4 Dec 2010

Analysing anti-Black racism in modern China (Essay)

Studying in Beijing for the second year of my BA Chinese studies, I did a research project on racism in China. Before that, I thought that any foreigner like me would be adored by the Chinese who are desperate to get their hands on anything foreign. The truth is, what Chinese people adore are white people and their perceived superior looks and 'status'. If you are of dark complexion, you will not enjoy the same treatment as white people in China and don't even think of getting a job as an English teacher (even if your mother tongue is English, they will prefer the broken English of any blond Russian girl). The racist world image of China is that whites are superior to anyone and only Asians come close to them. One would think that nowadays, with so much exposure and exchange with the outer world (Beijing Olympics, Shanghai Expo, MTV, internet...) that Chinese would understand that a black person is just the same as any other human, but the majority is far from that. See below one chapter of my essay followed by a link to the complete work:

In his work “Anti-Black Racism in Post-Mao China” Berry Sautman provides a detailed historical account of Africans coming to the People’s Republic. I will not reproduce every incident that yet successfully brings the vile attitudes of contempt towards Blacks to the light, but try to highlight details that might help to look for reasons for the racial contempt of the Chinese at that time.

While these cultural exchange-students in the 1960s were unhappy with China, it was dissatisfaction with living standards, rather than racism, that the students from mostly elite-backgrounds complained about. At that time, Maoist China was supportive off third-world nations and sought to find diplomatic allies particularly in Africa. The first major race riots start only a few years after Mao’s death.

The pattern of the 1979 race riot in Shanghai was to be repeated in the decades after: Either African or Chinese students complained about each other’s behaviour, Africans would become angry about the lack of help or even mistreatment from authorities and confrontations would end violently. While reading the account of these confrontations, it seems unusual to me that police reportedly would not intervene in some cases, stand by attacks or come hours after the assaults started.

“Africans were stoned and the foreign student hall of residence besieged by Chinese hurling bricks. African students called the police, but officers did not arrive for several hours and failed to intervene as fighting continued throughout the day.”

From my experience it takes second nowadays for the police to vigorously respond to any minor scuffle.

In the 1980s, African students (sometimes along with Arabs and South Asians) staged several protests over the mistreatment and continuous racial taunting: 1980 in Nanjing, 1983, 1985 and 1987 in Beijing and 1986 in Tianjin along with minor incidents in Nanjing, Shenyang and Xi’an that year, 1988 in Hangzhou and Wuhan.

A factor in some universities was that Chinese complained Africans would “pollute Chinese society by having relations with Chinese women”. Africans were also accused of being AIDS-carriers.

From analysing historical backgrounds, a change in attitudes towards Africa is evident. During the Mao era and national emphasis on belonging to the oppressed people, racial stereotypes played minor factors that Africans experienced in China. After the reform era in the late 1970s, morality changed and no longer was the third-world propagandised as the main friend, but the European and American lifestyle as the better, richer, more promising and sophisticated example that is to be striven for.

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