Stop the Sinophobia

The word “sinophobia” may sound foreign to you but its history is so heavily entrenched in the U.S.. Sinophobia is defined as a fear, hate or dislike of China, Chinese people and/or Chinese culture. The word first came to fruition in the 1800s when the British had the first Opium War, which occured when the Chinese government tried to stop the illegal exportation of opium by the British into its markets. This war, along with the second Opium War, created anti-Chinese sentiment within Europe that spread. Europeans regarded the Chinese as backward and uncivilized, and these misconceptions were used to justify war with China.

a bunch of booksIn the U.S. during the 1800s, westward expansion was taking place. This called for railroads to be built along the Pacific to speed up and generally assist in this process of bridging the gap between the expansion and what was already established on the eastern side of the continent. Chinese immigrants were the primary source of labor used for the creation of the railroads on the west coast. With westward expansion taking place, many were looking for opportunities of glory. Gold rushes with booms and busts were common for that time period.

Over time, many white immigrants and settlers began to see the use of Chinese immigrant labor as a burden, even though they were paid much less and working conditions were much tougher. The white immigrants didn’t want to entirely place the burden of their own people building the railroads but they also didn’t like seeing the Chinese immigrants do it. Yellow peril came into picture. 

People in the U.S. began to fear that these Chinese immigrants who were performing laborious jobs were going to take over and the Chinese Exclusion Act was born. This act was passed in 1882, and at that time it stopped Chinese laborers from immigrating to the U.S.. But Chinese people who had other disciplines were okay to immigrate. In 1924, the act was amended so that no Chinese people were allowed to immigrate, as well as people from other Asian countries. It was finally repealed in 1943.

Tissues and glasses

With the coronavirus in 2020, there’s a chance we could slip back into the same sentiment that has existed for so long. There’s evidence that we’re on our way there. In January, an elderly Chinese man collapsed in Chinatown in Sydney, Australia. Bystanders chose not to perform CPR over fear of contracting the coronavirus. This man ended up dying because of a heart attack that people refused to attempt to revive him from because of his perceived nationality. That’s dangerous and it’s only the tip of the iceberg with this entire disaster. 

President Donald Trump recently called the coronavirus the “Chinese virus.” By calling the virus this, it can further create and propagate a stigma around Chinese people and culture, which is scary. We don’t need implicit bias to be confirmed with explicit verbiage, especially not by those in a place of power like the president of a country. It’s important that we don’t fall into the trap of sinophobia. Yes, it seems that the coronavirus originated in China, but they’ve already gotten it under control compared to other places in the world. Italy is the second most affected country in the world and yet, we don’t see anyone talking about how they’ll be avoiding Italian food or people because of the virus.

In a situation like this, the best thing to do is keep an eye and ear out. If you see someone who is Chinese, or perceived to be, being harassed or subjugated, stand up for them. If someone is making inappropriate jokes relating the coronavirus to China, Chinese people or culture, say something and correct them. It’s important to combat misinformation at times like this because it can help de-escalate the rising sinophobia we’re experiencing in the west. To support people who are experiencing sinophobia, also consider monetary support! If you’re buying food from outside, maybe buy food from a local Chinese restaurant instead of Chipotle. Or if you’re grocery shopping, think about getting groceries from a Chinese grocery store instead of a Walmart or Target. But most importantly, check on your friends who are Chinese, or perceived to be, as it’s not the most comforting time to be.