Beijing Cream appears to be no more. Founded by American Northwestern University graduate Anthony Tao in 2012, it divided expatriate local society, created an unholy gossip ridden mess, annoyed thousands and delighted trolls. But what lay behind its attempts at creating a brand that would seek to influence what local Beijing expats would read, and in turn be influenced by? And why did it fail?
Beijing Creams Philosophy
Beijing Cream published several posts daily across different categories, including General, Beiwatch, 5000 years, Wok of Art, One Dream, The East is Read, and Creme de la Creme. Most of these fell under the General category, while the others were specifically tailored towards “topics like culture, visual arts, original comic strips, Chinese netizens, corrupt politicians, sports, and all things Beijing”. Tao’s original idea was that viable news stories were to be gleaned from the discussion expats were having around bars, where, tongues loosened by a few drinks, reliable sources of “from the street” stories could be obtained. Accordingly, Beijing Cream highly encouraged contributions and anonymous tips for anyone interested, in Tao’s words, “in order to foster a strong alternative discourse in Beijing where people going to bars…are the ones passing around these stories.”
This was matched with a gonzo reporting style, while the original intent of reporting bar talk as news resulting in the blog reporting as factual, what was instead unverified gossip, plenty of bad language, and the roasting of prominent expats. Tao especially encouraged the Maoist ideal, and Chairman Mao’s mantra “Everything under heaven is in chaos, the situation is excellent“ which began to realize itself as Beijing Cream began by taking virulent pot shots at numerous prominent expats and institutions. Indeed, “The Situation is Excellent” became a weekly Friday round up of Beijing Cream’s more notorious stories, and especially ones that poked fun at or were offensive to people considered competitors or unfriendly. This almost immediately created a scenario whereby the local Beijing expatriate scene became divided; those who were targets of Tao’s style of divide, conquer and deliberate expatriate social media chaos, and those who benefited from it. This made the blog fairly influential in terms of making an immediate visible impact, the methodology being to try and influence expatriate private and social conversations reflect stories they had read on Beijing Cream, and thus to be be able to generate influence, personal fame (and fear, which they would also exploit) and eventually advertising revenues by promoting the blog as the sole pertinent source of all such bar-talk material. In such a manner they sought to become the only legitimate website for expats within China. Beijing Cream set out to be offensive to anyone in their way from the start.
The blogs unofficial mantra was “You’re not anyone until you’ve been roasted by Beijing Cream”, while its content divided the English language community in China as to its merits. The techniques used to discredit expats who disagreed with Beijing Creams’s tactics were taken straight from Mao’s “Little Red Book” and were the same used by the Red Guards during the China’s Cultural Revolution: Criticism, Ridicule and Deliberate Ostracism. Disapproving expats who made their views known faced exactly that: they were ridiculed online, flamed, and socially ignored. This created an “us versus them” expatriate based class struggle between established expatriate society and the Beijing Cream attempt at subverting this. Beijing’s Western expat community, numbering about 10,000 individuals, rapidly became even more socially divided as Tao’s attempts to duplicate the “chaos under heaven…the situation is excellent” belief in assisting his own self promotion began to have an effect.
Tao’s Gonzo style is best illustrated that Beijing Creams first Twitter feed (since deleted) ran the words “Fuck, Cunt, Motherfucker, Cocksucker, Tits”. Tao himself has alluded to the Blogs title as being a euphemism for “male ejaculate, semen, jizz”, while Beijing Creams byline “A Dollop of China” is a double entrendre, making reference to “dollop” being an archaic British slang word for human excrement.
In this way, Tao both publicly acknowledged his own tactics, and sought to impose them upon his target market – Beijing’s expats. There was no doubt this was a clever strategy – China was and is Communist, and such tactics have been used by the Communist Party for decades to divide and conquer the nations thoughts and influences. But Tao was the first to use it in the contemporary social media online space and aim it at expats to fulfill his own promotional objectives.
Beijing Creams Content & Contributors
Tao produced much of the content along with Robert Foyle Hunwick, who was seeking to make a name for himself in China as an ‘investigative journalist’. Hunwicks attitude to journalistic standards though was directly linked to both his and Tao’s primary aim to generate reader views, and both quickly realized that the more scurrilous and offensive the piece the better. Tao himself acknowledged this by stating his journalistic goals were “to entertain, and then to inform, and in that order”. Hence reliable, well researched articles were never much on the agenda.
This lead to Foyle Hunwick positioning himself in China as an ‘enfant terrible’ and a self proclaimed ‘maker of reputations’. To further this, the concept was enhanced and extended by deliberately looking for scurrilous innuendo and gossip, especially about other high profile expats in the hope that publishing these would improve viewing numbers. This ultimately meant that certain expats recognized that they could feed Beijing Cream ‘stories’ and they would publish them the next day without checking facts or verifying content. This resulted in false news about other individuals being published, often libelous and offensive. Those treated in this manner, when complaining, where then treated to more of the same and further ridiculed online.
Beijing Cream also partnered with several other sympathetic contributors with their own blogs in order to continue to spread their readership and promote the cross-fertilization of content. These included poorly moderated blogs such as “Peking Duck“ as well as “Fear of a Red Planet” (“FOARP”) whose own blog was also hugely opinionated and also contained much references to China based expats he didn’t like. These included references to ‘fisking’ Shaun Rein, Managing Director of China Market Research, and a contributor to Forbes, as well as myself, whom he once labelled a ‘Two Bit Thug‘ after I complained about some of his content. Chaos under heaven indeed, and the situation was excellent for Tao and his gang, as Beijing Cream’s content appealed to expat trolls, in turn encouraged that they could flame and attack anyone, often under assumed names, and be considered free to do so.
FOARP and Beijing Cream often re-posted each others articles, and especially those detrimental to people they wished to attack or were in competition with them for views. This caused further distress and embarrassment to their targets, with Tao, Hunwick and FOARP again seeking to prove their legitimacy by the use of Hitler’s Nazi era concept of the Big Lie meaning that if enough people talk about a subject or individual, then what is manufactured becomes true in people’s minds.
FOARP’s involvement as a guest contributor to Beijing Cream and collaborator with them only came to an end when his true identity was finally uncovered – Gilman Grundy, a British born, China educated (Nanjing University) IP lawyer who had failed to gain employment in China, mainly due what I have been told by more than one source was a “Bad personal attitude, lack of professional experience and distaste for the Chinese Government leading one to question why he was in China in the first place”. Grundy had taken his revenge as I pointed out above by ridiculing several prominent expats on his FOARP blog,and began collaborating with Tao and Foyle Hunwick on similar stories, and on Beijing Creams comments sections on these types of defamatory articles. To cater for a still problematic lack of any advertising revenues or income, both Grundy, Tao and Hunwick would also accept money from certain expats whose businesses competed with others in order to “plant” untrue stories about them in order to try and diminish specifically targeted individuals and their professional reputations. Tao and Foyle Hunwick would also often run positive and negative bar and restaurant reviews upon request, in return for being given complimentary alcoholic drinks and cash payments. If you weren’t ‘friendly’ with Beijing Cream, then you were considered fair game. If you were, generous reviews came your way.
In order to establish some sort of journalistic credibility, Beijing Cream would also run stories critical of the Chinese Government and CPP. In one article (recently deleted by Tao) he and Foyle Hunwick wrote a piece entitled “Fuck SARFT” (the Chinese State Administration of Radio, Film & Television) over cuts they had made to an imported film. Grundy also wrote pieces highly critical of the Chinese Communist Party, including one where he suggested the Chinese had encouraged Colonel Gadaffi to commit atrocities in Libya in a manner similar to those used in the Tiananmen Square incident and towards China’s attitude towards Hong Kong; “CCP to Hong Kong: Drop Dead“. This, coupled with pieces about sex, drug use, prostitution, rants at expats they didn’t like, and plenty of swearing, made Beijing creams online reader numbers increase. Although the pieces about the Chinese Government were probably unwise as well as being poorly informed, the abuse of others continued, and the on-going belief in the Nazi concept of “Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it” helped push up viewing numbers and made all three of them influential for awhile.
Seeking Legitimacy & Credibiity
In an attempt to justify the unverified content of Beijing Cream and give it more balance and implied credibility by association, Tao became involved with the Beijing literary review, “The Bookworm“ for whom he arranged poetry and literature events, including with several international schools. He was dismissed from this position in mid 2016 following parental outrage when it was realized he was using Bookworms school programme and poetry readings to encourage teenage schoolchildren to sign up to Beijing Cream and participate in online debates under assumed names. Many parents and teachers, when made aware of Beijing Creams content and Tao’s intentions were appalled. Attempts to induct young students to a blog well known for its coarse language, low ethical standards, and promotion of ideologies espoused by Marx, Hitler and Mao to schoolchildren proved too much, and Tao was fired. Again, this attempt was a leaf straight from Chairman Mao and Nazism – subvert from within. Tao however sees no shame – his Linked In profile still continues to use the Bookworm as a tool to promote his own persona. His title, in bold letters, shows “Former Bookworm Literary Festival Organizer” as a badge of honor, which rather illustrates his intentions to use it to boost his own legitimacy rather than any intent to contribute. An example of Tao’s own poetry, of which he appears immensely proud, can be seen here. I make no comment about its qualities.
Foyle Hunwick meanwhile has put himself about just about everywhere as a hired gun. An interview, in which he describes the Chinese as “eye-fucking” the Mongolians, and shows a desperate need for a drink, can be found here. Rather vain, his somewhat preposterous, self commissioned portrait as an 18th century dandy used for his Twitter feed is shown below.
Grundy meanwhile still maintains his blog, and is still highly opinionated towards those he dislikes “Good Riddance To Fidel Castro“ although he’s rather queered his pitch when it comes to China. Unable to find a job (I once turned him down for a position with my own firm, his revenge came through his pen) in China having upset many people, including the CCP, he’s now tucked up in suburbia in the UK as a junior IP lawyer for a white goods manufacturer. The IP part is ironic given his penchant for attempting to damage other people’s reputations. Let’s hope he’s learned to be quiet.
Now however, what is done is done, and Beijing Cream has been largely inactive since early 2016. I compose this piece to illustrate how they attempted to develop the brand and their own profiles, part of which was quite clever, rather than make any personal statement about it. After all, its pretty much dead. Ironically enough, just last month I interviewed several people in Beijing bars (just as Tao and Foyle Hunwick used to do, so fairs fair) to get the low down on what had happened to Beijing Cream and what expats in Beijing now thought of it. In several other expats words, Beijing Cream, Tao, Foyle Hunwick and Grundy’s contributions are generally regarded as a social media experiment that failed, while it is realized that their attempts to generate viewing figures by providing offensive innuendo and dubious gossip as content proved insufficient to procure advertising revenues or for their own personal career options in China. Several commented, and I quote: “Beijing Cream’s contribution to the English language Chinese blogosphere in Beijing at that time was immensely damaging, creating conflict, mistrust and sowing seeds of chaos without any thought as to other expatriates well being, careers, family or social life and without any heed of morals or journalistic ethics whatsoever.”
If anything, the content and philosophy used by Tao, Foyle Hunwick and Grundy has been proven to be outmoded, with readers rather more intelligent than perhaps they had envisaged. Nonetheless, Beijing Cream remains an interesting footnote in how 1920’s Marxist, Maoist and Nazi ideologies when applied to a localized (Beijing) 21st century social media environment will ultimately fail, now as they did then, yet still retain the ability to create an element of social disorder, dissent and mistrust among members of that same core group. However, they forgot that in order to maintain the seeds of chaos, they need to be able to provide a sustainable alternative. Once beyond their ability to insult, denigrate, abuse and bully their way into Beijing’s expatriate consciousness, Tao, Grundy and Foyle Hunwick’s real talent began to show. They has run out of ideas, and had nothing more to offer other than leaving behind a bad taste.
The sole concept that Beijing Cream has proved is that the collective ‘chaos under heaven’ Tao, Grundy and Foyle Hunwick deliberately inflicted upon the expat community in Beijing and China, in order to influence social thinking to promote their own agendas did not prove sustainable, even within a communist society that had endorsed such tactics many years earlier itself.