Gao says it hurts him to see Chinese people and other people with an Asian background encounter more and more discrimination. He thinks it would help if the media painted a less one-sided picture of the situation. According to Gao, Western news outlets are giving people the idea that the situation is extremely grave everywhere, but actually, it is not that bad everywhere. In the part of China where his family lives, life is going on as usual, but the news only shows villages where life has ground to a halt. “In China there are doctors who are working so hard on a cure that they are fainting, but the rest of the world is ‘joking’ about the Chinese and the coronavirus.”

Just stay at home

21-year-old Gao has heard quite a few stories about increasing discrimination. The student association has members in several countries, and many of them are sharing stories on WeChat. “An extreme example from the USA is a note stuck to the entrance to a restaurant: ‘No Chinese’.” Something similar happened last weekend at a student flat in Wageningen, where someone wrote ‘Die Chinese’ on the walls. Gao has not encountered anything like that at EUR. However, he is hearing a lot of stories about increased levels of racism in daily life. Members of the association have told him that people start yelling ‘corona’ whenever they board a tram. Others have been accosted by people on the metro or in supermarkets.

Gao feels less safe in Rotterdam’s streets now. Normally, he likes to go outside after dinner, but now he is avoiding the risk. “People might accost me in the street again or call me names. And I’m not the only one who feels that way.”

jingli_gao_03-by Aysha (2)
Image credit: Aysha Gasanova

Worse

“I feel most of all for children who look Chinese. They are mentally not as strong yet as we adults are.” Gao tells us that he experienced a fair bit of discrimination as a child, and that he has learned not to take it to heart, but that being associated with a disease is a lot worse.

“I think that a lot of people who grew up in the Netherlands will recognise this,” says Gao, telling us about the discrimination he encountered as a child. “At primary school they’d sing this song called ‘Hanky Panky Shanghai’. I was always asked in a pseudo-Chinese accent if I wanted some chili sauce with my food, or called ‘spring roll boy’ by my classmates. Like so many of us, I thought, don’t bother arguing with them, because it’s no use telling them off.”

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