If you are like me, you are baffled by the idiotic mindset of those Chinese bureaucrats. Apparently, Melissa Chan was expelled because the "relevant" authorities were unhappy about some reports criticizing China that involved her (or not). I'm sure the authorities' desired effect was "killing one to admonish a hundred" (杀一儆百) — but guess what? It is only natural that such a move greatly increases the awareness and impact of those previously less-known reports. How clever is that?
The disturbing thing is, from my contacts with Chinese bureaucrats, they really do believe what they are doing is both good and smart. There is a great gap between reality and their view of it. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell China's officialdom is dominated by such. Their way of thinking is at least two decades behind the times. I doubt China can have effective political reform before this generation of officials withdraw from the stage.
And be sure to read this hilarious (no kidding) report: Chinese Official Questioned About Al Jazeera Reporter's Expulsion, count how many times the word "relevant" is used, and get a kick out of it. I'm sure the speaker really believes his answers were very smart.
On a related note, Foreign Policy's Isaac Stone Fish has an interesting post that analyzes the possible connection between race and China's expulsion of Melissa Chan. To further Fish's point, race has almost always been a factor, if sometimes demonstrated in different ways, in Chinese attitudes toward foreigners. This again is a generational thing that’s waiting for change.
Following the Melissa Chan incident, NYT's Edward Wong dug up – and Tweeted about – an old tale of another American journalist, John Burns, who was expelled from China in 1986 because of his exploration of the kingdom’s backwaters. Burns' story recalls intimately the experience of my husband during that same period. In the summer of 1987, Bob rode his bike across China coming to see me in Chongqing, and enroute he and his bike were both arrested. I wrote about the episode here: