Writer: Harry Zhao
Editor: Adelyne Koe
Graphic Designer: Betty Zheng
In honour of AAPI heritage month, let us take a look at sinophobia, a prejudice that pervades many societies, and is further exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
What is sinophobia?
Sinophobia traditionally refers to sentiments of hatred or fear towards China, its people, language or culture. While the term mainly applies to people of Chinese heritage, similar sentiments have also existed towards other East-Asian and Southeast-Asian people. Even so, there are a number of East-Asian countries that hold sinophobic sentiments, Japan being one of them. In a 2019 survey, it was reported that 86% of Japanese people hold negative views of China.
A number of people believe in derogatory stereotypes of Chinese people being uncivilised and dirty. Several common beliefs include the eating of dog meat by Chinese people, or Chinese tourists being loud and disrespectful. This is often termed as the "yellow peril". After the Covid-19 outbreak, many Chinese and other East-Asian people have been discriminated against on accounts of being "disease-carrying bioterrorists", seeing as the virus originated from Wuhan, China. Politicians labelling the virus as the "Chinese virus" have further deepened the "yellow peril" stereotype and caused many Asian people to fall victim to hate crimes.
Where did it come from?
Anti-Chinese and -Asian sentiments have been around for centuries. It may have first emerged during the Opium Wars, where the Qing dynasty's enmity towards foreigners and the opium trade provoked Britain into burning down the Summer Palace.
Numerous other events also contributed to shaping and increasing resentment towards Asians. In 1882, the U.S. passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which stripped Chinese-American communities of jobs and treated them as second-class citizens. Meanwhile, tensions rose between Imperial Japan and China as a result of the violence of Chinese sailors in Nagasaki, leading to the First Sino-Japanese War, the Manchurian invasions and the Nanking massacre. The "Coolie trade" of countless Chinese and Indian people from British and Portuguese colonies placed many people in slave-like conditions in the Americas, where they were forced to work as replacements for African slaves. Later on, many South Koreans blame China for supporting North Korea's oppressive regime during the Korean War and dividing the Korean peninsula. These events have caused large rifts in the perception of Asian communities both in the West, as well as in Southeast Asia. Not only the Chinese, but Japanese-American people also suffered in the period of the Japanese internment camps and Executive Order 9066, after the bombing of Pearl Harbour, which left them evicted or detained in unsanitary conditions.
Nowadays, China's reputation is still largely tarnished around the world as a communist country with an authoritarian government. Important issues such as the persecution of Uyghur Muslims and the police oppression of the Hong Kong protestors have led many people to view the Chinese government - and by extension, people of Chinese descent - negatively.
How does it affect Chinese and Asian communities?
Both Chinese and other East-Asian and Southeast-Asian communities have suffered from similar microaggressions and hate crimes over the world. They have been mocked for their languages and appearances, as well as having had their cultures appropriated, resulting in them being perceived as a "perpetual foreigner", feeling unable to belong and unaccepted in their social circle. This has caused the mental health of many ethnic Asians to decline greatly, as they feel out of place and might start to disconnect from or reject their own heritage. They might be asked questions like "Where are you really from?", or "Can you speak [stereotypical language in Asia]?"
Recently, anti-Chinese sentiments have started to become apparent due to the association between Chinese people and the Covid-19 pandemic. This has manifested in the discrimination towards Asians, and numerous hate crimes, including physical and verbal violence, labelling Asians as a "virus". As a result, a majority of the Asian diaspora live in fear of hate crimes and discrimination.
Furthermore, the "model minority" myth is deeply harmful to Asian communities, which generalises Asians as being successful and educated. This both erases the struggles of Asian communities and ignores the diversity of experiences of various Asian families. The myth has also been used to justify the poor living conditions of other minorities, claiming that if they worked hard like Asians, they, too, would be able to become successful, removing the blame from systemic oppression of minorities.
Certain people also claim that successful Asians are stealing high-paying jobs, ignoring the fact that Asian workers exist in both extremes of financial security, with more percentages of ethnic Hmong and Pacific Islanders struggling economically. Additionally, the misconception that Asians are natural high-achievers means that Asians are less likely to receive help in schools and workplace environments, even when they are struggling. The fact is that different minorities' experiences cannot be compared or equated, and although racism against other POCs and Asians are not the same, none of these behaviours can be justified or overlooked.
When sinophobia is compounded with Asian fetishes and harmful stereotypes, all people of Asian descent face terrible microaggressions, hate crimes, declining mental health, and a great suffering of their sense of identity.
How can we mend the harm caused by sinophobic sentiments?
A crucial step is to dismantle the negative stereotypes associated with Asian. This can be done by educating yourself and others about such misconceptions - such as sinophobia, asian fetishes, the "yellow peril" stereotype and the "model minority" myth - and why they are harmful. Instead of generalizing the experiences of people of Asian descent, you can educate yourself and the people around you on their struggles and take immediate action. During AAPI heritage month, you can help Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders by attending events and donating to relevant organisations aimed at assisting them.