COVID-19 Pandemic Gives Rise To Underlying Social Issues
While Coronavirus sparks racism towards the community of Asian descent worldwide, foreigners in mainland China face xenophobia and hostility driven from news stories that negatively portrays the presence of non-natives. Broadcasted news and social media posts that feature irresponsible behaviors from foreign individuals have led to overgeneralization and discrimination towards minority groups, which intensifies the partiality between foreign and native residents. It is important to acknowledge the wrong of any groups in the pandemic rather than to pick out one to blame. The continuity of social discrimination is the domino effect caused by the health hazard incident that turns the world upside down.
"COVID-19 is not just a health issue; it can also be a virus that exacerbates xenophobia, hate and exclusion." (abc.net.au)
Triggered by the pandemic, the underlying xenophobia and racism have its breakout. Intolerance and division between foreign community and local residents can be seen through a WeChat (a Chinese multi-purpose social media app) blog 锦鲤青年 (Koi Youth jǐnlǐ qīngnián) posted a series of cartoon titled “An illustrated handbook on how to sort foreign trash” (洋垃圾分类图鉴 yáng lājī fènlèi tújiàn) in April. The comic series, which also made its appearance on Weibo, targeted foreigners as disposals for a range of ignorance acts conducted by individuals in the pandemic.
Before being deleted off the internet, the comic series contains nine categories of drawings, most of which based its detail on specific references to news about the “special treatment” and misconducts of foreigners that came under fire from the Chinese public and netizens:
1. A foreigner who refuses to wear face masks and offends medical workers after coming to China as the virus spreads overseas.
Verdict: Wet trash for “returning kindness with ingratitude.”
2. A foreign basketball player who orders food delivery in the middle of the night while staying at a quarantine hotel.
Verdict: Recyclable trash for “abusing his privilege” but having the chance to be “educated” given his value to the Chinese team he plays for.
3. A foreigner who breaks home quarantine and goes out for a jog after traveling abroad.
Verdict: Dry trash for “exploiting freedom” at the expense of other people’s safety.
Reference: Bayer fires Australian Chinese employees after she breaks home quarantine in Beijing (note that the offender was ethnically Chinese).
4. A foreigner who illegally enters China to avoid the outbreak at home.
Verdict: Recyclable trash for “selfishly putting Chinese people in danger.”
5. A foreign “romance scammer” targeting Chinese women for sex and cash.
Verdict: Hazardous trash for committing heinous crimes in the name of “an open-minded outlook on dating.”
6. A foreigner who sings praises of China in public but secretly posts anti-China views on the internet.
Verdict: Wet trash for being two-faced and using freedom of speech as a defense when challenged.
7. A foreigner who violates Chinese quarantine regulations by leaving home to pick up a delivery without permission.
Verdict: Dry trash for “not conforming to local rules” while in China.
8. A foreigner who tested positive for COVID-19 attacks health workers.
Verdict: Hazardous trash for “reciprocating generosity with animosity.”
9. A foreigner who cuts in line for coronavirus testing and tells Chinese people in the queue to “get out.”
Verdict: “A giant piece of hazardous trash” that needs to be deported immediately.
Reference: Three Americans get heat for cutting in a COVID-19 testing line in Qingdao; Local government apologizes on their behalf.
The author concludes the cartoon with a few messages:“China has contributed tremendously to the world during the crisis and sent supplies to virus-stricken countries. Some “foreign trash” have taken China’s kindness for granted! But you need to realize that it’s not our obligation to help you! We don’t discriminate against any foreigners but at the same time, we will never condone any misconduct by foreigners.”
The rage from the Chinese public and the backlash towards the foreign community caused one another. The uprises of discrimination are from the uncertainty, fear, and mistrust that hang in the air amid this pandemic. The intolerance further grows from the concerns over imported COVID-19 infections. The cartoon echoes the general consensus of hostility towards foreigners as seen through personal stories of foreigners being treated differently out of discrimination to being denied services and more. “When a Chinese person overseas has a sign saying, 'I am not a virus', I kind of feel like I want to wear the same sign here," said Mr. Hadfield, who has a wife and a daughter who are Chinese, and who considers China as his home. (abc.net.au)
The COVID-19 pandemic is not an excuse for racist, xenophobic, and any shape of discriminatory behaviors and responses. In response to past waves of intolerance actions, Fernand de Varennes, the UN Special Rapporteur, addresses that "[c]ombating the epidemic requires tackling its darker sides. Firm actions by states and all of us to safeguard the human rights of the most vulnerable and marginalised, including minorities, Indigenous communities, and migrants, are urgent and necessary[.]” (abc.net.au) This is perhaps the time when everyone needs to unite more than ever.