In the Book of Proverbs (24:11), it is written: “Deliver those who are drawn toward death, and hold back those stumbling to the slaughter.”
However, the opposite seems to be true in some Western countries within the context of the coronavirus crisis, which has killed thousands of people in China and infected many others. American pundits have celebrated the prospect of increased jobs in the US at China’s expense and denying medical aid in order to weaken the country, while the virus of racism against ethnic Chinese and other Asians is spreading across the US, UK, Australia, Canada, France and elsewhere.
Rising anti-Asian racism
In the US for example, a woman wearing a face mask was assaulted in a New York subway station, while in a Los Angeles subway, a man targeted an Asian woman for verbal abuse, proclaiming that Chinese people are filthy and diseased.
Racist abuses are also becoming increasingly violent and worrying the Asian-American community, as a teenage boy in Los Angeles was beaten because of his Asian ethnicity and hospitalized for head trauma, similar to the assault case of a Thai tax consultant in London because of his East Asian appearance – as people of Chinese, Taiwanese, Japanese, Korean and other descent are lumped into one group.
There have also been instances of hotels not allowing Asians to check in, as well as increasing boycotts of Asian businesses. In Los Angeles’ Carson area, a fake flyer with a World Health Organization seal told residents to avoid Asian-American businesses because of a coronavirus outbreak, while more than 14,000 people signed a petition urging Alhambra schools to close because of its large Asian population.
This was despite the fact that at the time there had been only one case of Covid-19 in Los Angeles county, in a population of 10.1 million, while in contrast the seasonal flu in the US has already killed more than 16,000 people and infected 29 million since last October.
Nonetheless, in the face of deteriorating US-China relations bolstering hawks in Washington and international media denigrating China as “the sick man of Asia,” talk of a “yellow peril” and diseases “made in China,” this will likely continue to fan racist tropes against Asians worldwide.
In addition to facing rising racism, the Chinese also face containment of their country. Fearing Covid-19, the world has severed many links to China, as more than 30 airlines have suspended service, while a 78-nation matrix of rules and quarantines from the US to Singapore has basically banned Chinese travelers from foreign soil.
As the world closes its doors to China and the drawbridges go up, the Chinese are feeling increasingly isolated and abandoned in their time of crisis. Despite the Communist Party’s draconian measures of locking down Wuhan, a city of 11 million people, and then enlarging the quarantine to 60 million people in the surrounding province of Hubei, the world is not assuaged by these efforts.
It seems that in their eyes, China and its people remain the sick men of Asia and a yellow peril, and instead of extending a helping hand or showing compassion to fellow human beings, the world is jeering and joking about them while they are suffering individually.
Surprisingly, an unlikely country that has been supportive of China is Japan – a historic rival power. Shortly after the outbreak, Japan provided medical aid and won praise from China.
Jenny Tao, a Chinese citizen living in northern Japan’s Hokkaido prefecture, observed that perhaps having experienced collective trauma from the 2011 tsunami crisis, Japanese people “have strong empathy for other people suffering disasters.” Similarly, another country that has experienced collective trauma and racism, Israel, has also offered official support to the Chinese.
And as Japan is extending a helping hand to her neighbor, leading to improving ties between the two countries, the crisis is becoming an opportunity for Beijing and Tokyo to cooperate and address the very real challenge of global pandemics.
Turning to one another
In the meantime, feeling abandoned by most of the world, with many infected individuals in solitary confinement unable to touch or hug their loved ones, the Chinese are turning to one another for support. After the immediate lockdown back in January, and despite authorities warning that opening windows would increase the risk of infection, many residents of Wuhan began shouting encouraging words out their windows because of a need to connect.
New songs have also sprung up to encourage the residents under quarantine, giving a rare glimpse into what daily life was like before the crisis, and could be again in the future.
The famous Hong Kong actor Jackie Chan along with other Chinese celebrities also recorded a song to honor the thousands of health-care workers on the frontlines of the battle against Covid-19, with many having fallen while others soldier on with deteriorating masks that are patched up with tapes because of a supply shortage. These are the unsung Chinese heroes in this war that the racists are mocking.
And they, perhaps as well as the Japanese, know the sobering truth that this is not a war of China vs the world, but of humanity vs the virus. Because if China fails, the whole world would fail.
First published in Asia Times 22/02/20.