Coronavirus spreads anti-Chinese racism, xenophobia concerns

White House considers ban on China flights amid coronavirus outbreak


SAN FRANCISCO — As the coronavirus continues to spread around the world, Russell Jeung follows each development with concern.

Jeung, chairman of Asian-American Studies at San Francisco State University, applauds the various measures undertaken to quell the virus by everyone from airlines to the World Health Organization.

But he also cautions that one unhelpful reaction to the China-originating virus — racist reactions towards the Chinese and sometimes anyone merely Asian-looking — just adds hatred to hysteria.

“If you look at social media and some of the news, it’s fear of the ‘Yellow Peril’ all over again,” says Jeung, referring to a term that gained traction after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941. “‘Coughing while Asian’ is like ‘driving while black,’ something you get stereotyped for.”

Although San Francisco’s Asian-American history dates back to the Gold Rush of the 1850s, Jeung says since the coronavirus scare hit U.S. shores he has seen non-Asians move away from Asian-Americans who are coughing or wearing masks. “The masks are there out of courtesy, but instead they’re viewed in other ways,” he says.

Passengers wear face masks to protect against the spread of the Coronavirus as they arrive on a flight from Asia at Los Angeles International Airport, Calif. on Jan. 29, 2020.

Often the reactions are more hurtful than mere shunning. Fear of the coronavirus around the world has so far led to everything from anti-Chinese signs at businesses to misrepresented videos.  

South Korean restaurant owners have displayed “No Chinese allowed” signs and Japanese Twitter users made the hashtag #ChineseDontComeToJapan trend. In Singapore, more than 125,000 people have signed a petition urging the government to ban Chinese nationals from entering the city-state. 


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