Coronavirus Outbreak Reawakens Anti-Chinese Racism: I’m Not A Virus

In Vietnamese and Korean restaurants, there could be signs with “no Chinese in”. In public transportations, passengers choose to stand rather than sitting next to the Chinese. In the newspaper, editors described the deadly coronavirus as a “yellow alert”. They are not things happening during SARS or Ebola but taking place in 2020. Since the epidemic originated in the central Chinese city Wuhan triggers the globe fear, overseas Chinese are annoyed by a “China-bashing”.

According to WTO’s situation report on 4 February, 20630 cases are confirmed globally, with 20471 in China and 159 outside of China. To prevent the spread of the disease, the Chinese government relies on multi-sectoral approaches. On 23 January, Wuhan was locked. Because of equipment shortage and hospital beds’ limitation, China has built two new hospitals in 10 days to accept patients in serious condition. On 5 February, another new hospital called “Fangcang” started to accept people showing mild symptoms. Regarding different grades, doctors believe patients could be better treated instead of expanding more transmission. All these methods indicate China aims at controlling coronavirus in its territory. However, while the Chinese are fighting the virus, prejudices are fighting Chinese.

Verbal discrimination started in the mass media. A French local newspaper Le Courier Picard used the inflammatory headlines “Le péril jaune?” (Yellow peril?), together with an image: a Chinese woman with a protective mask. On Jan 30, 2020. the University of California, Berkely, posted an Instagram, taking xenophobia as a “normal reaction” to the virus spread. Since this word represents fear or hatred when facing foreigners or strangers, outraged American Asians then questioned the school for normalizing racism. A centre-left German weekly news magazine Der Spiegel, even published seditious an article with the subheading “A little racism is fine.” No mercy, but the author satirized: “ It does not matter whether this person comes from the risk area or has ever been there. Since all Asians look the same anyway, you won’t be able to find out quickly. And you are infected.”

Though these media apologized later, stigmas on Chinese are hard to remove. What’s worse, the “China-bashing” intensified into aggressive physical attacks. In Sheffield, thugs pushed a Chinese student since she was wearing a mask for precaution. Even there are controversial arguments among virologists about the effectiveness of surgical masks against airborne viruses, the Chinese government encourages citizens to wear a mask for self-protect. So the girl just follows that advice. In an inclusive, tolerant and diverse community, such a cultural difference should never be an excuse for abuse or harassment. “We should not let by fear or panic guide our actions,” Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the CDC, appealed “We should not assume because someone is of Asian descent that they have the new coronavirus.”

The Committee of WHO also stressed the importance of tackling unfounded rumours, otherwise, it could be an “obstacle for good response and hamper the effective implementation of counter-measures”. Thankfully, sympathetic individuals are gathering and taking actions towards gossip. #JeNeSuisPasUnVirus (I’m not a virus) appears on social media like Facebook and Twitter to fight back against fake claims. Members of the Oversea-Chinese communities started protests to complain about the offense. Towards this collective issue, cooperation and understanding work far more efficiently than suspicions and alienation. Pray for Wuhan, pray for the future.

Yuexin Li
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