JASMINE MOODY

Asian Students on Coronavirus

Using the term “Chinese Virus” instead of coronavirus is not just another name. It is supporting racist views and validating xenophobia towards the Asian community. 

The coronavirus has exacerbated over the last few months. People are dying, key workers are pushed to breaking point, and the economy is under strain. We are all being affected by corona: isolation and social distancing is a must and Britain has been put on a lockdown. Educational facilities, workplaces, and social areas have been told to close, limiting what we can do, however, another social issue has arisen from the pandemic. That issue is racism, discrimination, and hatred towards the Asian population. This article will be particularly focusing on the term “Chinese Virus”, debates, and effects of the term.

I was born in China, found on the streets of Nanchang, adopted at the age of one, and soon after brought to live in England where I have been living since. Although I am very much ‘westernised’ and can only speak English, racism towards the Asian community hits hard. Up until now, I had not faced racism upfront. However, the outbreak of coronavirus has now made me experience what it is like to be the victim of indirect racism. I was raised in Britain, but I do not appreciate others labelling all Chinese people as dirty. Thankfully, I have not experienced direct attacks but what I have read honestly scares me. I doubt I will be the victim of extreme racially motivated violence, but I want to speak out for the Asian community and against racism especially in a time where the world is being torn apart by a virus.

The term “Chinese Virus” has been used by many. It seems some members of society do not see it as racist due to its origins. Whilst corona is said to have originated from Chinese wet markets in Wuhan, the term is extremely incorrect. The virus does not have an ethnicity, it’s a virus. Some people say that calling the virus Chinese is not racist as other illnesses have been named after a country. La Grippe Espagnole/La Pesadilla is commonly known as The Spanish flu and the German Measles’ medical name is Rubella. Both are popular examples when supporting the use of the term “Chinese Virus”. To begin with, the Spanish Flu began during the First World War, where much of the media focused on the war. Spain was a neutral country and therefore the media focused less on the war and more on the flu. Therefore, it became known as the Spanish Flu. Again, Rubella became known as the German Measles, but this was because German physicians discovered the illness. In fact, they themselves called it that. In short, I heavily disagree that using the term “Chinese virus” is acceptable because other diseases have been named after countries. The Chinese have not called it the “Chinese Virus” so why should we?

The term “Chinese Virus” is not just a crude way of saying coronavirus. It has also had detrimental effects on the Asian community. Terms such as the “Chinese virus” and “Kung Flu” may seem like a joke to some but are extremely offensive. Personally, I am sure that the there is a correlation between the phrase and racial attacks in the US… So far, Chinese and other members of the Asian community have been spat at, punched, insulted, and hospitalised because of their appearance.  So, wrong terminology is harming many and I just cannot see why people are unable to say the correct term: coronavirus. There have been cases in the UK too, even though the term “Chinese Virus” is not commonly used. Therefore, racism would still occur without the term “Chinese Virus”, yet it is not helping the situation and is making it worse.

One thing that really irks me is when people blame the Chinese population, not the government. Stereotypes have been pushed forwards, such as that we are cat, dog, and bat eaters, that all of China have no manners and are dirty. The truth is that you cannot label nearly 1.5 billion people under one stereotype. Faults lie in those who rule and control a country. Blaming the entire Asian population is wrong. They have been suffering too. 

On a more local level, the issue of Coronavirus related racism has been prevalent at the University of York. When news came out about a UoY student having the virus, racism became very apparent. Emails were sent out, telling students to be kind. Even so, crude comments about Chinese and Asian students were thrown around. A recent York Vision news story has explored racism some students are facing, particularly focusing on some of the posts by York Memes. To gain a deeper insight into the personal affects, I have asked some Asian and non-Asian students from the University of York for their thoughts. This was a response from one Chinese international student: 

“We Chinese people always try to be nice and never have (…) named any virus from other countries. We don’t deserve such prejudice. And for me I’m [kind of] lucky I guess, I didn’t get beaten up like those students in Sheffield, and people around me always try to show their kindness. But when I wear a facemask to a supermarket or so, I got stared at and sometimes glared – it’s quite scary”

Another Chinese student responded with the following statements:

“It’s far from right to call coronavirus “Chinese Virus”. In terms of racism (…) strangers turn cold in their facial expressions when seeing us wearing face masks because of the virus, which previously, most people were just nice and polite. [“Chinese Virus”] will make Chinese people suffer [from] racism. (…) Chinese students abroad are suffering loads of potential risks in both study and living”

Other Asian and Chinese students have even reported verbal abuse, with phrases such as “corona”, and “go back to Asia/China”. The student stated:

“I think people are afraid of the virus (…) But I have seen much more local people [that] are really friendly and try to show their respect to us. The racism [comes from] a minor group of people who release personal anger to[wards] foreigners. In my opinion, this is not mainstream of the British society. I detest racism, but I won’t transfer the anger to the other friendly people”

Non-Asian students have similar views. One expressed that “this has affected a couple of my Asian friends. I find it really disappointing”. Further views were given:

“My friends and I find the whole thing truly disheartening. I’m not a fan of calling it the “China Virus” as I feel it’s important not to name a disease after a place to prevent the sort of stigma and blatant racism that has been demonstrated. For example. Ebola is not named after the town it originated from, but instead a nearby river for the same reason”

From these accounts, I can confidently stick with my opinion that replacing coronavirus with “Chinese Virus” is morally wrong. A race is not a virus, viruses do not have a race. Rubella and La Grippe Espagnole/La Pesadilla were named after countries because of the media and positive findings. Calling corona “Chinese Virus” does not stem from either of those, rather just sick word manipulation. Students’ lives are being changed negatively, during a time where humanity should support each other. We do not deserve to be glared at, especially when being cautious and wearing a mask and we certainly do not deserve verbal abuse. Corona is affecting everyone. All of us are struggling. This is a time where humanity should come together. Instead, we are being torn apart. We are already in a crisis as it is – racism is really not needed during this time. So, therefore I ask, please use the medical term, don’t be racist, and stand up for those who are victims of racism. Remember, wash your hands, self-isolate, and have compassion during corona.

1 Comment

  1. TEB
    01 April 2020 - 18:05 BST

    So glad you have raised these points, although sad that you had to raise them. It is so wrong, morally and ethically, and harmful to all of us trying to get through such a difficult time.

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