Sinophobia and Anti-Asian Hate: A Guide
Updated: Aug 18
With the unsettling and shocking rise in anti-Chinese, Asian and East Asian hate crimes since the start of the pandemic, this guide will help you understand the term “Sinophobia” and the effect this has on other Asian ethnic groups who are also subject to attacks.
What is Sinophobia?
Sinophobia officially means to fear or hate China as a country as well as other related countries or territories (for example, Taiwan and Hong Kong), its people, diaspora (the dispersion or spread of any people from their original homeland) or its culture. It is a form of racism and discrimination and includes when people believe their own race, ethnicity or nationality is superior. Yellow Peril is also a term that describes fear of, or hatred directed at East Asians, originating from their skin colour and their widespread emigration to other countries.
Before we delve deeper into Sinophobia, here are some statistics regarding the hate crimes in the past year:
A poll conducted by Ispos MORI (Marketing and Opinion Research International) showed that one in seven people in the U.K. admitted they would avoid people of Chinese origin or appearance with similar figures in the U.S., Canada and France, and higher figures in Australia, Germany, Japan and Russia.
In the U.S. nearly 3,800 incidents against Asian Americans were reported over the course of roughly a year during the pandemic; 68% of victims were women.
Many incidents of online, verbal and physical attacks against Chinese, East Asian and Asian people across the world have been reported and saw a huge increase in 2020; e.g., more than 8 in 10 Asian Australians have experienced discrimination during the COVID-19 pandemic.
When did Sinophobia first emerge?
Anti-Chinese sentiments from the Western world can be traced back to the First Opium War in the 1800s. The Chinese were described by those who went to China as “uncivilised” and Britain’s desire to expand its Empire led to the mistreatment of Chinese people, defeating China in both Opium Wars as well as fuelling further anti-Chinese sentiments.
In the U.S., the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882) prohibited the immigration of Chinese labourers and wasn’t fully abolished until 1965. It came from rising anti-Chinese sentiments in the early 1800s when Chinese immigrants first arrived in the United States, mainly as labourers, which led to many White people losing their jobs in favour of the cheaper labour the Chinese people offered.
Sinophobia also has deep historical roots in Japan and Korea, as well as other East and Southeast Asian countries where there is a large Chinese diaspora (group who have spread from their original country to another), such as Malaysia and Singapore. Since the formation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, many non-communist countries and their people have held negative views of China. This has led to a lot of people lumping Chinese people, Chinese culture, China as a country and the Chinese government together when making anti-Chinese remarks.
What are examples of Sinophobia?
The most common negative descriptions of Chinese and East Asian people often take aim at their facial features, accents, language, and preconceptions regarding the food they eat.
Other examples, often deemed as “casual racism” or “playground banter” and are usually based on stereotypes and ignorance, include making kung fu noises, asking questions such as “what do you eat?”, “where are you really from?”, and saying “ching chong”. These, as well as the derogatory term “chink”, are extremely offensive, making the victim feel as though they are foreign and don’t belong even if they were born in a Western country.
"Chinese people should not be held accountable for the actions of their government."
The current heightened state of Sinophobia predominantly comes from the perceived idea that COVID-19 originated in China and was spread around the world by Chinese people. Former President Trump’s constant use of the damaging terms “Chinese virus” and “Kung Flu” exacerbated this. Others blame “China” for the alleged covering up of COVID-19 from the rest of the world and for allowing it to spread so rapidly, which as mentioned above, has people talking as if the Chinese government and Chinese people are one and the same. They are not. Chinese people should not be held accountable for the actions of their government.
This recent rise in anti-Chinese sentiments extends to products made in China. Campaigns circling on social media try to urge people to buy British-made products. While they are proud to British and want to reinstate British manufacturing industries, they also try to denounce the Chinese and anything made in China.
Many people try to rationalise anti-Chinese sentiments by attacking China, Chinese culture and Chinese people for things such as the Cultural Revolution, the infamous Yulin Dog Meat Festival, “inhumane” wet markets, and the concentration camps set up by the Chinese government in Xinjiang for Uyghurs. This often seems as if the Chinese - again ambiguous whether they mean the government or people - are deserving of the hatred they receive because they are guilty. Again, not all Chinese people agree, like or take part in these cultural traditions found in certain parts of the country or what the government is doing.
"Yellow Peril", where people think all Asians look the same or assume they are all Chinese
As well as people of Chinese descent being victims of Sinophobia, other East Asian and Asian peoples have also been victims of hate crimes. This is mostly because they are mistaken for being Chinese, which is another unfortunate example of “Yellow Peril”, where people think all Asians look the same or assume they are all Chinese just from their apparent looks. This is insulting to all ethnicities who are subject to this narrow-minded preconception.
Some people have also experienced subtle micro aggressions in public which includes people giving them dirty looks or deliberately making a point of avoiding them.
Why is racism against Chinese and East Asian people still under-reported?
Even though reports of hate crimes have spiked dramatically, it is believed many more are not reported to authorities. Furthermore, a lot of them are online hate crimes. This may be because:
They do not trust the police.
They don’t believe anything will be done particularly for online hate and vandalism, which is sometimes harder to report and identify the perpetrators.
They are scared to report them.
They don’t want to cause trouble - this rings true for many East Asians who want to keep their heads down and in turn is a reason why they may also be viewed as easy targets for racism; the so-called “Model Minority” stereotype.
Unfortunately, many hate crimes against Chinese and other East Asian people are also under-reported in the media and overlooked by society. Particularly in the U.K., we are led to believe that the most severe attacks are few and far between. Furthermore, the number of Chinese and East Asians working in the media is low and therefore their voices underrepresented, leaving the chances of Sinophobia/Sinophobic attacks being covered very slim.
Some media outlets have also come under fire for using pictures of Asian faces, supermarkets and even takeaway food to accompany some coronavirus-related articles that do not focus on Asians or East Asian people. The government also released a poster about the rules on face coverings featuring the image of an East Asian woman. Research showed that 33% of images used to report COVID-19 in the British media have used been images of Asian or East people. The ethnic Chinese population in the U.K. stands at 0.7% and less for other East Asian minorities, but this is not a case of better representation, instead it just emphasises negative stereotypes and preconceptions.
Sinophobia and anti-Asian and East Asian sentiments are not new and sadly do not look like they are going to simmer down any time soon. More people are now beginning to pay attention to the existence of such sentiments thanks to more U.S. media outlets reporting crimes, particularly those against AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islanders). This, coupled with social media hashtag trends such as #StopAsianHate and #StopAAPIHate, as well as more people challenging Sinophobia and Yellow Peril both online and in person, provides hope for change and can hopefully educate people.
Here are just some organisations in the U.K. you can turn to for assistance if you need help or support.
UKFCP (The U.K. Federation for Chinese Professionals)
besea.n (Britain’s East and Southeast Asian Network)
SEEAC (Southeast and East Asian Centre)
Stop AAPI Hate is the predominant organisation in the U.S.
For more articles and resources on this topic, head to our dedicated Racism, Islamophobia & Antisemitism section.