China’s Unchecked Xenophobia Awakened 被唤醒的中国无节制仇外心理

By Natalie Craig


April 27, 2020

“Cold” both the meaning of the character on the mask and the treatment towards some foreigners
Photo by Flavio Gasperini on Unsplash

NANJING, China — As the SARS-CoV-2 virus spread outside China’s walls, first came the removal of three key American news organizations, the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal. Next, Beijing promulgated the indefinite order to suspend the entry of foreign nationals. Then, China began to alleviate its coronavirus restrictions and stories of Africans being discriminated against in Guangzhou filled our screens. These instances are by no means outliers; rather they portray a deeper narrative of China’s new wave of xenophobia. 

中国南京 — 随着SARS-CoV-2病毒在中国境外蔓延,首先是三家美国主要新闻机构《纽约时报》、《华盛顿邮报》和《华尔街日报》在中国被撤销,接着北京又颁布了无限期的命令,禁止外国人入境。后来,中国开始放宽对新冠病毒的限制,我们的屏幕上充斥着非洲人在广州受到歧视的故事。这些例子绝不是例外。相反,它们描绘了中国新一波仇外情绪的更深层次的故事。

Madelein Black, an American living in Chongqing, has been in China since September teaching English. She has experienced life under Chinese quarantine restrictions first-hand and now observes the re-opening of the country and how much it has changed. “I never would’ve expected it. But since the virus spread past China, some people here have definitely been scared of foreigners, ” said Black.

“我从未想过会这样,可随着病毒在中国境外传播,这里有些人明显地害怕外国人。” 一位住在重庆的美国人Madelein Black说道。自2019年九月以来Black就在中国教英语。她经历了中国检疫限制下的生活,现在她也观察着国家的重新开放以及它发生的许多变化。

A couple of weeks ago, as the country began to re-open, Black recounted an unforgettable encounter with a guard taking her temperature as she left her apartment complex to perform the simple task of mailing a package. “He started going on and on about how I am a foreigner and I’m bringing the virus into the country,” she said,  “oh, I was so angry.”

几周前,当国家开始重新开放时,Black讲述了一次令人难忘的遭遇:她离开公寓大楼去邮寄包裹时,一名保安给她量体温。“他开始喋喋不休地说我是个外国人,怎么把病毒带进了这个国家,” 她说, “哦,我太生气了。”

One way for the Chinese government to defer the blame is to portray foreigners as the source of the virus, in doing so protecting the state’s legitimacy as a guardian of public health. Some even go as far as to support the conspiracy theory of Americans planting the virus in China. 


“Our work to stop the virus is not yet complete, we didn’t even think we would have to sort out foreign trash!” 
Source: Coollabs (@酷玩实验室) WeChat account

On April 6, a public WeChat account, Coollabs (@酷玩实验室) shared a series of cartoons by Koi Youth (@锦鲤青年) depicting foreigners as trash that needs to be sorted.  Below the cartoons the author wrote the following: 

4月6号,微信公众号 @酷玩实验室 转发了 @锦鲤青年 的一则漫画作品,描述了外国人等同于需要分类的垃圾。在漫画下面写着在最后:


Since they want to seek refuge in China, they must abide by the rules and laws of China!


We do not discriminate against any foreigner, but we also do not tolerate just any foreigner!


We warmly welcome peaceful and friendly foreigners.


But for these exceptions, the disorderly foreign garbage, please get out of China!!!

Not only does this post represent the growing distrust and disdain for foreigners, but also it uses the term yáng (洋), as in yángrén (洋人), to refer to these foreigners. This is an outdated term that was in use primarily from the end of the 19th century to the mid 20th century to refer to foreigners, with terms such as foreign devils, yángɡuǐzi (洋鬼子), expressing anti-foreign sentiment. 


Although this cartoon series was not issued by the state, it does echo the feelings of locals that have been awakened by the virus. With a narrative that is controlled by the government, these feelings would not be acceptable without some form of tacit agreement or feigned ignorance by the Party. Plenty of stories are censored on Chinese media platforms. It is notable that the Chinese government chose not to censor anti-foreigner statements. Although the government does not censor these posts, it does deny them on the international stage. The Global Times, a branch of the state-run media the People’s Daily, claimed the recent news of discrimination is merely sensationalism, filled with one-sided stories and fake news


In the past two years alone, the Chinese government has exercised its power in dismissing the legitimacy of the Hong Kong protests, repressing Uyghurs in Xinjiang and abolishing term limits on the presidency. All are examples of consolidation of thought and power by the state around a unified China, promoting Han-centric policy and strengthening patriotism. 


Chinese opinion of the U.S. 
Source: The Eurasia Group Foundation

On the ground, reports of hotels and restaurants rejecting foreigners have emerged. A recent study by the Eurasia Group Foundation found that Chinese citizens’ favorable opinions of the U.S. decreased by nearly 20 percent between 2019 and 2020, while unfavorable views increased. This decreasing favor of the United States may be attributed to an increase in Chinese nationalism, along with the perceived lack of necessity for foreign aid and cooperation. It is reminiscent of the Mao-era policy opposing U.S. imperialism. Mao put forth that U.S. imperialism is merely a ‘paper tiger,’ not to be feared, politically weak, can be eliminated and must be despised. 

在当地,酒店和餐馆拒绝外国人的报道已经出现。欧亚集团基金会(Eurasia Group Foundation)最近的一项研究发现,在2019年至2020年期间,中国公民对美国的好感度下降了近20%,对美国的负面态度则增多了。这种对美国好感的减少可能是由于中国民族主义的增长以及对外援助和合作的必要性的缺乏。这使人想起毛时代反对美帝国主义的政策。毛提出,美帝国主义不过是一只不足为惧的“纸老虎”,政治上软弱,可以被消灭,必须被鄙视。

With this eerie indication of a return to the old, rising xenophobia may not only be accepted, but encouraged. Now, merely 40 years since the opening of China and an acceptance of foreigners, there are numerous countries with deep and complex varied interests invested in the country. In addition, China has expanded its presence abroad. This uptick in chauvinism will prove problematic for China’s dependence on Africa through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). African ambassadors have spoken out against discrimination, with some leaders like Femi Gbajabiamila, Nigerian Speaker of the House, directly confronting Chinese ambassadors in-country. If China is not careful, its attitude of ignorance, denial and tolerance towards xenophobia may result in worsening international relations with the United States, African countries and other nations. 

随着这种怪异恐怖迹象的回归,仇外情绪可能不仅被接受,而且被鼓励。现在,在中国对外开放和接受外国人的短短40年时间里,许多国家在中国投资且有着深刻而复杂的各种各样的利益。此外,中国还扩大了其在海外的存在。沙文主义的抬头将给中国通过“一带一路”倡议对非洲的依赖带来问题。非洲国家的大使们公开反对歧视,尼日利亚众议院议长费米•格巴贾比亚米拉(Femi Gbajabiamila)等一些领导人直接与中国驻非大使发生冲突。只要中国一不小心,其对仇外的无知、否定以及容忍的态度就可能会导致与美国、非洲国家和其他国家的国际关系恶化。

Natalie Craig is reporting from Bentonville, Arkansas.

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