When incidences of prejudice against Chinese people and others of East Asian origin arose in various parts of the world as the result of the novel coronavirus outbreak, a campaign to combat it appeared.
Initially launched through social media by Chinese people living in France, the “I’m not a virus” campaign spread among Chinese communities around the world.
On Twitter and Instagram, numerous Chinese people are making themselves heard under the hashtag “#imnotavirus.”
Several Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University staff and students shared their thoughts and experiences regarding this type of prejudice.
“So far I haven’t experienced any racist attacks, but on social media I have seen it in the form of verbal abuse or even physical conflict,” said Kening Ren, an XJTLU student now in his fourth year and currently studying at the University of Liverpool.
“I think it’s really awful how Chinese people are being treated,” said Joe Jones, a student at the University of Liverpool who participated an exchange programme at XJTLU.
“Whilst in the Philippines, I was speaking in Chinese with a Chinese women in the hotel reception area. You could tell that foreign people were trying to avoid her,” Jones continued.
“At one point I even heard an American lady complain about how close she was to her. It was really sad to see.”
“So far, my friends and I have not encountered any racist attacks,” said Lily, an XJTLU alumna who is pursuing a master’s degree in Brisbane, Australia.
“People in the supermarket and the university are pretty nice.”
Ren, the XJTLU student now studying at the University of Liverpool, and Professor Roberto Donà of XJTU's International Business School Suzhou both stated that some media reports in the West have been misleading, likely playing a part in development of the prejudice.
“Social media used in the West and British mainstream media are always skeptical about China,” Ren said.
“Therefore, when the epidemic broke out, the media had more material to use to attack China,” he said.
“They spread comments about the collapse of Chinese economy and used the situation as a new excuse to discriminate against Chinese people.”
“In the West, information about the coronavirus outbreak is misleading,” said Donà.
“Unfortunately, in most of the communication, the virus is being called the ‘Chinese virus,’ which leads to an immediate connection in the minds of people who do not know the real enemy - the enemy suddenly becomes the Chinese or anyone who looks Asian.”
International response shows examples of support
Whist there have been examples of prejudice, there have also been many examples of support and concern for Chinese people within the international community.
When a Chinese student stood on a street in Liverpool in the UK, wearing a mask and holding a sign reading: “I’m a human, not a virus,” five strangers approached and hugged him.
On February 10th, the Liverpool City Region and its universities, including the University of Liverpool, one of XJTLU’s parent universities, made a joint statement to support Chinese students and residents in the city, reading, in part:
“We ... are exceptionally proud of the diversity and vibrancy of our City Region; proud to be known for our welcoming and inclusive nature; and proud of our community spirit.
We are therefore shocked and saddened to have received reports of verbal abuse towards members of our Chinese community in response to the coronavirus outbreak in China. Whilst these reports remain isolated, we are absolutely clear that one incident is one too many. Racism, discrimination and intolerance have absolutely no place in our region or our universities.
Liverpool's Chinese community is one of the largest and oldest in Europe and our Chinese residents and students are an integral part of our communities. Together, we are neighbours, colleagues and friends. We know that this is a worrying time for us all but, when many are concerned for the health of family, friends and loved ones in China, our support is more important than ever before.
We know that the vast majority of our residents, staff and students are already standing together in solidarity with our Chinese community and we call on all others to do the same.”
Ren, the student, was struck by a poster in a small restaurant in his apartment building in the UK that serves Chinese food with hot dry noodles – the most representative snack of Wuhan.
“A couple of days ago I saw a poster in the restaurant cheering on the people in Wuhan,” he said.
“Even if it was most probably put up by the Chinese people working in the restaurant, I still felt the warmth and kindness.”
Nan Ha, another XJTLU student currently studying at the University of Liverpool, noted the concern expressed to her by her French teacher.
“She asked about the coronavirus in a caring way. She also asked how my parents were and whether they were affected.”
“I feel that her care was true and real, which touched me a lot.”
By Yi Qian, Yunji Tao and Qiuchen Hu
Translated by Boqiang Xiao, edited by Guojuan Wang and Tamara Kaup