I am not a virus – anti-Chinese racism and coronavirus

Published date
The far-right are always seeking to normalise racist attitudes and behaviours. Legitimate criticism of the actions of the Chinese state have been hijacked. Chinese visitors and students, as well as UK citizens of Chinese or South-East Asian heritage, have been personally blamed for the pandemic.

Online hate

Moonshot specialise in monitoring extremist content online. Between February and April they saw a 300% increase in racist and violent hashtags against China and Chinese people.  They analysed over 600 million tweets, of which 200,000 contained hate speech or anti-Chinese conspiracy theories.  

They identified the top ten hashtags being used in these posts, eight of which were explicitly anti-China or anti-Chinese. The full report is available online.

Poisoning the mainstream

Hard-right politicians and news outlets have predictably jumped on the bandwagon. Donald Trump has called coronavirus the ‘Chinese Virus’ and referred to it as ‘kungflu’.

But these prejudices have also found their way into the mainstream media. Le Courrier Picard, a regional French newspaper, published the headlines ’Alerte jaune ‘(Yellow alert) and ’Le péril jaune?’ (The yellow peril?). These articles accompanied an image of a Chinese woman wearing a protective mask.

In response, French citizens of Asian descent used social media to post photos of themselves holding signs reading ‘I am not a virus’.

Even ‘metropolitan elite’ titles have stoked anti-Chinese sentiment. In Germany, Der Spiegel magazine ran a cover image of a person in a protective red suit and gas mask, under the headline ‘Made in China’. In the UK, The Economist also ran a front page with an image of the Earth wrapped in a face mask adorned with a Chinese flag.

It is right that the Chinese state be held accountable for its failings and human rights abuses. But the media must not provide ammunition to far-right activists seeking to normalise racism. 

The far-right show their hand

Far-Right activists have lobbied politicians to refer to Covid-19 as the ‘CCP virus’. This has been reported by Councillors in Bradford, Sutton, West Sussex, London and Wigan. They received emails from the Epoch Times, claiming the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) hid the pandemic for six weeks. They also reported receiving emails ostensibly from constituents repeating the same message. The emails also called for local authorities to use the term ‘CCP virus’ instead of Covid-19. Members of Scottish Parliament also reported receiving similar emails.

The Epoch Times is an American group linked to Falun Gong; a religious movement persecuted by the Chinese Government. Most of its activities have been directed against the CCP and other communist parties. They are also enthusiastic supporters of Donald Trump. Their lobbying campaign reveals that the group see coronavirus as an opportunity to become more active in the UK and Europe. 

Responding to conspiracy theories and alarmist stories

Racist conspiracy theories have had a real impact in the lives of many Chinese people. Incidents of hate crime against Chinese people in the UK increased threefold during the first three months of 2020.

The TUC stands in solidarity with Chinese people in the UK.

Our ‘Tackling the far right eNote’ helps trade union reps and activists respond to false claims and conspiracy theories:

  • Break their campaign messages down into specific claims.
  • Research the facts behind each claim — is it a lie, or an exaggeration? State the true facts beside each one.
  • Find credible people to denounce the lies — council spokespersons, community groups, housing associations, etc.
  • Focus on one or two lies most likely to make people angry.
  • Use the other lies to demonstrate a pattern of deceit - this is important as it shows they can't be trusted.
  • Put together an information sheet for local journalists with credible facts/data and names they can interview.

Complete our ‘Tackling the far right eNote’ to find out more.