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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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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

Exchange Student to Be Deported from China for Harassing Young Woman at University

An exchange student studying at the Hebei University of Engineering has been expelled and will soon be deported after harassing a female student.

Manya Koetse

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An exchange student from Pakistan who was studying at the Hebei University of Engineering (河北工程大学) has been expelled and detained after harassing a female student at the same university.

The incident, that is attracting much attention on Chinese social media this week, adds to the wave of recent controversies over the behavior and status of overseas students in mainland China.

On July 31, a female student at the Hebei university filed a police report against a Pakistani student who allegedly harassed her and attempted to forcefully kiss her and touch her breasts.

Screenshots of a supposed WeChat conversation between the exchange student and the female student, in which the man apologizes and claims the interaction is a “requirement for friendship,” are being shared on social media.

According to various reports, the police initially tried to mediate between the two students, which the female student refused.

Together with the school principal, the police then further investigated the case and found ample evidence of harassment after examining the university’s surveillance system.

On August 1st, the Hebei University of Engineering announced that they had expelled the student and that he will be deported from China. The announcement received more than 14,000 reactions and 150,000 ‘likes’ on Weibo.

The student is now detained at the local Public Security Bureau and is awaiting his deportation.

A photo of two officers together with a man in front of the detention center in Handan is circulating on social media in relation to this incident.

At time of writing, the hashtag page “Exchange Student to Be Deported after Molesting Female Student” (#留学生猥亵女学生将被遣送出境#) has been viewed over 310 million times on Weibo.

Among thousands of reactions, there are many who praise the Hebei university for supporting the female student after she reported the exchange student to the police.

“This may not be the best university, but at least they stand behind their students!”, some say, with others calling the university “awesome.”

Many say that the Hebei university should serve as an example for other Chinese universities to follow, with Shandong University being specifically mentioned by Weibo users.

Shandong University was widely criticized earlier this summer for its “buddy exchange program,” which was accused of being a way to arrange Chinese “girlfriends” for male foreign students.

Another incident that is mentioned in relation to this trending story is that of an exchange student who displayed aggressive behavior towards a Chinese police officer in July of this year. The student was not punished for his actions, which sparked anger on Chinese social media.

By Manya Koetse

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China Insight

“Bolt from the Blue”: Mainland Tourists Can No Longer Independently Travel to Taiwan

Chinese tourists who were planning a solo trip to Taiwan are out of luck.

Manya Koetse

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Starting from August 1st, 2019, mainland residents can no longer individually travel to Taiwan for tourism purposes, and can only visit the island with a pre-approved travel group until further notice. The news has become top trending on Chinese social media.

After Chinese authorities announced on July 31st that China will stop issuing individual travel permits for mainland residents visiting Taiwan, the topic became one of the most-discussed topics on social media this week.

China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism stated on its website that independent travel to Taiwan will be suspended from August 1st “in view of the current cross-strait situation.”

The brief statement announcing the ban.

State media outlet Global Times writes that the individual travel suspension is a result of “repeated provocative actions by the Tsai Ing-wen administration and secessionist forces on the island.”

Taipei Times explained the move as “another attempt to isolate Taiwan in the hope of spoiling President Tsai Ing-wen’s re-election chances.” Taiwan will hold its presidential elections in January 2020.

On Wednesday night local time, hashtags relating to the individual travel ban had gathered millions of views and comments on Sina Weibo.

 

ROC Restrictions for Mainland Travelers

 

Tourists from mainland China face restrictions when traveling to Taiwan, Republic of China (ROC), and must hold a travel permit to visit.

In July of 2008, PRC passport holders were first legally allowed to visit Taiwan for tourism purposes, but only if they joined a pre-approved group tour organized by a selected travel agency.

In 2011, these rules were relaxed after Taiwanese and mainland authorities agreed on a trial to allow mainland residents visiting Taiwan as individual tourists.

Under the terms of that ‘trial,’ mainland residents from 47 cities could apply for individual entry permits to Taiwan. These cities included places such as Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, Harbin, Xiamen, and others.

With Wednesday’s statement, that program is currently put on hold. According to Focus Taiwan, this is the first time Beijing authorities have banned individual travelers from visiting Taiwan since June 2011.

Mainland tourists who want to visit Taiwan will now have to go back to joining tour groups again.

The Taiwanese tourism industry relies heavily on Chinese tourists. In 2015, the year before Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen was elected, 4.2 million mainlanders visited the island, making up 40 percent of all tourists.

 

“A Bolt From the Blue”

 

On Weibo, the “Taiwan Individual Travel” account, an information channel for tourists, called the ban “a bolt from the blue” and said that it is unclear how long the restrictions will last: “We just hope that it is temporary.”

The post received over 11,500 comments from netizens, many of whom are confused about the ban and concerned on how it will affect their personal travel plans.

“I already received my permit, can I still go?” many wondered.

According to the China International Travel Service, mainland travelers with permits issued before August 1st can still go on their planned individual trips.

In a Weibo poll answered by more than 210,000 social media users, state media outlet China Daily asked people if they would still consider visiting Taiwan after the restrictions on individual travel permits.

The China Daily poll.

While more than 10 percent indicated they would be willing to join a tour group and still visit, a staggering 89,5 percent indicated they preferred free traveling and would not go at all.

“I will go once [the mainland and Taiwan are] unified,” some popular comments said.

Discussions over the ongoing Taiwan Strait Issue often flare up on Chinese social media. In August of 2018 for example, Taipei-born actress Vivian Sung ignited a storm of criticism on Weibo for a comment she made about Taiwan being her “favorite country.”

Last November, Taipei’s Golden Horse Film Festival was overclouded by controversy due to a speech about Taiwan independence (read here). Chinese state media responded to the issue by promoting the hashtags “China Can’t Become Smaller” and “Not Even a Bit Can Be Removed from China” (#中国一点都不能少#).

“Not Even a Bit Can Be Removed from China” propaganda images spread by People’s Daily.

Earlier this year, many Chinese netizens were furious to discover that the super popular Taiwanese online game Devotion contained secret insults toward President Xi Jinping.

Although big discussions on the current Taiwan travel ban are filtered on Chinese social media, there are still some smaller threads where Weibo users are speculating about the reasons behind the move.

Some blame Taiwan leader Tsai Ing-wen, and see the latest travel measures as a way for Beijing to economically impact the island’s tourism industry to influence upcoming elections.

Others argue that the current ban is more of a “protective measure,” to make sure Chinese travelers who individually roam Taiwan will not be influenced by its election campaigns and media.

Then there are also those who think the entire issue is all about the ongoing Hong Kong protests.

Responses are overall very mixed. Although there are netizens supporting the solo travel ban, there are also those who think the measure will have an ‘opposite effect’ of that desired.

Although Weibo is mostly popular in mainland China, the social media platform is also used by Taiwanese netizens.

“I heard many of our Taiwanese online friends are happy to hear the news [about the travel restrictions]. Finally, this is something that cross-strait netizens can agree on!” one popular Beijing blogger (@地瓜熊老六) writes, sharing an online meme that shows Taiwanese scenery with the line ‘Welcome to Taiwan, without Chinese.’

Still, there are also many Weibo users who want to visit Taiwan by themselves and are just concerned about the practicalities: “So, when do you think I will be able to visit again?”

“I was just preparing to go and visit Taiwan,” one commenter writes, posting a crying emoji: “Nevertheless, I will still support China in this.”

By Manya Koetse , with contributions from Miranda Barnes

Featured image: Photo by Vernon Raineil Cenzon

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. Please note that your comment below will need to be manually approved if you’re a first-time poster here.

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