China’s belligerent invective belies its repeated and hypocritical claims of offense
In January, a Danish newspaper printed a cartoon about the COVID-19 epidemic – a Chinese flag with virus icons where the stars should be. China didn’t find it amusing. The Chinese embassy in Denmark demanded an apology, stating flatly that the cartoon “is an insult to China and hurts the feelings of the Chinese people.” The following month, China expelled three Wall Street Journal reporters in retribution for an opinion column in that paper titled “China Is the Real Sick Man of Asia.”
These are merely the most recent examples of China whining about the free speech rights of other nations and demanding that their citizens comply with China’s peculiar definition of free expression. All while Chinese diplomats deliberately offend entire countries, religions, and races, Chinese media unapologetically spews racist and xenophobic hostilities, and Chinese social media descends into a cesspool of hatred and prejudice as vile as any western social media. China is ruled by thin-skinned, authoritarian, hypocrites; don’t be fooled by their claims of victimhood – even during the COVID-19 crisis.
This is not to make light of the very real and very serious racist attacks on Chinese and other Asian people around the world in response to the virus. Xenophobes in multiple western nations have used the excuse of the corona virus to publicly and violently discriminate against Chinese. This prejudice is unacceptable and should be condemned by civilized people everywhere without hesitation or apology. Wearing an obviously medical face-mask should not lead to violence. Speaking Mandarin is not a reason to be shouted at. Businesses that promote discrimination should themselves be discriminated against by boycott. That a virus originated in China does not excuse anti-Chinese bigotry and leaves Chinese people no less human and worthy of dignity as anyone else.
Such moral condemnations would be easier to make if the Chinese government itself did not routinely express, endorse, and encourage racism and xenophobia against their political opponents. China’s ambassador to Canada said the latter’s arrest of a politically-connected Chinese tech executive in 2018 was motivated by “white supremacy.” This is a diplomat speaking, an actual legal representative of the People’s Republic, not some opinion writer or cartoonist. After repeatedly, and officially, insulting the character and integrity of an entire nation, China retaliated for the arrest by arresting two Canadians in China.
China has been pursuing an ambitious trade and infrastructure program all over the world, especially in Africa. Chinese investment and construction companies have showered African nations with billions in many dozens of projects all over the continent, employing up to multiple hundreds of thousands of Chinese. So many accusations of deliberate racism, segregation, and abuse by Chinese workers and companies against their Kenyan workers were reported that the Kenyan Ministry of Labor started an official probe. China has yet to acknowledge these faults, let alone apologize.
In 2015, China kidnapped and jailed a Swedish bookseller for “illegal business operations;” for selling publications Beijing disapproved of. He was sentenced last month to ten years for “illegally providing intelligence overseas,” in spite of absolutely zero evidence provided by the Chinese to justify his abduction, confinement, and conviction. In response to Sweden’s manifold and ongoing protestations, China’s ambassador in Stockholm threatened his hosts, “We treat our friends with fine wine but for our enemies we got shotguns.”
Communist Party mouthpiece China Daily declared the Wall Street Journal‘s “Sick Man” headline “astonishingly racist” and the content stuffed with “prejudice and bias.” Conveniently ignoring that the term “sick man of…” is regularly used to describe other countries like the UK, US, Germany, and Italy – including other Asian nations like Japan, Vietnam, and the Philippines – and was coined by a Chinese scholar in 1895. China’s ahistorical and hyperbolic reaction is supposedly explained, somehow, by the 1972 Bruce Lee film Fist of Fury. The world is supposed to know that a phrase used without incident by everyone else in the world, and by the Chinese themselves, is suddenly racially offensive because of a forty-five year old Kung-Fu flick.
State media outlet the Global Times is well-known for inflammatory, offensive editorials about countries all around the world. In one, they declared that should Australia continue freedom of navigation flights in the South China Sea “it would be a shame if one day a plane fell from the sky and it happened to be Australian.”
An anchor on Chinese Central Television (CCTV) said on air in 2012 that China needs to “clean out foreign trash, wipe out foreign snake heads (human smugglers), root out foreign spies, kick out foreign shrews (apparently referring to Melissa Chan, an al-Jazeera journalist who has recently been expelled from China) and to make those who demonize China shut up and fuck off.”
In 2017, during a recurrent border dispute with India, China’s largest press agency, Xinhua News, released a video starring an exaggerated Indian caricature to parody their adversaries. The crude stereotype mocked India and Indians, in English and released on western social media – so the 125 million Indians that speak English would be sure to see it.
Chinese television is frequently decorated with racial stereotypes, if not outright racism. In one 2016 ad for laundry detergent a Chinese woman stuffs a detergent pod into a black man’s mouth and shoves him into the washing machine. Out pops a pale-skinned Chinese man. China’s biggest Lunar New Year show in 2018 featured skits with a black man playing a monkey and a woman in blackface with a giant posterior.
Discriminatory signs can be found on the streets of Chinese cities sometimes. At the height of a 2013 maritime dispute with some of China’s neighbors one Beijing restaurant posted a sign outside saying, “No Japanese, Vietnamese, Filipinos, or dogs allowed.” Last year Chinese businesses in several cities began charging American customers 25% extra to pay for the trade war.
At the end of February, the Chinese government published draft rules to make it easier for foreigners to obtain permanent residence in China. The proposed regulations “stirred huge backlash online over the weekend,” said Quartz reporter Jane Li on Twitter last week, “with the topic being viewed more than 2.9 billion times on [China’s version of Twitter] Weibo so far.” On Weibo and on Twitter itself, which is actually blocked in China, Chinese opposition was expressed in forceful, profane, and explicitly racist terms.
Just as the world has had it with China’s insistence on one set of economic rules for themselves and one for everyone else, the leaders of the People’s Republic have cried wolf too often and the world is also getting rightfully tired of their casual, obfuscatory, accusations of bigotry against anyone who justifiably asks them to stop lying. It is not racist to suggest that the Chinese government lied about the origins and spread of the virus and that they’re continuing to lie about related infection and fatality rates now. There is plenty of evidence for any reasonable person to conclude that Beijing lied, calling them on it is not racist – it is prudent.
Thomas Brown is a history teacher and freelance writer. He is Senior Writer for The Swamp and his work on North Korea and China has also been featured in Quillette, Spiked, The Bipartisan Press, Human Events, among others. Follow him at his Medium page and argue with him on Twitter.
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