In the weeks since the virus spread around the world, multiple accounts of discrimination against Chinese nationals or anyone who looks East Asian have emerged, including from Asia and Chinese-majority societies.
Asian minorities and Chinese nationals say virus-related racism and xenophobia have thrived.
The growing affluence of the Chinese has also resulted in ever-increasing numbers of tourists and students visiting and living in various parts of the world, leading to a higher visibility on the ground. Sporadic reports of bad behaviour coupled with their sheer numbers have given rise to stereotypes of the boorish Chinese tourist
Headlines such as “Yellow peril’, “Chinese virus panda-monium” and “China kids stay home” have appeared in French and Australian newspapers.
With news that the virus originated from a wet market that sold wildlife, and possibly mutated from a virus carried by bats, the usual jokes about Chinese people eating anything that moves have been trotted out.
In Asia, the anti-Chinese rhetoric here has also taken on a deeper and possibly more xenophobic tone. One common theme has been a suspicion of mainland Chinese overrunning and infecting local populations.
In Singapore and Malaysia, hundreds of thousands have signed online petitions calling for a total ban on Chinese nationals from entering their countries – and both countries’ governments have put in place some form of entry ban. In Japan, some have labelled the Chinese as “bio-terrorists” while conspiracy theories about the Chinese infecting locals, particularly Muslims, have proliferated in Indonesia and elsewhere.
Reports of anxiety and despair over discrimination are deepening for many overseas Chinese and Asian minorities, as the outbreak continues with no end in sight. “I feel scared,” said Sammi, the make-up artist in Berlin. She plans to avoid going out for the next few weeks.
It isn’t just her experience at the doctor’s that has spooked her. A German-Asian friend was recently harassed at a train station, while a Chinese woman was brutally attacked on her way home, with Berlin police classifying it as a racist incident. The woman claimed on Chinese social media that she was called “a virus” and was beaten up after she fought back.
“I don’t want to quarrel with people when they call me a virus. All they know is what they read in the papers, you can’t change their mind,” said Sammi.
“Even if I show them my visa, tell them I’m a permanent resident, all that doesn’t matter. Because all they see is my Chinese face.”