Don’t believe China’s accusations of racism

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.”

(Ritzau Scanpix/AFP/Ida Marie Odgaard)

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.

He is then bundled into a washing machine…
Photograph: YouTube

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.

A version of this column originally appeared in Quillette on March 12, 2020

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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Categories: China, Media, Politics, The Swamp

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6 replies

  1. How are you now? Are you fine now? Also still good piece. When will you finish the piece about misconception about SCS

    Liked by 3 people

    • Unfortunately, I am in the hospital now and don’t have access to my laptop. I may have covid but waiting on test results. I was able to cobble this column together on my phone from a previously published one. Hopefully I’ll be out of here tomorrow.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Tough luck. Hope you can recover soon. l am always surprised liberals constant screaming about racism in the West when everywhere else people are very less race-sensitive(not to discount the real racism that do exist ). Please take good rest and do not burden yourself.

        Liked by 3 people

      • Thanks. And thanks for liking this column. Also, always carry a book with you, I’d be so unbelievably screwed if I was stuck here this whole week with nothing to read.

        Liked by 3 people

  2. And l also want to hear your opinion about my take on your tweet about some people will say we are the virus to environment and coronavirus shows it: l believe it actually is harmful for environmental moment because the critics will point to the economic and social problems and suggest that is the real cost of that moment.
    And l hope you a speed recovery

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think you are 100% correct. Plus, as someone who was in public relations, I’m pretty sure saying that the people who are sick and dying are actually the virus and that COVID is the cure is a great way to piss off a lot of people. Not only will the economic and social cost be way too high but the people saying it will come off as complete assholes.

      Liked by 1 person

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