By: Grace Zhang
It is a well-known fact that there is no place on this planet that is immune to racism. However, some places have been sheltered from mainstream media. There is a long history of discrimination against African people in China, from anti-black protests to refusing to serve them in restaurants, and make no mistake it is not a recent thing.
Beginning in the 1960s, China began to aid African countries to counteract the influence of other nations in Africa. One form of aid they offered was to send African students to China to receive higher education at Chinese institutions. The native students viewed this as unjust treatment from the government, that they were providing for foreign students when some of the Chinese people were worse off. The students took their anger against the government out onto the African students, which instigated the 1988 Nanjing Anti-Black Protests.
These protests were not only motivated by the unequal treatment given to foreign students but certain aspects of Chinese culture. There has been an ingrained belief that lighter-skinned people were of a higher class than those with darker skin, and this view is still maintained today in many Asian countries. In the early 12th century, the Arabs brought enslaved Africans to China. The enslaved were known as the “Kunlun” and were given a reputation for being of a lower class, savage and dangerous. This reputation then transferred to the modern stereotype that also perceives people of African descent to be the same.
Leading up to the protest, African students were discriminated against and violently beaten for as little as saying hello to a Chinese girl. Even the university, Hohai University, built a wall around the dorms where they resided, with the excuse of it being to prevent theft when in reality it was meant to prevent them from bringing Chinese girls back. There was also a widely spread false rumour that one of the African students killed a Chinese student. The protests lasted three days, in which the Chinese students followed the African students as they were trying to leave Nanjing, yelling “Kill the Black Devils”. Only after moving the African students to Yizheng did the protests die out.
Many Chinese people still believe in the stereotypes that were formed during the enslavement of Africans, and due to this, there continues to be racism and racial insensitivity, even in mainstream media. In 2018, CCTV had its annual Lunar Year TV Gala. Featured in this was a racially and culturally insensitive skit, Zheng Kai’s (郑恺) “Celebrate Together” (同喜同乐). The skit opens with individuals acting as African Tribes while dancing to Shakira’s Waka Waka. A couple of scenes later, we see a Chinese individual with blackface makeup on and wearing fake butt pads pretending to be an African mother. Blackface is not tolerated anywhere, so why is this highly insensitive skit being performed in front of a live audience and thousands of people in their homes?
Now, due to the worldwide pandemic of COVID-19, discrimination against Africans has escalated. Guangzhou, in Guangdong province, has the largest African community in China. Since the pandemic, it has begun to force Africans to test for COVID-19 and to self-isolate themselves. Landlords have evicted African tenants out, resulting in many of them sleeping on the streets. Some restaurants have refused to serve African customers, even putting signs up disclosing this. Even though the Chinese government denies different treatment towards Africans, the discrimination does not stop.
The history of racism against Africans in China is not widely known. This highlights an underlying issue of how our education fails us in not teaching us about the history of the enslavement of others. Where education fails, we must take it in our own hands and educate ourselves. We cannot ignore racism in other parts of the world just because it’s less known.
Grace Zhang is an aspiring writer from Canada. She has always had a love for writing, which has stemmed from her passion for literature. Her time is spent participating in a wide variety of extracurriculars, from HOSA to lifeguarding to Mock Trial. Grace has always been interested in a multitude of subjects, from philosophy to neuroscience, with her curiosity always running wild. She hopes to write texts that engage readers around the world, and spikes their curiosity similar to how others' writing spikes her own.