Chinese students studying in Australia say the way their country is depicted in the media is leading to racism.
The ABC reported in March that one in five Chinese Australians say they have been physically threatened or attacked in the past year, and nearly 70% of Chinese people in Australia have been called offensive names in that time.
Yan Liu and Cheng Pan are Chinese students from the University of Newcastle who say it is not just the Chinese community who experience racism in Australia, but the entire Asian community.
‘A friend of mine was told to “go back to China”, despite him being Korean,’ says 24-year-old Cheng Pan.
Pan has lived in Newcastle for two and a half years and says the violence towards him and his Asian friends has been ‘worse in the past year’.
‘Last year during the beginning of Covid, I was walking on the beach with friends when three young people started shouting racial slurs at us for no reason. Saying things like “keep the virus away from us” and laughing,’ he says.
‘It’s confronting, the majority of Australians are friendly, but I never know when somebody might suddenly scream at me or threaten me,’ Pan says.
The beginning of Covid-19 in January 2020 featured China in Australian news like never before; it began when Canberra pushed an international investigation into Covid-19 on April 20 without a diplomatic consultation.
This interaction with China created major backlash. China was offended and as a result it introduced trade blocks on Australian wine, copper, coal and a range of other goods.
Since the trade block, Australia and China have been banging the war drums and this has created a stir in society.
This has negatively affected Australian farmers and businesses, creating a new hatred for the Chinese government and in some cases towards Chinese people.
Chinese students in Australia have faced the most hatred in the past year.
‘In the first stages of Covid-19 it was really obvious people in public were avoiding me, but even after so long they still seem to be worried that I have Covid-19,’ says 25-year-old Yan Liu.
Foreign students have even had to change their daily habits just to avoid judgement from the public.
‘If I cough in public, I will still get rude looks, so now I try my best to hold it in,” Liu says.
The increase of violence towards the Asian community in Australia has sparked the trending hashtags ‘Stop Asian Hate’ and ‘I Am Not a Virus’, and people have organised protests and marches in major Australian cities to try and stop the racism that they are experiencing.
The media in Australia is reporting negatively on the relationship between Australia and China and this could be adding fuel to the fire.
News headings such as this one from The Australian, ‘China arms for war’ could be unknowingly encouraging people to respond with violence.
Liu has faced instances where he has been attacked purely because he was Chinese.
‘I was walking down the street with my girlfriend about a year ago now, when suddenly a group of guys drove past us and yelled out their window “get out of our country”,’ he says.
One of the theories doing the rounds on social media is that China invented Covid-19 as a weapon of war, but instead accidentally released it into its own country.
This headline from the Insider has encouraged hate speech online towards the Asian community: ‘A Chinese virologist continues to claim the coronavirus was engineered as a ‘bioweapon’ and then released’.
Accusations and theories without truth are influencing people to pick what they believe to be true about Covid-19.
The theory of ‘bat soup’ was floating around too with Seven News reporting, ‘Coronavirus origin: Chinese blogger filmed eating ‘bat soup’ breaks silence’.
Health magazine has shown that this theory is fabricated, reporting ‘The video was also reportedly filmed in 2016, well before the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan’.
Fake news and false headlines could be a reason why the Asian community has been facing an increase in harassment in the past year.
Liu and Pan suggest that the media should be more sensitive and careful about what they post online.
Liu explains: ‘We should not let one-sided cases affect the entire public opinion; bad media is trying to use false information to obtain ratings. They should be held accountable for this.’
Pan adds: ‘I do think bad media is somewhat responsible for misunderstandings and hatred towards Chinese people.’
Despite this, however, foreign students believe there is a possibility for change as more and more people are speaking out and helping them.
‘Although some people can be very rude, it doesn’t change my opinion of Australia. There are still many friendly people here who help me, so I am glad,’ Liu says.