I was talking to my friend Jackie about anti-Chinese sentiment following the appearance of coronavirus. There have been stories of sinophobic behaviour in many countries by people who assume that every Chinese-looking person is a carrier: children of Chinese descent have been bullied in schools, taxi drivers have refused to take passengers who look Chinese, Chinese restaurants have lost customers, racist slogans have been painted on walls, and more.
Often, simply looking East Asian is enough to make you the target of abuse. As one Twitter user in France said, with the hashtag #JeNeSuisPasUnVirus: “Not all Asians are Chinese. Not all Chinese were born in China and not all have been there. An Asian who coughs doesn’t have the #coronavirus. Insulting an Asian because of the virus is like insulting a Muslim because of the bombings.”
According to this article, there has been anti-Chinese sentiment in Asia as well as in the West, but driven by different motives. In the West it tends to be due to a feeling of unfamiliarity – China is far away and its culture seems alien – whereas in countries closer to China, where there are many Chinese immigrants, it often stems from a fear of being “overrun” and infected.
The article says that anti-China feeling is nothing new in Asia and that it is exacerbated by the intimidation caused by China’s penchant for throwing its weight around in the region:
“In Asia the shadow of China has loomed large for centuries in the form of regional disputes, historic grievances, and waves of Chinese immigration.”
Jackie is American but her maternal grandparents were from the Philippines. She lives in Italy (read her lockdown blog here), which has seen a fair amount of anti-Chinese abuse (in spite of exemplary action to contain the virus on the part of at least one large Chinese community), and I asked if she had experienced any racism since the outbreak.
She said that she hadn’t but that her cousin in the US had. Her cousin was in a shop and some woman came up to her and stuck a finger in her face and said “You people are the reason for this pandemic!”
“How did your cousin react?” I asked.
“She said ‘I’m praying for you’,” said Jackie. Then she added “That’s how you say ‘f*** you’ in Christian.”