Racism is far from being eliminated in the wider world. In fact, as more global awareness about bigotry and prejudice is highlighted, many countries simply adapt in order to create new disguises for age old bigotry.
In the United Sates, there is a long and very formal history of anti-Chinese racism. In 1875, the US implemented the Page Act which prohibited Chinese women from coming to the United States. In 1882 an even broader Chinese Exclusion Act banned all Chinese migrants and subsequently, those already in the US faced a new wave of discrimination in the public sphere. The Chinese Exclusion Act was valid until 1943 and it was not until 1965 that Chinese immigrants were treated roughly the same as those from elsewhere.
Today, Chinese students are finding that US universities are less accommodating than they had been in the second half of the 20th century. As the US under Donald Trump plunges headlong into a protectionist trade mentality, young Chinese are being banned from certain university level laboratories under the absurd notion that such students are a “national security threat”.
Beyond this, earlier this year a professor at America’s Duke University was exposed for writing emails which attempted to bully Chinese students from speaking to one another in Chinese during their leisure time away from the lecture halls and laboratories. While this inflammatory incident did not make headline news in the United States, if major Chinese cities prohibited foreigners from speaking English in restaurants or public parks, one could imagine the outcry.
While in the 19th and 20th centuries, the US banned Chinese people that helped to build the infrastructure of the American west, today Chinese people are harassed and Chinese products are banned. The language has changed but the fundamental bigotry has sadly resurfaced.
Few in the US have dared to mention this issue but one US presidential candidate has. Businessman Andrew Yang is currently competing to be the presidential nominee of the Democratic Party of the United States. During a recent speech, he stated that he fears Chinese and other Asian-Americans as well as Asian migrants living in the US will face an increased amount of racism and even violence due to what he described as a Cold War mentality directed against the People’s Republic of China.
While the US government pretends that Chinese are a “national security threat”, such rhetoric could embolden those with latent hateful and violent tendencies to commit criminal acts against those with a Chinese background or those falsely assumed to be Chinese.
But it is not just the US that has major problems in this respect. India’s election season has seen anti-Chinese racism skyrocket. This month saw Indian jingoists publicly burning Chinese goods whilst shouting inflammatory statements about China.
Last year in The Philippines, those who oppose President Rodrigo Duterte’s good relations with China put up insulting posters in Manila which indicated that China seeks to conquer The Philippines even though China has a history of good relations with the pre-colonial peoples of what is now The Philippines.
During China’s century of humiliation, casual racism against Chinese was common among the western powers and Japan. Today, China’s success has not led the racists to a point of contrition. Instead, those who once mocked Chinese people due to China’s internal weakness are now displaying hatred towards a China whose success derives from economic, technological and social advances.
It is not easy to change the mentality of those prone to bigotry and racism, but until governments from New Delhi to Washington cease fanning the flames of anti-Chinese racism, things may get worse before they get better. This time the excuse to justify the racism is “security” but the fact of the matter is that those insecure with their own cultural characteristics always look for scapegoats and this is what is happening before the world’s eyes.