PhD candidate calls for rational voices in ‘panic Corona epidemic’

At a time when panic is spreading faster than the epidemic, PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology Shan Haiyue calls on people’s rational voices against acts of discrimination and violence against overseas Chinese. Haiyue has sent in an opinion piece in New York Times written in Chinese titled ‘“Is it better to stay away from Chinese people to prevent viruses?” Facing discrimination in Europe setting.’ in order to raise more awareness in current critical circumstance.

03/10/2020 | 10:11 AM

In the article Haiyue talks about how some people in the Netherlands responded to the outbreak. “The response is similar to what is happening now across many European countries and places. Part of the Dutch public has exposed stereotypes and labeled of China and Chinese community, such as ‘dirty mess restaurants’, ‘hiring illegal immigrants’, ‘cheap labor’ and so on. For example, on February 7th, Radio 10 in the Netherlands broadcasted an adapted song for coronavirus, titled ‘Voorkomen is beter dan Chinezen’. Radio DJ Lex Gaarthuis urged everyone not to eat Chinese food. In the evening of the same day, the word ‘Chinese Corona’ written in English appeared in the elevator of a student apartment of Wageningen University campus, and the national flag on the door of a Chinese student’s room was also torn. Such discriminative phenomena have been around for a long time, but they are not infuriating but surprising. Things quickly turned around: the local overseas Chinese chose to speak for themselves this time, and the whole Dutch society also should hear Chinese voices”, said Haiyue.

Later in the day, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte made a clear statement at a press conference against discrimination caused by the new coronavirus. The next day, Dutch Chinese media platform Hollenet led the drafting of a petition in an attempt to address the issue to the Dutch government, hoping that the entire society would face discrimination rationally. Over the next few days, the major media in the Netherlands successively reported the adverse effects of these events, and the topic #ikbengeenvirus also became a trending topic. “Many Dutch people told me that they felt extremely ashamed and angry towards these behaviors”, shared Haiyue.

As influence of the incident continued to expand, on the 10th, radio DJ Lex Gaarthuis apologized for two minutes on the evening show. Meantime the judge of Holland's Got Talent show_ Gordon, also apologized for his previous behavior six years ago which he made fun of a Chinese contestant on the show. Till eleventh, the Dutch police department received hundreds of reports regarding to the discriminating songs played by Radio10. The Dutch public prosecutor's office (OM) decided to characterize the songs in violation of the criminal law and conducted as a criminal investigation. Later on the twelfth, more and more Chinese families requested kindergartens and elementary schools to ban singing the song of ‘Hanky Panky Sjanghai’, which the lyrics discriminated against the sound and appearance of Chinese. Till fourteenth, the number of signature petitions reached more than 56,000.

But not all acts of discrimination and racism end to apologies. In the Dutch city Tilburg, a 24-year-old Dutch Chinese woman in the elevator encountered a group of men, loudly singing the same discriminative songs in front of her. The woman requested them to stop, but instead she got violated and woke up with several stab wounds. “The woman's courage is admirable, and this action may bring changes eventually. Only this time, the price was too high for her”, says Haiyue. “Since I moved to Amsterdam, many locals tell me that although Chinese immigration in the Netherlands has a history more than hundred years, there are now more than hundred thousand migrants living and working here. But we rarely hear their voices in real life regarding to everything. Many Chinese people stay in low-key and live in peace with the mindset of ‘don’t bring troubles to others’. Faced with injustice, prejudice and questioning, the Chinese usually choose to remain in silent. However, with the improvement in language skills, educational and economic level, more and more Chinese have begun to join politics and speak up for the overseas Chinese community. Chinese community is no longer a ‘silent group’. As a local Chinese American social activist told me. This time we (Chinese) want the mainstream Dutch society to take responsibilities for the misbehaviors and hear our voices. Besides, the role and influences of WeChat groups, public accounts, and some local social media in the development of the incident should not be underestimated. Since the outbreak the actions of several mainstream Chinese media platforms are worthy of recognition. They usually do not spread rumors and fear, follow up in real time when reporting anti-racist incidents, and advocate everyone to stay calm and rational. In the form of stating incidents and public opinions, they also reflect the attitude among main Dutch public, persuade the Chinese public group not to lose their friendliness due to anger and panic, and make reasonable and legitimate claims. At a time when panic is spreading faster than the epidemic, these rational voices are essential. As the virus continues to spread globally, the epidemic situation in some regions has escalated, the number of acts of discrimination and the level of violence have gradually increased, even to other Asian ethnic groups. The epidemic has become a hotbed of racial discrimination and misbehaviors. Although many headlines of media are ‘Racism Spreads Globally’, I disagree. Discrimination has always existed, whether it is directed against a certain race, color, region or a specific behavior. When the public crisis comes, the individual's awareness of self-protection rises, and fearing towards others will increase. Rather than attributing this distorted mentality to the weakness of human nature and fear of the unknown, it is more like an exclusive mentality and personal malpractice. An excuse for rationalization.”

Haiyue also discussed human’s fear of infectious diseases. “Because the cause of infectious diseases usually remains unknown, the source of infection is complex and difficult to track. Thus the emotion of fear is often projected on certain groups. Lymphatic plague spread to San Francisco in 1900s. The United States Department of Health began to sterilize and destroy houses in Chinatown and proposed to isolate Chinese people on Mission Rock Island by force. This time, the new coronavirus is symbolized as ‘eating wild animals’ and ‘deserve the punishment of your own behaviors’. Not only is it stigmatized for a certain race, but also ‘bad habits’ in social communities. In addition, it is worth noting that racial discrimination caused by infectious diseases is also related to differences in concepts of personal health and hygiene under different culture contexts. In many Asian countries, choosing to wear a mask outside is common because of air pollution, allergy etcetera. In European countries such as Germany, France, and the Netherlands, overseas Chinese are ‘overwhelmed’ when it comes to wearing masks. Domestic media in China strongly urged that ‘must be worn before going out’. While European local residents do not consider wearing a mask is necessary, except in the case of severe illness. Especially the majority Dutch public believe that incorrect ways of wearing and wrong type of mask will make the action into ‘formalist’.”

According to Haiyue the first step in eliminating discrimination is to further understand the differences in concepts of behaviors among individual and social groups. “Recently, a group of graduate students from Delft University of Technology conducted a study on behavior of wearing masks in European setting though online questionnaire and interviews, in order to gain better understanding of how Chinese and other non-Chinese groups deal with cultural differences. The team found that the a commonly understanding among most Europeans is that masks are things that are only needed when people are seriously ill and with medical advices from doctors. Most local interviewees felt abnormal when they saw people wearing masks on the street, together with anxiety, panic, and fear under current epidemic. And more than sixty percent of Chinese (respondents are mainly international students in Europe) had no knowledge of this concept among Europeans, or have heard of it recently. More than half of the Chinese people who wear masks thought that this action allows them to feel safe, and more than half of them expressed feelings of worried, afraid to be watched by unfriendly look. People have higher chances to choose to give up on wearing a mask facing disgusted looks. ‘This showed that Chinese people in Europe had some emotional pressure on wearing masks under current epidemic’, written by one of the researchers Yujie Shan. Since the outbreak of new coronavirus, more Europeans feel that wearing masks is an abnormal behavior and they will associate these people with the epidemic situation, which can evoke panic. Yujie’s team posted results of the survey on campus and promoted it on Instagram. The team hopes that more non-Chinese student groups are aware of the problem of wearing masks in China and the Western world.”

“Looking back through the history of Chinese immigration, we have always been discussing the issue of ‘integration’. But there is a lack of communication based on equality, respect and mutual understanding, especially in social attitudes towards discriminations and stereotypes. But this time, at least there has been some progress. Recently many elder Dutch people told me that_ ‘I am glad to see Chinese speak up for themselves this time’”, said Haiyue. “How can each individual express resistance rationally and protect themselves in the face of increasingly discriminative attitudes and behaviors? The road to eliminate discrimination is long and obstructive. Will you choose to stand up next time?”

The article in The New York Times can be found here. Google Chrome offers a translation option of the article.