We are pleased to publish below the text of the speech by an activist from the Goldsmiths Anti-Imperialist Society, given on 17 December at the second of two online seminars on the theme ‘The 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China and its World Significance’, organised jointly by Friends of Socialist China and the International Department of the Communist Party of China.
The speech focuses on the problems faced by minority communities in Britain, particularly people of Chinese descent in the context of a rising New Cold War, linking the recent rise in anti-Asian racism to the ‘yellow peril’ narrative pioneered in Britain in the 19th and 20th centuries – part of a campaign of demonisation connected to Britain’s attempts to impose colonial domination on China. Today’s anti-Asian racism represents “the imperialist legacy of the Yellow Peril in the 21st century, propagated by the New Cold War.” In spite of these problems, the speech concludes on an optimistic note, observing that there is a “growing number of young people who are fighting back against the propaganda that seeks to divide us and isolate us from each other”. This generation is building a united front based on opposing racism, imperialism and capitalism, and stands “in solidarity with our Chinese comrades and all our siblings in the Global South in self-determining and working together to create a fairer, multilateral world.”
I would like to use this opportunity to thank Friends of Socialist China and the Communist Party of China for hosting this meeting here today. My speech is from the perspective of an activist in anti-racist collectives. When I refer to the term ‘black’ in this speech it is used as an umbrella term referring to African, Asian, Arab, Caribbean and all non-white communities.
As a member of the Chinese diaspora, a British Born Chinese, it brings me great joy to speak with you all, though the topics of what I will be sharing will not be so joyous. In sharing my lived experience and material analysis of the current socio-political environment, I hope to share insight on what it is like to live as a Chinese in Britain and the impact of anti-China rhetoric on Asian communities.
After the murder of George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter movements that emerged around the world highlighted the institutional racism embedded in every aspect of western society, from how the media portrays Black children in negative, stereotypical ways to how the police brutalise Black people. Institutional racism towards Asian communities is perhaps not as overt as it is towards our African and Caribbean siblings but it is equally as insidious.
Racism against Asian communities has relied on the same vestiges of Yellow Peril that never left British shores after it arrived on the coattails of the Opium Wars almost two centuries’ ago. This “Yellow Peril” is the fear of the East – the anxiety that the so-called Orient was coming to colonise and conquer the West in the same way it has done. Historically, the Yellow Peril was enshrined in law such as the Chinese Exclusion Act in the US and Home Office policies that led to the deportation of Chinese seamen in Liverpool, UK. How many of us here know that 6 Chinese seamen survived the sinking of Titanic? Now Chinatowns are bustling hubs of culture and commerce. But there was a time when some Chinatowns were formed as self-contained protective enclaves against the tides of white supremacists intent on driving Asian immigrants out of their jobs.
For a while, the concept of the “model minority myth” has acted in counter to the yellow peril: quelling fears of Asian world domination with stereotypes of the typical Asian being smart but submissive, adept at assimilating, unthreatening to the white worker. Though it may seem harmless at first glance, Asians have been required to fulfil the role of the quiet, unassuming worker in order to be accepted as legitimate citizens. But this acceptance has been conditional. The Asian diaspora lives in the duality of being the Yellow Peril or the Model Minority. When the Asian diaspora has fought back or challenged anti-China, anti-Asian rhetoric, they – we – are no longer seen as friends but foes. Spies, saboteurs, traitors to the state.
When the Covid pandemic hit in 2020, this awoke the dormant beast of Yellow Peril once more. It became acceptable to spread vitriol, fake news, and disinformation as long as the precedent was set that there was no blame to be placed on the British state or the UK government for mismanagement of the pandemic.
Instead of reflecting inwards on how it could have handled the pandemic better, the British state opted to blame China for its failure to curb the early waves and with the mainstream media’s help, made China culpable for the deaths of hundreds of thousands in the UK. This was internalised by the general public.
“China” became synonymous with Asian which became synonymous with everything bad in the world. The novel coronavirus wasn’t just associated with China or Chinese people; Chinese people were seen as the virus itself. Everyone who looked Chinese became a sitting target for abuse and hatred; it did not matter their ethnicity nor place of birth.Continue reading Wave of anti-Asian racism fuelled by the New Cold War