PPTV commentator Zhou Liang had to issue a public apology and was removed from his position after using the deragatory term “subei gou” (northern Jiangsu dogs) when going through Jiangsu’s lineup before the Chinese FA Cup semifinal last week (here’s the full incident). The term is commonly used by Shanghai fans (and has been picked up by fans across the country) to denigrate their neighbors in Jiangsu.
There are a number of issues at play here, first off, the commentator involved, Zhou Liang has a history of being a hothead and issues with Jiangsu fans in particular. Zhou claims that he didn’t know the microphone was hot and that it was only a sound check, but that seems a very convenient excuse.
The reality is that internet stations like PPTV operate in a grey world with a very thin line between what is acceptable and what crosses the line. For these stations to be successful and pull viewers away from traditional media, they try to be edgier than the competition, using language that is far more colloquial, brasher, and more in line, for better or worse, with how football fans actually talk. This casual style can be a breath of fresh air when compared to the staid nature and horrible commentators on offer from state run television, but with internet stations doing what they can to differentiate themselves and almost promote controversy, it almost leaves me feeling sorry for Zhou. His behavior was in line with his personality and what is expected from him (it should be noted, just before his “subei gou” lineup, the camera fell on a man and a woman and Zhou mentioned that the guy might be out with someone else’s wife).
It all begets a larger point that is regularly talked about here on this site, football in China is one of the few outlets for regionalism and pride in one’s city (or province) in a nation where this sort of pride is discouraged. While some compared Zhou’s comments to a commentator making racist statements about black players, that is far from the case. It’s more like a Manchester commentator making a joke about Liverpudlian thievery or a New Yorker referring to the “fly over states”. You regularly hear chants of “subei gou” on football terraces when Jiangsu is in town, just like you hear talk of thievery when Henan comes to town or references to donkeys for Shandong (and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the ever present, beloved turtles when teams face Beijing).
PPTV is a Shanghai based station and has a close relationship with Shenhua, including advertising on their kits in the past. The station even ups the regional ante by offering broadcasts of Shenhua matches in Shanghainese, something you wouldn’t find on local television. Considering the level of the rivalry between Shenhua and Jiangsu, Zhou’s behavior was alright, even somewhat humorous to footie fans (and who else would be watching a football match anyways?). Is there more to this? Possibly. There’s plenty of intrigue behind the story, everything from bad blood with the new ownership to a rival internet station doing PPTV in, but what it comes down to is that Zhou was forced out because he crossed an invisible line, one that separates the general freedom of the terraces from the standards of the media.