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Anti-Black Racism Dominates Online Discussions over ‘Privileged’ Exchange Students in China

Controversy erupted when Jinan University allegedly ‘forced’ female students to accompany exchange students from Congo.

Manya Koetse

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This week has seen various heated discussions on Chinese social media regarding the alleged privileged position of exchange students in the PRC. Anti-black racism is ubiquitous within these online discussions.

In the same week that a short video exposing the dorm disparity between Chinese and foreign students went viral, another issue has sparked controversy regarding overseas students in China.

This time, Chinese bloggers and social media users show their discontent with another type of alleged “internationalization” at Chinese universities – Jinan University in specific.

The controversy was triggered by a Weibo post published on June 24, in which a female netizen claimed that Jinan University was “forcing female students to participate in [cultural] ‘exchange’ activities with black exchange students.”

The post added fuel to recent ongoing discussions about the privileged position of foreign students, in which many Chinese social media users show their anger over exchange students’ relatively better dorm conditions, the scholarships they get, and other ways in which universities allegedly prioritize the comfort of international students over that of Chinese students.

This week, the alleged installment of new air-conditioning at the exchange students’ dorm at Jinan University – rather than an installment of air-conditioning at the Chinese students’ dorm – also sparked anger.

 

“Why don’t they send their own wives and daughters to ‘communicate’ with black students?”

 

What stands out in these online discussions is that, although there is a general anti-foreign trend, many netizens specifically talk about black students when they vent their anger, with waves of anti-black racism permeating these debates.

The claim that Chinese female students would be required to participate in on-campus activities with black exchange students triggered controversy on many online media platforms, from Sina Weibo to Zhihu.com and Tianya.

Some internet commentators suggested that it was improper for university staff to ‘assign’ Chinese girls to African students.

Photos of the programme arranged for the foreign students, in which Chinese students were to take part in, also leaked online.

“Not only does China educate these black devils for free, lets them eat and live for free on a scholarship, but also do they provide them with women. Just reincarnate me as a black person in my next life,” one commenter on messageboard Tianya writes.

“Why don’t they send their own wives and daughters to ‘communicate’ with black students?”, one Weibo user asked.

Jinan University responded to the online controversy on Weibo, writing:

Firstly, these exchange students from Congo visited China with a clear sequence of processes. Our school helped to arrange the welcoming of these visitors, as is said in The Analects of Confucius: ‘What a pleasure to have friends come from afar.’ (..) Since our students from the foreign language department are mostly female, these circumstances were unavoidable. (..). Our school is on a regular site and is all monitored. No one needs to worry that something would happen at our school.

 

“Is this the People’s Republic of China, or People’s Republic of Africa?”

 

With the promotion of the One Belt One Road initiative and closer China-Africa relations, thousands of African students come to China on scholarships every year, pursuing undergraduate and graduate degrees subsidized by the government.

African exchange students at Hefei University (via Hushe.net).

According to Quartz Magazine, more Anglophone African students studied in China in 2017 than in the United States or the United Kingdom, which used to be their traditional destinations of choice.

The issues of the recent viral short movie – exposing the better living conditions of foreign students – together with the Jinan University controversies, have sparked off hundreds of comments on Weibo over the past week.

Exchange student featured in the short movie that went viral this week.

Saying they feel that Chinese students are being treated as “second-class citizens,” some netizens ask: “Is this the People’s Republic of China, or People’s Republic of Africa?”

“The Ministry of Education has become like an immigration office,” one Weibo user says: “It is damaging our country.”

Some blogs focusing on “black exchange students” in China say they bring HIV into the country, writing: “The Ministry of Education spends ten-thousands of yuan to let these low-class exchange students come to China, yet they haven’t had medical checks and bring in diseases.”

This is a recurring pattern on Weibo and other Chinese social media, where phrases such as “black devil go away” or “black monkey go back to Africa” are commonplace. Discrimination of Africans often comes with issues in which Chinese netizens themselves somehow feel marginalized or discriminated.

 

“The denigration and discrimination of black people is spreading like an epidemic.”

 

Online racism against Africans has been an ongoing issue on Weibo since the platform was launched in 2009. At the time, an essay about the racism against Chinese in Africa drew much attention. In 2013, Weibo was flooded by news of Chinese being killed in Ghana.

The existing idea that Chinese are looked down upon in Africa has allegedly worsened anti-African sentiments in China, although there are also those who already warned in 2013 that “the denigration and discrimination of black people [in Africa by the Chinese] is spreading like an epidemic.”

Throughout the years, multiple news stories concerning Africans have triggered waves of racist remarks. In “From Campus Racism to Cyber Racism,” scholar Cheng (2011) argues that anti-black racism in China has re-emerged with China’s deeper economic involvement in Africa, due to which large numbers of Chinese and Africans have come to work and study in each other’s countries.

Cheng writes that, although there already were waves of racism against Africans in the early post-Mao era, it has resurfaced over the last decade with the rise of China as a global power. Given that there are still many Chinese regarding Africans as “racially inferior,” “these people think it is wrong for Africans to create social problems in Chinese cities and impede China’s actions in Africa” (561).

 

“Chinese students often suffer discrimination when they go abroad. Why would they do the same to black students here?”

 

What is noteworthy is that anti-African sentiments on Weibo are mostly targeted at black men, not black women, and that their relations with Chinese women are strongly denounced. (Note: the Google image search results for ‘black African exchange student’ in Chinese (非洲黑人留学生) are very telling for what African exchange students are associated with online). It is perhaps for this reason that the Jinan incident especially ignited controversy.

But there are also those who resist racial stereotyping and discrimination.

Popular Weibo blogger Mai Tian (@麦田) wrote this week: “Lately, in the news feed of Weibo, I see more and more content that denounces Chinese girls being romantically involved with black men. This kind of content distributes racial discrimination, narrow-minded views, and a conceited stinkiness. It’s unbearable.”

“Chinese students often suffer discrimination when they go abroad. Why would they do the same to black students here?”, another commenter writes.

Others think the problem can be easily solved: “Just give Chinese students the same dorm conditions as other students and foreign students.”

For now, discussions are quieting down; most online threads and articles discussing this issue, including the response by Jinan University, have been taken offline by censors.

By Manya Koetse with contribution from Chauncey Jung

Reference

Cheng, Yinghong. 2011. “From Campus Racism to Cyber Racism: Discourse of Race and Chinese Nationalism.” The China Quarterly (207): 561-579.


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©2018 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Sotka Pujo

    July 3, 2018 at 7:24 pm

    So the jew communist are doing same thing they did in west.

  2. Avatar

    Mickey D

    July 7, 2018 at 8:28 pm

    When I first found out about China’s infiltration of African countries, I believed part of the motivation was for Chinese to have someone to feel superior to, besides the Uighers.
    When I first taught in China in 2009, I was very surprised to see how much Michael Jackson and Martin Luther King, Jr. were honored. And later I saw how the black atheletes like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Lebron James were adored! I can’t remember how many students had Kobe, James and Jordan for their English names. I even had a couple Obamas! But there is apparently a huge difference between black celebrities and black people they don’t know. When I play a song that featured a couple black musicians–really grooving–many students would laugh at how black they were. And some of the darker skinned students were nicknamed Obama. There were some that even laughed at how black Michael Jackson was in the short for “Thriller.” Girls especially, want to be as white as possible, and buy expensive whitening creams. But this article has shown me that the prejudice is deeper than color. It’s racism similar to what we see from lower class whites in the US. Because it’s common for foreign teachers to have better accommodations than Chinese teachers. Reason being, to keep the foreign teacher comfortable, reducing the culture shock, with the goal of the teacher staying a long time.

  3. Avatar

    Uncle Tom

    August 19, 2018 at 5:40 am

    This article raises the issue of preferences. And that preferring any group over another does in fact amount to discrimination. In the United States it is appearing in public service and in university admissions as well as scholarships and “entitlement” programs. Yet every instance in which the party being discriminated against (in this instance Chinese university students) calls out the blatant discrimination against them, they are portrayed with random examples from unrelated incidents, as racist. These media tactics are abhorrent.

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China Insight

Looking at Your Phone While Crossing the Road Will Now Cost You Money in Zhejiang

Pedestrians looking at their phones while crossing the road are getting a red light in Zhejiang.

Manya Koetse

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Zhejiang Province in eastern China has recently launched a new policy: pedestrians crossing the road while looking at their phone risk getting a 50 RMB ($7) fine.

The policy has been attracting the attention of netizens on Chinese social media, where the so-called “Bowed head clan” (dītóuzú 低头族) – a slang word for smartphone-addicted people – has been a recurring hot topic.

People paying more attention to their phone than watching traffic while crossing the road can lead to very dangerous situations. Some graphic videos making their rounds on Weibo today show security camera footage of people getting run over by cars while looking at their phone.

The majority of people responding to the hashtag “Should people be fined for looking down to their phone while crossing the road?” (#低头玩手机过马路该罚款吗#) agree that this kind of behaviour is a risk to traffic safety, but some wonder if a small fine would be effective in combating this problem.

Some cities in China have introduced sidewalks with a “phone lane” and “no phone lane” over previous years, with Chongqing being the first city to do so in 2014.

Mobile phone sidewalk in Chonqgqing. Source https://tech.qq.com

As of earlier this year, the Pedestrian Council of Australia is also looking to implement a law that makes it possible to fine pedestrians who cross the road while looking at their phones.

In Honolulu, the ‘distracted walking law’ already makes it illegal for people to be distracted by their cellphones while walking in a crosswalk.

“Fine them!”, some commenters on Weibo say: “And also fine those people using their phone while driving their electric bicycles!”

“I’m not sure about the fine,” another person says: “I only know I bumped into a tree today walking looking at my phone..”

For many commenters, however, the issue is a no-brainer: “Just don’t use your phone while crossing the road. Personal safety comes first.”

Also read: The ‘Bowed Head Clan’ (低头族): Mother Watches Phone While Son Drowns in Pool

By Manya Koetse, with contributions by Jialing Xie.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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China Arts & Entertainment

‘American Factory’ Sparks Debate on Weibo: Pro-China Views and Critical Perspectives

‘American Factory’ stirs online discussions in China.

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Award-winning documentary American Factory is not just sparking conversations in the English-language social media sphere. The film is also igniting discussions in the PRC, where pro-China views are trumpeted, while some critical perspectives are being censored.

By Anna Wang and Eduardo Baptista

Even as China posts its lowest industrial output growth since 2002, Weibo’s ongoing reaction to Netflix documentary American Factory is rife with declarations of the Chinese manufacturing sector’s impending victory over its US rival. This, however, is not the full story.

The first documentary distributed by Higher Ground Productions, owned by former US President and First Lady, Barack and Michelle Obama, American Factory painted a damning picture of Trump’s protectionist policies.

US manufacturing cannot keep up with the brute efficiency of its Chinese competitors. The story of a shuttering American factory revived by Chinese investment and an influx of Chinese workers, opening up a Pandora’s Box of cultural clashes, paints a telling, but pessimistic, picture of the current strategic conflict between the two superpowers, from the ground-up.

Image via Netflix.

Despite the Great Firewall, Chinese netizens found ways to watch the documentary, that was made by Ohio filmmakers Steve Bognar and Julia Reichert. Temporary links to streaming and subtitle services litter the Chinese Internet, making any accurate count of total mainland viewership nigh-impossible. However, one indication of the film’s popularity among mainlanders was the 259,000 views for a trailer posted on Bilibili.

One likely reason for netizens’ interest is that it neatly plays into Chinese state media rhetoric on the US-China trade war.

The inevitability of China’s rise up the global supply chain (and a corresponding decline on the US side) is a recurring theme in opinion pieces penned by the likes of Xinhua and Global Times, but also an increasingly louder cacophony of bloggers.

 

American Factory shows that the US will probably lose out to China in manufacturing.”

 

One Chinese company (Wind资讯) posted on Weibo that “what Obama means in this film, in a very oblique way, is that anti-globalization will produce a lose-lose scenario.”

The official Weibo account of Zhisland, a Chinese networking platform for entrepreneurs around the world (@正和岛标准) posted a review of the Netflix film titled: “Behind the Popularity of American Factory: Time Might Not Be on America’s Side” (“《美国工厂》走红背后:时间,或许真的不在美国那边了“).

It warns the audience right off the bat to “not assume that this film will promote cooperation between China and the United States. In contrast, it will surely stir up mixed feelings among both audiences.”

American Factory shows that the US will probably lose out to China in manufacturing,” Zhisland writes. The article argues that China will win out due to its lower labor costs, lack of trade unions, and more disciplined managerial styles. “It’s an uneven playing field,” the author continues: “Time may not be on America’s side.”

Toward the end, the author claims: “We are about to enter a new era in which China will gradually become the most dominant player in the global marketplace.”

The fact that many on Weibo shared these kinds of pieces as a reaction to the documentary suggests there is confirmation bias at work here. As is common on Weibo and other social media, comments on the pieces like the above simply rattle unsubstantiated claims, frequently descending into ad hominems.

Another Weibo user (@用户Mr.立早) adds comments when sharing the above article: “The American workers repeat Trump’s mantra, but won’t act on it. They’ve been idling for almost a century. They’re hopeless.”

 

“American Factory tells you: separate the US economy from China, and the US will go bankrupt.”

 

Chinese state media also chimed in on how American Factory proved their most important talking points on the ongoing US-China trade conflict.

Xinmin Evening News, an official newspaper run by the Communist Party’s Shanghai Committee, published an article by Wu Jian called “American Factory Tells You: Separate the US Economy from China, and the US Will Go Bankrupt” (“《美国工厂》告诉你:将美国经济从中国分离,美国会破产“).

In this piece, Jian claims that “in the age of globalization, ties between China and the US cannot be cut. Using high tariffs to force U. S. manufacturing return to the States… is simply not realistic. Separate the US economy from China, and the U.S. will go bankrupt.”

The article was also shared widely on Weibo. Thepaper.cn, an online news site affiliated with Shanghai United Media Group, published a review titled “American Factory: The Things that Are Spelled Out and the Things that are Implied” (“《美国工厂》:那些说出来的,和没有说的“).

The author, Xu Le, writes: “What struck me most about the film was the look on the faces of the American workers. All of them … had the same burnt-out expression… Their faces reminded me of photos of people in the late Qing Dynasty. That dull expression reflects a civilization in decline.”

“We’re a family at Fuyao” American workers listen to a rosy speech from their new bosses.

In the film, When American foremen visit a factory run by glass manufacturer Fuyao in China, they are alarmed to see Chinese workers picking up glass shards without safety glasses or cut-resistant gloves.

A Chinese worker picks up glass shards with minimal safety equipment, shocking his American co-workers.

Xu comments: “Why is it that Chinese workers are able to put up with even more drudgery while being paid far less than their American counterparts? This is something we Chinese are very familiar with.”

 

“Are you the glory, or are you the cost of the glory?”

 

Qin Hui, professor of history at Tsinghua University, once argued that China’s economic growth isn’t because of economic liberalism or government oversight, but because of China’s refusal to guarantee certain basic human rights.

In Maoist China, the state stripped the underprivileged of all political power in the name of the greater good dictated by socialist dogma. Post-Mao China continues to exploit the underprivileged, but now for monetary gain. He called it China’s “advantage” of “low human rights.”

Despite the nationalism sentiment fanned by American Factory, it has also provoked reflection on China’s advantage of low human rights summarized by Qin Hui.

Weibo user ‘Zhi21’ (@ZHI2i), a recent college graduate, writes on Weibo: “I just finished an internship at a factory. I worked 12 hours a day. More than 11 hours of every shift was spent on my feet without stopping, just to keep up with the assembly line. It didn’t make sense to me. After watching American Factory, I feel like American workers are lucky to only work 8 hours a day. That’s why the production costs are higher in the States. They pay too much attention to whether or not workers are comfortable.”

Another Weibo blogger (@GhostSaDNesS) notes that “in American Factory, Fuyao employees believe that to work is to live. They defend the interests of capitalists while they are actively exploited. Unions in the West chose human rights, Chinese capitalists chose profit, and Chinese workers have no choice at all.”

Some of these posts were apparently censored; threads that displayed as having over 200 comments only showed 12, and users complained that their posts were being deleted or made invisible to other users by Weibo censors. “They didn’t give any explanation,” one blogger wrote: ” I only expressed that I felt sorry for the people at the bottom. I didn’t question the system. I didn’t ask to change society.”

Views like that of @Crimmy_Excelsior (“I was confused. Which country is the capitalist one and which country is the socialist one?“) are apparently sensitive enough to be taken offline – they touch upon the tension between the CCP’s espousal of Marxist-Leninism and the plight faced by hundreds of millions of Chinese that have their working conditions driven down by capitalist markets.

Many users don’t buy into nationalist interpretations of the film, and argue that economic gain achieved at the expense of human rights is shameful. @陈生大王 raises a poignant question: “This is a glorious time for China, but I hope this film inspires you to think about who you really are as an individual. Are you the glory, or are you the cost of the glory?”

“The cost of the glory” is derived from a quip popular on China’s internet. The Chinese government often urges its citizens to rally together, using the rhetoric, “We must win this trade war at all cost.” Some netizens then twisted the phrase, saying, “We must win this trade war at all cost, and we later find out that we are the cost.”

 

“China’s prosperity did not just happen overnight – Chinese people worked hard to make it happen.”

 

Even among those in favor of China’s controversial work ethics, there have been concerns over the status quo. Earlier this year, engineers in the tech industry publicly aired their grievances about their “996” lifestyle. The term refers to a high-pressure work schedule of 9am to 9pm, six days a week. This is the kind of life workers in Fuyao are living, with no hope of improvement – they are that the company would find a replacement in no time, making any form of complaining moot.

Recent events in mainland China only increase the credibility of this representation. Factory workers at Jasic, a maker of welding machinery in Shenzhen, attempted to start a union last year. All those involved were fired. A number of college students and activists who actively supported the workers were detained and persecuted.

According to the “China Labor Movement Report (2015-2017)” by China Labor Bulletin (a NGO based in Hong Kong that promotes and defends workers’ rights in the People’s Republic of China) “intensification of social conflicts, including labor-capital conflicts, has crossed a tipping point, and directly threatens the legitimacy of the regime.”

More conspicuously, there are netizens that don’t buy the narrative that Chinese workers are innately “tougher” than their American counterparts. As user @胡尕峰 observes: “(In the film), a new Chinese CEO explains to his fellow Chinese that Americans have been encouraged too much growing up, and can’t take criticism. Chinese born after 2000 have been raised the same way! In my circle of friends, some mothers nearly faint when their babies are finally able to poop. Is China going to end up the same as America?”

American Factory’s objective portrayal of cultural shocks between American and Chinese workforces clearly generated thoughtful reflections and incisive criticism from a sizeable number of netizens, while also being another reason for Chinese state media to highlight the rise of China in the global market.

The chairman of Fuyao Group, Cao Dewang, made headlines this week with the quote: “China’s prosperity did not just happen overnight – Chinese people worked hard to make it happen.” “We indeed worked hard for it,” some commenters agreed: “That’s definitely true.”

By Anna Wang and Eduardo Baptista

Edited by Eduardo Baptista

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