Americans to relate to a situation where foreigners are accorded special privileges. This kind of situation happens so rarely in the U.S., and mostly involves diplomatic immunity and petty crimes like parking violations in places like NYC.

    But it’s not so different from the kind of anger that was felt by Blacks who could not be served at lunch counters, or who had to give way to Whites by moving to the back of a bus. They wanted equality and dignity as well and took individual stands on principle – to be able to eat at a Woolworth’s counter as a colored person, or to refuse to move out of a bus seat so that a white person could sit down.

    Whites who did not understand this principle would blame the newfound assertive behavior by Blacks on dangerous troublemakers like Martin Luther King Jr. and the NAACP who stirred up resentment and anger among blacks. As a matter of principle, Blacks said “we should be treated equally and the authorities should protect us when our rights are trampled upon.”

    Was it “racist” of blacks to ask for this, to see a pattern of behavior that they wanted to change? Was it “irrelevant” for Black leaders to bring up the history of slavery, to remind Blacks of the earlier indignities suffered by their ancestors, and to interpret their conficts today as part of a historical pattern of struggle to complete the promise of equality by demanding to be served at a whites only diner?

    Blacks in the U.S. were told that these kinds of indignities they suffered were due to mere private conflicts between individuals and not matters of public concern. People who tried to raise “Black Consciousness” among the silent and docile sufferers in the 1950s were called dangerous troublemakers stirring up hatred by Blacks against whites.

    C.Custer, I think your problem here is dismissing Ning Hao’s feelings about the matter. You’re missing the point. Ning Hao is giving insight on his thought process in his emotional reacting to an incident of personal and cultural conflict. This is valuable information, but instead of accepting it as it is and trying to understand it, you dismiss it, and call his reactions and thought process irrelevant.

    With all due respect, try working a little harder on cultural sensitivity.

    Part of respecting people of different cultures is actually to hear what people are saying and try to understand it, even if it differs from your point of view.

    For example, you write “this is just a case of a selfish dick who got punched at a pool. I agree the “8 Nation Alliance” crap is completely irrelevant here; this could just as easily have happened if the guy was Chinese (and imagine what would happen to Ning Hao if the guy had been a Chinese official!). What Ning Hao is complaining about is an annoying inconvenience at the pool, not nationwide devastation and theft at the hands of foreign invaders.”

    I could reword your same sentiment and apply it to Rosa Parks: “This is just the case of some bigoted selfish Southerners who wanted to sit down, and her refusing to get up. Mentioning “Confederate slavery” crap is completely irrelevant here. This could just as easily have happened if the guy was Black (and imagine what would happen to Rosa Parks if the guy had been a black gang member!) What Rosa Parks is complaining about is an annoying inconvenience on a bus, not nationwide slavery and oppression at the hands of Confederate slaveowners.”

    That kind of reaction is understandable. Many whites of good will reacted that way to the Civil Rights and Black Power movements (Nixon got elected in part on tapping into this reaction). They didn’t accept that to make way for black equality they had to give up white privilege in its physical, economic, cultural, social and political manifestations. It is a process that is still ongoing today. You have to be pretty blind not to see this.

    When Chinese say, “we don’t like you (foreigner) because of the injustices of X”, I think it is unwise to simply dismiss their statements by saying “your feelings about X are illegitimate and show how racist and unenlightened you are”; and “you should stop talking about the injustices of X and look at what’s happening as isolated individual incidents that have no significance.”

    That is not a dialogue.

    Someone after this will no doubt post some red herring about how the CCP nurtures this sense of grievance among Chinese toward foreigners. I think that’s pretty irrelevant here, because you will find this point of view also among overseas Chinese as well. You will find analogous feelings among other Asians who have been colonized, and among Asian Americans too.

    I witnessed a very similar incident ten years ago at a high-end recreational club in Hong Kong, which (prior to the 1997 handover) had mostly a white membership.

    A club member, a Chinese American from California, related a story about how incensed he was that the club staff had ordered him off the tennis court for wearing a non-collar shirt, and yet later he saw that they had allowed a white member to remain on the tennis court. The Chinese American made a scene, yelled at the club staff, and angrily made a big stink to the General Manager. I don’t know if the club policy was changed after that, but I thought “Good for him for taking a stand on principle.” This is not a guy who had been raised in China but the good ol’ USA, where equality of treatment is expected, but not always given unless you fight for it.

    The club’s membership is now a lot more diverse and a significant portion of the membership is Asian or mixed race, so I don’t think it happens today, but it still might.

    I expect we will see more Chinese fighting for equality and dignity against white foreign privilege. Some of it will go over the top, no doubt (like Woody Allen’s “Jew Eat?” but we need to listen and not be dismissive of it as a “giant tantrum” — it just makes people angrier when you do that.

    Apologies to gvo for the long comment.

    • Nick

      Ning Hao is a fairly reclusive public persona who has grievances with the government, grew up poor, and in the situations that I’ve been with him, displays a very acute understanding of nationalism, victimhood, social and interpersonal dynamics, and racial history and sensitivity. In short, he’s as up to speed on the inter-ethnic dynamics of the Western world as the best sociologists the West has to offer. He knows PC from PC.

      A reminder to remember the cultural context a person speaks from is always a good thing, but – that doesn’t mean it’s not a lazy way to make your case. Rosa parks simply refused to move. This guy beat someone up and bragged about it.

  • Jack

    I am an ABC (American Born Chinese) and living in China for last 6 months. I don’t understand why Chinese people discriminate against themselves. There has been several occasions that I’ve seen where my co-workers would receive preferential treatment over chinese people. This is all because they are laowai. We start calling this as pulling the “laowai card”. I think the pool authority did not take action because he was a laowai. If it was a chinese person, they would have said something right away.

  • harlen

    This is just an ordinary argument between two people, why did it have to take on a racial element?

    • Sen

      Harlen, I guess you didn’t read the article did you?

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