Xenophobia in China At an All-Time High During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Diego Javier ‘22

In troubling times like these, the COVID-19 outbreak tests our morality and our mental fortitude. This pandemic has shown us that it can bring out the worst in people and also can bring out the best in all of us. We have people that have shown compassion to others through these hard times like one landlord that waived the rent of April for 200 tenants in Brooklyn, but also those who are hoarding toilet paper and still going outside to public places such as beaches, which will only help the spread of the virus. In China, however, many foreigners feel unwelcome and have experienced xenophobia during this pandemic. 

Ever since cases of the coronavirus have been decreasing in China, the government stated that the virus had arrived in China by people abroad.  Because of the government’s statement, foreigners in China such as the African community there have felt unwelcome. There are at least 16,000 Africans living in China, with the majority living in the city of Guangzhou. Guangzhou is a city known for being a flourishing trading city that is considered a cosmopolitan city.

However, in Guangzhou, the local government there had placed orders that resulted in all African nationals in the city to be quarantined for fourteen days and also be tested for the coronavirus. They all had to be tested regardless if they didn’t have the coronavirus. The government’s statements also left some unrest in the people. The Chinese people started to become afraid of foreigners and started to discriminate against the African nationals living in their city.  Many Africans have been subject to discrimination and have been evicted by landlords and were left homeless. It also caused some to lose their jobs such as teaching English to Chinese students because of the students’ fear of getting the virus.  Also, some luxuries have also been revoked. Restaurants refuse entry to foreigners and people try food-delivery services that allow people to buy food without having to go outside and risk getting the virus would not deliver food to the African nationals. Diplomats from the Nigerian consulate had to distribute food to the Africans that were suffering on the streets.

There is also anti-foreigner sentiment running rampant online during the outbreak. People on sites such as Weibo express their opinions on them, feeling as if foreigners have more benefits than the regular Chinese citizen. The racist remarks in China are running rampant and the government has done nothing to censor it. The government has done nothing to educate the Chinese people on the topic of being politically correct or start-up campaigns to end racism. This is seen during the 2018 edition of the CCTV New Year’s Gala, where they included a sketch where a Chinese actress wearing blackface and in fake buttocks in order to depict an African mother. There was also a racist Chinese detergent commercial where a man of African descent was forced into a laundry machine and after being in there for a long period of time, resulted in him being transformed into an Asian man. The Chinese government did nothing to condemn these racist acts, resulting in the public thinking its okay to treat Africans and anyone of a different color this way.

The international community has not reacted positively to the prejudice against Africans and other foreigners. The speaker of Nigeria’s House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, wrote: “The leadership of the House of Representatives has expressed displeasure over the inhuman treatment meted out on some Nigerians by the Chinese authorities in Beijing” on Twitter. This shows the relationship between China and Nigeria has been strained and needs to be repaired.  The reaction to the overall treatment towards foreigners in China has been negative and this is a situation that needs more awareness.

In a time of fear and panic, China has shut its doors on foreigners that are trying to make a better life for themselves and immerse themselves in the culture. They have created a culture of hate and xenophobia that has ruined their international stature and reputation. This pandemic has shown us how far down the rabbit hole we can go in terms of how we dehumanize people and forget the virtues of compassion and charity.