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As the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic shifts from China to the rest of the world, anti-foreign sentiment has spread like wildfire on Chinese social media.
In recent weeks, China has seen an increase in cases of COVID-19 imported by foreigners and Chinese returning from outside the country, and authorities began targeting foreigners as an attempt to prevent a second wave of COVID contagions- 19.
The African community is not the largest foreign population in China, but Africans have become the most visible target of virus and xenophobia control measures.
African eviction in Guangzhou
In the past few days, various media outlets reported that large numbers of Africans have been evicted from homes and hotels in Guangzhou, in addition to being forced to take COVID-19 tests and to be quarantined for 14 days:
‘We’ve paid our rent, we have legal status in the country and yet we’re being evicted and given an hour to leave’ – the words of members of the #African community in #Guangzhou pic.twitter.com/rqIKmSC70z
– Black Livity China (@BlackLivityCN) April 9, 2020
“We have paid the rent, we are legally in the country and yet they evict us and give us an hour to leave,” said members of the African community in Guangzhou.
Many of those evictions occurred in Little Africa, a district near downtown Guangzhou where many Africans have settled for business and education.
On April 7, the city's municipal government claimed that five Nigerians reportedly became infected by eating at a restaurant in the Yuexiu district, where Little Africa is located. The small outbreak led to the termination of Little Africa's commercial activities, in addition to panic among local people. The landlords and hotel owners decided to kick the Africans out of their properties.
This Twitter user took a panoramic video of the street scene and posted it on the platform:
This is what African nationals are passing through now in Guangzhou china after coming out from quarantine centers hotels have refused them. This is evil pic.twitter.com/IPHplEfV90
– Fanocean (@ Emmanue50088843) April 6, 2020
This is what Africans are now experiencing in Guangzhou, China, (since) after leaving quarantine centers, hotels do not receive them. It is perverse.
Because hundreds of Africans in Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana and other countries were left homeless and forced to sleep on the street, representatives of African countries expressed outrage.
On April 10, the President of the African Union, Moussa Faki Mahamat, summoned the Chinese ambassador to express his concern over the allegations of mistreatment of Africans in Guangzhou.
The same night, the Nigerian Consul General in Guangzhou, Anozie Maduabuchi Cyril, confronted police officers and protested against the discriminatory act of “bothering Africans” in the latest round of measures to control the virus in the country:
In Nigeria, we have a lot of Chinese, I don't think you have ever received any information that the Government of Nigeria go to their various houses and pick them for quarantine, so why are Africans and indeed Nigerians being targeted in China?
There are a lot of Chinese in Nigeria, I don't think you have ever received information that the Nigerian Government goes to different houses and chooses them to go to quarantine, so why the Africans and of course the Nigerians are attacking them in China?
Fear, rumors, xenophobia
Recent hostility against Africans emerged after a incident happened on April 1 in Guangzhou, when a Nigerian attacked a nurse trying to escape isolation after testing positive for coronavirus.
When the video of the incident went viral, more rumors about a second wave of contagion among Africans living in Guangzhou caused panic in the city.
The rumor suggests that more than 300,000 Africans live in Guangzhou, but municipal authorities attempted to clarify that approximately 4,000 Africans live in the city. However, many residents stuck to the belief that most Africans live illegally, therefore living off the radar.
As of April 11, the majority of current COVID-19 cases in Guangzhou have been transmitted locally, with 347 cases. There are 119 imported cases and the majority are Chinese who returned from abroad.
On April 10, the Guangzhou Municipal Government also revealed that there are only 30,768 foreign residents in the city, most of them from South Korea (4,600) and Japan (2,987), and the total number of Africans is 4,553. After the coronavirus outbreak, many foreigners have left China and the travel ban has reduced the number of foreign travelers to China.
While official data shows that the apparent “threat” from the African community is no greater than that of other communities in Guangzhou, in recent weeks, local media have downplayed the number of national cases and instead highlighted imported cases from the Foreign.
This has portrayed foreigners as potentially “contagious” and, among the foreign population, Africans are the most visible due to the color of their skin, making them easier targets of harassment.
The xenophobia outbreak in Guangzhou has taken place in the context of popular patriotic speeches that label foreigners as uncooperative and receive “extra-national treatment,” a popular political term used to describe classes that enjoy more privileges than those of the world. common citizen.
In addition to the attack on the nurse in Guangzhou, various stories and videos have ignited this xenophobic speech on the internet. In one account, three foreigners (one black-skinned) skipped a coronavirus exam line and shouted “Go Chinese!” after a crowd surrounded them in the Loshan District of Qingdao City. In another account, a Chinese student who returned from abroad escaped from an isolation center. While in another story, a Brit related to a Shanghai family enjoyed the privilege of quarantining at home, rather than staying at a state quarantine center.
A Beijing lawyer dubbed these uncooperative acts as “foreign junk” behavior on Weibo:
我 不 排斥 洋人 ， 但 我 排斥 洋 垃圾 ， 反对 超 国民 待遇。 在 地球 村里 ， 我们 是 个 法治 ， ， 自然 应当 是 的 的 国家 ， 但 对于 国民 待遇 ， 机关 机关 机关 机关 机关 机关 机关 机关 机关 机关 机关 机关， 依法 履职 ， 依法 行政 ， 不要 自 降 人格 ， 瞬间 丧失 权利 带来 的 自信…
I do not reject foreigners, I reject foreign garbage and I oppose extra-national treatment. In this global village, we are a country governed by law. We need to be open, but I want community service and administrative organizations to follow the law and not lose dignity, as well as lose confidence in giving foreign trash extra-national treatment.
On April 10, the Chinese National Immigration Administration issued a statement ensuring that foreigners who refused to cooperate with the virus control measures would be expelled. The expelled foreigners could be banned from entering China for up to 10 years. The People's Daily, a medium affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party, reflected this popular sentiment online:
在 华 外国人 拒绝 检疫 将 承担 法律 责任 ， 一条 红线 划 在 所有 人身 前。 从 “中国 人 出去” 到 “洋 女婿 大人” ， 出 的 是 不逊 言行 ， 大 的 是 自以为是。 法律 面前 ， 不 存在 肆意 妄为， 更 没有 委曲求全。 依法 依 规 、 合情合理 ， 这 是 一个 开放 国家 、 热情 民族 的 待客 之 礼 ， 也是 一名 来华 人员 、 外籍 人士 的 做客 之 道。
Foreigners who reject quarantine will have to take legal responsibility. The red line is in front of everyone. The Chinese who have left return with bad behavior, the foreign sons-in-law act in a self-righteous way. Under the law, no one can misbehave and no one should be humiliated to maintain harmony. Acting in accordance with the law is the reasonable way. This is an open country and we welcome our guests with hospitality, but foreign guests should also follow the same rules.
Because African leaders, like the Nigerian Consul General, reject the mistreatment and discrimination of Africans in China, there are comments with reactions that contain patriotism and racism. Below a typical reaction ensures:
不谈 其他 东西 ， 就 目前 爆出 来 的 视频 来说 ， 在 中国 真的 有 好多 洋 垃圾 ， 赶紧 全部 遣返 吧 ， 对于 违反 中国 的 国外 人 ， 国人 不能 底气 跪 跪 了 ， 别 一 扯到国外 人 就说 会有 外交 争端 ， 违反 了 中国 法律 ， 就该 处理
I don't want to talk about other things, take a look at the videos circulating on the internet. There is so much foreign garbage in China, just throw them all away. Let's be confident in punishing foreigners who break China's law. Don't kneel down. Whenever foreigners are involved, someone will jump in to talk about diplomacy. We have to uphold Chinese law.
Similar to far-right speech in other countries, Chinese digital patriots also express concern about racial purity in China. This Weibo user said:
依法 驱逐 违法 长期 滞留 中国 的 “洋 垃圾”！ 驱逐 广州 的 违法 滞留 的 黑人！ 否则 广州 若干年 后 第 一个 肤色 被 改变 可以 燎原之势！ 为了 民族 底色！ 加油 广州！
Eject that “foreign garbage” abandoned in China under the law! Expel the illegal blacks who prolong their stay in Guangzhou, otherwise the city will be the first to change its color! A spark can burn. To protect the color of our nation, Guangzhou stands tall.
A viral video showing a black foreigner while expressing his “love for China” drew xenophobic comments like the following:
你 爱 中国？ 你 懂 中国 历史？ 你 知道 中国 文化？ 你 能跟 中国 一起 承担 灾难？ 你 能 和 中国 一起 迎击 侵略者？ 你 是 爱 的 的 种种 好处 罢了 ， 因为 你 在 西方 白人 世界 是受 歧视 的 ， 若 西方 世界 给 你 更大 的 好处 ， 你 立马 转 投 他 国 ， 利己 者 居然 敢说 自己 爱国？ 红旗！ 在 我们 不兴 动不动 拿 国旗 表 衷心 这 一套！
Do you love China? Do you know Chinese history? Chinese culture? Can you suffer alongside the Chinese in a time of disaster? Can you fight alongside China against the invaders? You love China because it has done you many favors, because the whites have discriminated against you. If western countries were more interested in you, you would become one of them. You dare to say that you love China. Don't touch our national flag with your dirty hand. This is not the way we use our flag.
Many Chinese were in mandatory isolation for more than two months. However, many foreigners, particularly the African community, are in vulnerable situations, as they do not have permanent residence in China and many do not have work visas either.
As recently as March, a bill for foreigners to apply for permanent residence in China resulted in a backlash from digital patriots who criticized foreigners for marrying Chinese and leaving or betraying China during the COVID-19 outbreak.
The Chinese digital patriots' rejection of the granting of citizenship to foreigners contradicts the argument that foreigners require “extra-national treatment”. Rather than addressing the issue of nationality in a rational way, very often, the Chinese authorities encourage patriotic discourse against foreigners.