Chinese people respond to coronavirus discrimination: ‘We are not a virus!’

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Chinese people around the world have taken to social media to highlight the discrimination they have faced as fears grow over the coronavirus epidemic, which began in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

Coronavirus, also known as corona, has infected nearly 7,700 people worldwide and killed over 170 people. As governments rush to evacuate their citizens from China and face masks sell out, fear of the virus is rising – but so is discrimination, say Chinese people.


In France, Twitter users tweeted the hashtag #JeNeSuisPasUnVirus – French for “I am not a virus” – to protest against anti-Chinese prejudice.

Lou Chengwang, who lives in France, appealed on Twitter: “I’m Chinese, but I’m not a virus! I know everyone’s scared of the virus but no prejudice, please,” accompanied with a picture of him holding a paper with the hashtag #JeNeSuisPasUnVirus.

Others also used the hashtag to fight back against the discrimination. A Twitter user named Sandy, based in Paris, posted: “I am French of Asian origin, I have never set foot in China, I am not a virus. So stop your anti-Asian racist comments and behavior. We are human beings above all. Thank you.”

Reports of anti-Chinese discrimination have emerged elsewhere across the world.

A post on Sino Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, highlighted an incident where a Chinese woman was kicked out of a restaurant in Japan. The server reportedly shouted “Chinese out” according to an audio recording on Weibo shared by a reporter from Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV.

The recording included a call to the restaurant, answered by a woman who said that it was refusing customers from China and Southeast Asia because the owner was worried about the coronavirus.

“If our owner contracts the virus and dies, whose responsibility is it then?” she said, according to Bloomberg’s translation of the audio recording.

In Sri Lanka, a Twitter user posted a picture he said was of door of a restaurant in the country with a sign saying: “Temporary we have stopped providing services to Chinese citizens.”

Online, non-Chinese people have blamed Chinese “exotic” food for the outbreak, specifically considering the Wuhan market where the virus was first reported was a source of wild animals from bats, snakes, porcupines to foxes.

Matthew VanDyke, of international non-profit security consultancy Founder of Sons of Liberty International, tweeted pictures of cooked bat soup, with the caption: “If we could all agree not to eat this, things like the Coronavirus in China wouldn’t happen.”

Print media has also run headlines and cartoons which have been interpreted as anti-Chinese.

The Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published a cartoon depicting a Chinese flag with the yellow stars normally found in the upper left corner replaced with drawings of the new coronavirus.

The Chinese embassy in Denmark issued a statement considering the cartoon “an insult to China” and demanded the publication apologize, which Jyllands-Posten refused to do.

George Osborne, the former chancellor of the UK and the editor of the UK-based daily The Evening Standard, posted a cartoon on Twitter with the caption: “… as China enters the year of the rat,” where the rat is wearing a mask.

A lot of users responded to Osborne’s tweet, criticizing it as being “insensitive” and “shameful.”

A user with the handle KayleighLS replied to him saying: “This is disgusting. People have died and are terrified for their loved ones during the biggest festival of the Chinese calendar, and you’re mocking them. Have some shame.”

In the context of an apparent increase in anti-Chinese feeling, some people of Chinese descent said they fear a further rise in racism.

Terri Chu, a Chinese Toronto-resident tweeted: “In my Chinese moms chat group, we discussed how to brace ourselves and the kids for the inevitable wave of racism coming our way as this unfolds. Many of us have never even been to China but know we will not go unscathed.”

UK-based The Federation of International Employers, an organisation for multinational companies, issued a press release titled “A latent prejudice just waiting to happen” on Thursday warning companies about discriminating against Chinese employees due to the coronavirus.

“There is a growing danger of discrimination against those of Chinese origin because of the current viral health scare. The Federation of International Employers (FedEE) is warning employers that they will face litigation and loss of reputation if they allow such prejudice to enter the workplace.”

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