RACISM IN CHINA

RACISM IN CHINA

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George Congdon Gorham cartoon
The Han Chinese have traditionally considered themselves more advanced and civilized than other ethnic groups in China. In the imperial era, this was almost state policy. The sentiment continues today even though laws have been enacted to protect minorities, racism is officially condemned and Chinese multi-ethnicity is celebrated in propaganda. In recent years assimilation has been encouraged, particularly in Tibet and Xinjiang, whose ethnic groups are regarded as a threat.

The Chinese have many prejudiced views about race, gender and nationality. Chinese often have no compunctions about directly mocking ethnic minorities, and there sometimes seems to be a prevailing belief that anything non-Chinese is primitive.

Throughout most of their history, the Chinese have regarded anyone who lives outside of China as a savage or a barbarian. Europeans, for example, were thought to have more hair than monkeys, larger noses than anteaters and a smell more awful than dead bodies. The Chinese believed some white people tied themselves together to keep from being snatched away by eagles and other had holes in chests so the they could be carried by poles. According to one account some towns in Europe were composed entirely of women who became pregnant by staring at their shadows.

Chinese have also been victims of racism. In World War II, Chinese-Americans were not allowed to become pilots because it was believed that their slanted eyes prevented them from seeing well enough to fly a plane.

Xenophobia in China

The Chinese are often described as xenophobic and nationalistic. While they can be very sensitive and defensive about matters concerning China and Chinese customs, they are often not shy about insulting non-Chinese. One Chinese proverb states: "We can fool any foreigner."

Frank Hawke, a resident of Beijing since the 1970s, told the New York Times, “A psychological theme that runs throughout China” is that the “Chinese feel they have this great culture, second to none, and yet here they are, a third world developing country. Since 1949, their major goal has been to catch up and surpass the rest of the world in all aspects: culture, national defense, technology, sports. When they feel they’ve made a huge leap forward, there’s an incredible national pride.”

A person of Chinese descents who has lived outside China his entire life, but speaks no Chinese, is not labeled a foreigner. After Hong Kong becomes part of China, Chinese citizenship was only offered to people of "Chinese descent." People of Indian descent and mixed racial heritage were denied a Chinese passport because they were not "pure blood" Chinese.

The actress Jiang Ziyi, who has an Israeli boyfriend, has routinely been accused of betrayal for consorting with a foreigner.

Discrimination Towards Foreigners in China

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19th century anti-foreiger Chinese poster
During the Mao era, Chinese were taught to be suspicious of strangers, especially ones from the West. Visits and packages from foreigners aroused suspicion. Even casual conversations with foreigners were discouraged. Laws forbade citizens from inviting Western journalists into their house without special permission from the state. Inviting a foreigner into one's home or accepting foreign currencies were crimes that could land one in prison.

On foreigners in China today, Megan K.Stack wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Many are heartily welcomed and at least outwardly respected as harbingers of economic success. But they are decidedly other. As workers and students from around the world take advantage of relatively lenient visa policies — more than half a million lived here in 2007 — there is an acute sense of who is foreign, and who is not.”

Many foreigners gets jobs teaching English at Chinese universities where they are often forced to work twice as many hours as Chinese professors who often don't even show up for their lectures because of off-campus business interests.

Foreign teachers working in China have complained about having spies in their classroom and bugs in their dormitory rooms. One Japanese woman went crazy after receiving phone calls every night to make sure she was there. Chinese woman are sometimes interrogated by PSB after dancing with foreign men.

According to Lonely Planet there are civilian "snitch squads" who spy on foreigners. In one report printed in their Guide of China: "The police receive a tip—a Western man has a Chinese woman in his hotel room. At 3 am the hotel staff unlock the door of the Westerner's room without knocking and the police barge in...The police drag the naked couple out of bed—the man is totally bewildered and the woman is screaming hysterically while trying to cover her nude body. Then the police discover she is Japanese, not Chinese—they leave without offering any explanation or apology. As it turns out, the two are married."

Chinese and Blacks

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19th century Chinese depiction of English sailor
In the Mao era there was much talk of China's brotherhood with the developing world, which led to many African students arriving to study in Chinese universities and the export of many Chinese workers to Africa, to help with development. Tsao said that although modern China invested in African raw material companies it did not trust local workers and instead imported its own. [Source: Stephen Vines, The Guardian, November 1, 2009]

Many Chinese remain unaware that certain forms of behavior and language are unacceptable in multicultural societies elsewhere. In Hong Kong one of the biggest-selling toothpaste brands was called Darkie, its trademark being a caricature of an Al Jolson-type smiling black man with gleaming white teeth. Overseas protests eventually led to the name being changed to Darlie. [Ibid]

A group of Chinese told the Times of London, “Chinese views towards black people are not very sophisticated, partly because it is not very common to see any in the cities and even less so the countryside, ...On the other hand there are still plenty of Chinese who, unfortunately, think of black people as somewhat barbarous or involved in crime.”

An African-American bar owner in Beijing who was frequently hassled by police said what he experienced as a black man was not racism but “unfamiliarity with different kinds of people.”

Many Chinese look down on people with dark skin both Chinese and non-Chinese and skin-whitening products are popular. Many believe this prejudice is More class bias than racism in that dark skin has traditionally been associated with people of low class who worked outside while educated people tended to work inside sheltered from skin-darkening sunlight.

Black Pop Idol Exposes Racism in China


Africans riot in china
A lot of Chinese objected to presence of Lou Jin, a half-Chinese, half-black young women on an American-idol-like television talent search. A student at the Shanghai Drama Academy and daughter of a Shanghaiese mother and African-American father, she participated in the Go! Oriental Angel television show. Among the messages posted on the Internet about her were “Wrong parents; wrong skin color; wrong to be on a television show.”

Lou Jing is attractive, effervescent and has an appealing voice. She became one of five finalists on the show. Dragon TV initially had doubts about allowing Lou to perform, but then realized that her presence would do much to attract publicity for the show. But few executives can have expected the fury contained in many of the blogs and online posts that accompanied her performances. [Source: Stephen Vines, The Guardian, November 1, 2009]

“Ugh. Yellow people and black people mixed together is very gross,” was one representative post. And Lou's critics are incensed not only by her color but also because she is apparently the product of an extramarital relationship. Another blogger wrote: “Numb! This bitch still has the audacity to appear on television! I don't know what to say! One cannot be shameless to this kind of level!” [Ibid]

Lou admitted to Neteast News that the level of hostility had come as a shock. “The whole thing was a big bomb to my family and me and it caused great harm,” she said. “I wish netizens could tolerate my particular parentage and let it go as soon as possible.” She has stressed that she is a true Shanghainese, an assertion underlined by her accent. “ [Ibid]

A number of people steeped forward to defend her and slam the racist remarks. Media commentator and author Hung Huang wrote on her blog: “In the same year that Americans welcome Obama to the White House, we can't even accept this girl with a different skin color.” China Daily columnist Raymond Zhou wrote: “There are twofactors at work here. Lou Jing is not a pure-blood Chinese and anyone who marries a foreigner is deemed a 'traitor' to his or her race. More relevant, Lou's father is black.” Zhou concluded: “It is high time we introduced some sensitivity training on races and ethnicities if we are going to latch on to the orbit of globalization. People should realize that if you have a right to discriminate against another race you have automatically given others the right to discriminate against you.” [Ibid]

Chip Tsao, one of Hong Kong's leading columnists and cultural commentators, believes that a child of a Chinese woman and a black person hits all the buttons that cause prejudice among Chinese. “It's an obnoxious novelty,” he said, adding that Chinese prejudice against black people was part of “prejudice against people less well-off than themselves”. There was, he said, greater acceptance of Europeans because they were viewed as successful, but mixed Chinese/white European couples frequently attracted racist comment.

Chinese were a little more willing to embrace Ding Huo, a half-Chinese , half-black member of the national volleyball team whose mother is Chinese and father is from South Africa. However, articles that praised him did so by highlighting the ?special characteristics of his bloodline,” the “athleticism of his genes” and said his “black skin, thick lips and big white teeth are his main characteristics.” He was barred from representing his country in the national volleyball team.

Attacks on Blacks

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Chinese-American actor Keye Luke
made to look like a Chinaman
for a 60s TV show Family Affair
China has no history of enslaving Africans and has had a major presence in Africa for decades, Even so the relationship between Chinese and Africans have not always been rosy. In the 1980s, Chinese and African students clashed violently. More recently there were accusations that blacks were targeted in the pre-Olympic crackdowns.

In 1988, when students at Hehai University discovered that some visiting African students were dating Chinese girls, riots broke out with Chinese students shouting, "kill the black devils." When the rioting spread to other campuses, many of the African students were forced to leave the country.

In July 2009, more than 100 Africans surround a police station in the southern city of Guangzhou after an African vendor running a stall died during a police raid and passport and visa check in a busy market. Witnesses said the crowd was mostly Nigerian but included some protesters from other African countries. Many were also angry about tightened visa controls in the run-up to the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic in October. [Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian July 16, 2009]

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Chinese-American actor Keye Luke
made to look like a Chinaman
for a 60s TV show Family Affair
Reports said the man who died jumped out of a second floor shop window as police mounted surprise passport checks. Other protesters suggested two people had died. The state news agency Xinhua reported that protesters took the body of the man, who it said was trying to evade police because his visa had expired, to a police station to demand justice. “ [Ibid]

The Hong Kong based-South China Morning Post said six witnesses confirmed the man had died and its reporter saw a video of him falling and of his body lying on the ground with blood pouring from his head. But a police officer at the scene denied any deaths, Xinhua reported. A press release from the police authority said a “foreign suspect doing illegal currency exchange” was injured when he broke a window while trying to climb out of the building, and another foreign man was severely injured falling from the building. They had both been taken to hospital. “ [Ibid]

Guangzhou is believed tohave around 20,000 African residents. Mo Jun, director of the foreign affairs office under the Guangzhou municipal government, told the newspaper that Guangzhou has a large population of traders and business people from Africa, reflecting growing ties between the city and Africa. “But some African traders stay here without legal passports,” Mo said. Representatives of the African community said they felt harassed by frequent passport checks in their neighborhoods, China Daily reported. “ [Ibid]

Foreign Good Samaritans in China (Foreign Lei Feng)

The foreign Good Samaritan has emerged as a hot topic on China’s social media websites since last fall, when CCTV footage of 18 passersby ignoring a mortally injured 2-year-old girl hit by a two cars in Guangdong province sparked widespread debate over the country’s moral conscience. Internet users have taken to calling Good Samaritan foreigners “foreign Lei Feng,” inspired by a Mao-era propaganda symbol. [Source: Jonathan Kaiman, Los Angeles Times, May 9, 2012]

Jonathan Kaiman wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “A Brazilian man in Dongguan in Guangdong province was severely beaten after attempting to stop a mugger from stealing a woman’s purse. About 20 onlookers — and two nearby security guards — failed to intervene as three men pummeled the Brazilian with sticks and belts, according to South China Television. [Ibid]

“Last fall, a Uruguayan woman rescued a suicidal Chinese woman from drowning in Hangzhou’s West Lake, a well-known tourist attraction. "I was angry because the crowd was just curious and simply watching us — it's not a fashion show," the Uruguayan woman told Shanghai Daily. In another recent incident, an unidentified Caucasian man helped a woman after she was stabbed numerous times by her mentally ill son in Shanghai’s Pudong airport. He knelt by her side and held a scarf to her wounds until paramedics arrived. [Ibid]

Snooker Player's Anti-China Tweets

In February 2012, The Mirror reported: “Snooker bad boy Mark Allen is facing a massive fine after an amazing attack on the locals at the Haikou China Open. Top brass in this country have hit the roof after a string of insulting tweets from the Northern Ireland cueman ahead of the event in Beijing. Soon after arriving, world No.12 Allen tweeted: "This place is horrendous!" "Dead cat found this morning. Any wonder this place stinks. Must be dead cats all round the town." [Source: The Mirror, February 29, 2012]

Allen, 25, added: "Journey a nightmare. People are ignorant. Place stinks. Arena's rubbish, tables poor, food is horrendous. Other than that I love China." He went on: "Just to let everyone know, I'm not spoilt, disrespectful or ungrateful. Simply telling it how it is." He later backtracked— sort of — tweeting: "Might've been a bit harsh a few hours ago in my tweet. Not all Chinese people are ignorant. I stand by everything else though."

Challenged on his views by fans, Allen went on: "So it's ok to stand and spit next to someone while waiting on an elevator Or p*** lying in the street Didn't think so." Incredibly, Allen's comments have come after the second of two letters was sent out to all players only last week reminding them that they are ambassadors for the sport and warning them about their comments on Twitter.

Snooker chiefs are particularly angry as the letters reminded players that they are role models who are looked up to by youngsters....Allen's gaffe is particularly sensitive as it comes at a time when the sport is as popular in China as it was in Britain at its peak in the 80s. World Snooker chiefs fear Allen's comments could go down particularly badly with sponsors in the Far East.

WPBSA chairman Jason Ferguson said last night: "Mark Allen"s comments are extremely disappointing considering that China is a great friend of our sport." "There has been a massive effort from China to support our players and I am sure this is an isolated view from one player.Our players must understand that their views expressed in the public arena can have a catastrophic effect on the games development. These comments will now be reviewed by the WPBSA disciplinary committee."

This week's controversy is the latest in a growing list associated with Allen. A month before he was fined and warned as to his future conduct after swearing during a press conference at the UK Championships in York. Allen had also called on World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn to resign as part of a series of damning criticisms of the entrepreneur’s reign so far. Hearn responded by threatening legal action and branding Allen "a silly little boy". Allen turned up for his subsequent post-match press conference with his mouth covered up by a piece of black tape and initially sat in silence for around 15 seconds before eventually agreeing to speak. He and Hearn have since resolved their differences but Allen also clashed with fellow professional Stuart Bingham last year, accusing him of having "no bottle and no balls" at the Australian Goldfields Open in July.

Image Sources: Tales of Shanghai, University of Washington, Wiki Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated July 2015


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