Racism Is Alive and Well in China
The problem is decades old, but some Chinese are trying to do something about it.
By Bonnie Girard
April 23, 2020
China is not unique in having a problem with racism. It is a worldwide scourge, and nowhere, it seems, is immune. In every society, there are those who act and believe in highly racist ways, and those who do not at all. China, like most places, is full of both types.
What makes the issue different in China is how easy it is to encounter racist behavior and beliefs. It can be strongly argued that this is not because the Chinese, as a people, are any more or less racist than any other nationality. Quite simply, racist sentiment may seem prevalent simply because it is so blatantly and matter-of-factly expressed when and where it does exist.
Foreigners who have spent any length of time in China will have their own stories of racial profiling and discrimination, from very commonly heard comments on the size and shape of facial features to more aggressive forms of discrimination founded on negative stereotypes associated with one’s race.
And where racism is found in China, there can be little argument that no group is more racially targeted and maligned than persons of sub-Saharan African descent.
So, when Chinese workers at a McDonald’s in Guangzhou recently held up a sign saying – in English – “black people are not allowed to enter the restaurant,” they appear to be completely unembarrassed about the whole thing.
nd what of the person who composed the notice on the sign, which read in full: “Notice: We’ve been informed that from now on black people are not allowed to enter the restaurant. For the sake of your health consciously notify the local police for medical isolation, please understand the inconvenience caused. Police, Tel: 110”?
Someone well-educated in English either composed that notice in English or translated it from the Chinese. The wording (“consciously notify”; “understand the inconvenience caused”), while grammatically correct, uses syntax that does not sound machine translated.
The all-out assault on Africans living in Guangzhou has been documented in recent weeks in video and stories of Chinese police rounding up Africans, forcing them out of their homes and hotels, and putting them out on the street in a backlash against those thought most likely to be carriers and transmitters of the coronavirus. Local authorities were unconcerned with potential accusations of racism, and concern only came at a national level once embassies, leaders, and citizens from dozens of African countries began vociferously protesting China’s treatment of their citizens.ADVERTISEMENT
Many Africans have had their own experiences with racism in China.
There are a wealth of papers, articles, books, and commentary tracing Chinese racism from the 1960s to the 1990s. In one of the most notable incidents, in late 1988, Chinese students in Nanjing assaulted foreign, mainly African students. The incident sparked a wave of coverage in foreign media, with headlines such as “China’s long-held image of foreigners fuels racial conflict” (the Washington Post; January 3, 1989); “Africans accuse Chinese of racism” (the New York Times, June 10,1986); and “In China, black isn’t beautiful” (the New York Times, January 25, 1989).
Some Chinese are tackling the subject head-on. Zhu Ruijian, a Chinese researcher, documented in Change Magazine in October 2018 how he became aware of the issue, and what he decided to do about it.ADVERTISEMENThttps://5cc2c92d9d49ef1b7bcb57fb0e83d638.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html
Zhu writes that he watched a skit on television during the 2018 Chinese New Year Gala, “performed on the biggest TV platform in China… discussing China’s foreign aid and construction project in Africa.” The skit, Zhu said, “included enormous amount of racial discriminative contents, including generalization of African culture, stereotypical portrait of African women, and Chinese performer with blackface.
Bonnie Girard is President of China Channel Ltd. She has lived and worked in China for half of her adult life, beginning in 1987 when she studied at the Foreign Affairs College in Beijing.