✏️ Amy Brookes


Coronavirus – the worldwide pandemic that needs little introduction. And sadly for the city of Wuhan, the virus that has also marked its place on the map. The World Health Organisation has issued a warning against grouping health crises with their geographical location, due to the stigma it can carry. (Fun fact – the Spanish Flu didn’t originate in Spain!)

However, despite its common ‘coronavirus’ reference, (or covid-19 if you’re fancy), almost anyone would be able to tell you that it came from China. And that has brought with it an unjustified level of blame towards people of Chinese descent.

Rumours, social media and inevitable group chat gossip spreads potential theories of how the virus came about. Two ideas seem to stand out; a rumour of a Wuhan native eating a bat, or an accidental leak of a ‘bioweapon’ (a weapon of war) from a lab. Whatever theory you believe, this has placed ‘blame’ (if there has to be any) on one or a handful of individuals.  

Image from Sky News.

The Network Contagion Research Institute (NCRI) did a study on the conspiracies surrounding coronavirus and the spike in Asian-targeted online racism. They began by looking at 4chan, a popular meme site. Due to its anonymous posting, a lot of people use it to spread hate and anger.

The NCRI monitored certain codewords in these posts, finding that ‘virus’ was often linked to the word ‘chink’, a known racial slur used against Chinese people, as well as other slang words for Asian ethnicities. The study also contrasted this with slurs for Jewish and African American communities.

Since January, NCRI found a sharp increase in Chinese and Asian terms being used alongside the virus, with a decline amongst other ethnicities. Posts on 4chan frequently included phrases such as ‘chinaaids’ ‘chinkening’ ‘chinkpox’ and ‘wobuonic’ – seriously who comes up with these?! In addition, Twitter has seen a 900% rise in hate-speech towards China. 

NCRI concluded what many of us know, that some people are using this virus to fuel racist attitudes towards Chinese communities. Unless there’s another crazy conspiracy I’m yet to find, it’s pretty certain that Chinese citizens were involved in conjuring up or spreading the virus, any more so than your local postman. (Actually, a postman would probably be more to blame.)

Image from Twitter.

Sadly, the aggression found on 4chan has been mirrored in real-life. A man in Texas was arrested after stabbing three members of an Asian American family. His reasoning? He believed they were spreading coronavirus. It’s very possible that this family was not of Chinese descent and maybe had not even traveled to Asia for many years. Physical and verbal attacks have seen such an increase that Wikipedia has dedicated a page to xenophobic attacks believed to be motivated by coronavirus.    

This generalisation seems to have spread against other Asian nationalities. Japanese and South Korean natives have been victim to racially motivated attacks, with people mistaking them for Chinese citizens. However, people from both these nations have engaged their own offensive attack against China and its people. ‘#ChineseDontComeToJapan’ trended on Japanese Twitter, whilst 760,000 South Koreans signed a petition to ban all future Chinese tourism to their country. Keeping it closer to home, a Singaporean student at UCL was beaten up under the assumption he was Chinese. Ironic, considering how much better Singapore is handling the virus than the UK. 

Image from Twitter.

As Europe has taken over as the world centre for coronavirus, will the same prejudice be used against Italians or Spaniards as they continue to rack up their number of infections? Before lockdown halted the sale of our favourite fast food, Chinese takeaways had already suffered a huge decline in customers. However, now Italy has the second-most cases worldwide, will the same people say no to pizza too?

A lot of people on social media seem to believe that the Chinese culture of eating certain animals is yucky. It probably isn’t to your taste, as it isn’t to mine. Heck, many Chinese citizens might turn their nose up to it too! But thinking back to previous pandemics – many of us might have childhood recollections of swine flu – was the world horrified by someone eating a pig that started the spread of a similar disease? It’s unlikely that the same judgment and disgust was passed on something a majority of the western world views as acceptable.

The dangerous game of holding all Chinese people accountable for coronavirus isn’t really helped when the world’s most (in)famous leader consistently refers to the ‘Chinese virus.’ Ignoring those WHO guidelines condemning labelling pandemic with location, Donald Trump defends his racism as ‘not racist, it came from China.’ Sigh. Next he’ll be claiming racial slurs are just in good humour.

Image from Forbes

I can’t imagine many would currently prefer to be locked indoors than in a beer garden. Chances are Chinese citizens feel the same. As individuals they should not be ridiculed and ostracized for a pandemic they had next to no influence on.

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Last Update: July 17, 2020