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Let’s talk about Sinophobia

Wing Tsang and Dr Yeow Poon

Sinophobia, or anti-Chinese sentiment, is the fear or hatred of China and Chinese people, which can take various forms, such as discriminatory policies, xenophobic rhetoric, and acts of violence. It has a long history dating back to the 19th century when Chinese immigrants faced discrimination in countries like the United States and Canada due to discriminatory laws like the Chinese Exclusion Act .

Sinophobia has risen globally in recent years, fuelled by economic competition and political tensions between China and other countries. Accusations of Chinese economic espionage and intellectual property theft have increased scrutiny and restrictions on Chinese investment and immigration in countries like the United States.


Sinophobia also manifests in xenophobic rhetoric and hate speech, particularly against Chinese immigrants and people of Chinese descent. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated this issue, with discrimination and abuse directed at Asian communities .

Chinese students and scholars studying abroad have also been targeted with discriminatory policies and racial profiling in some countries, limiting their academic freedom and exchange opportunities.

Sinophobia is not limited to a specific country or region

Unfortunately, Sinophobia is a global phenomenon. It has historical roots in the UK, dating back to the Opium Wars. It has been perpetuated through media portrayals of the "Yellow Peril" and moralistic panics about Chinese men marrying British women.

An example can be read in Christopher Frayling’s The Yellow Peril: Dr Fu Manchu & the Rise of Chinaphobia (2014):

"In the early decades of the 20th century, Britain buzzed with Sinophobia. Respectable middle-class magazines, tabloids and comics alike, spread stories of ruthless Chinese ambitions to destroy the West. The Chinese master criminal (with his "crafty yellow face twisted by a thin-lipped grin", dreaming of world domination) had become a staple of children's publications.

In 1911, "The Chinese in England: A Growing National Problem", an article distributed around the Home Office, warned of "a vast and convulsive Armageddon to determine who is to be the master of the world, the white or yellow man." After the First World War, cinemas, theatres, novels, and newspapers broadcast visions of the "Yellow Peril" machinating to corrupt white society. In March 1929, the chargé d'affaires, at London's Chinese legation complained that no fewer than five plays in the West End depicted Chinese people in "a vicious and objectionable form".

The impact of Sinophobia is significant, with individuals and communities of Chinese backgrounds facing racial slurs, discomfort, and discrimination. A YouGov poll conducted in the UK found that people of Chinese backgrounds are more exposed to racist comments than other minority ethnic groups - 76% of Chinese had a racial slur directed at them compared with 64% of all the BAME respondents.

Recognising and addressing the root causes of Sinophobia, combating discrimination and hate, and promoting inclusivity and understanding among different cultures and communities are crucial.

Sinophobia could create negative impact on individuals and the community in several ways, such as:

• Economic and social discrimination:

Sinophobia can result in discriminatory practices in employment, housing, and access to public services, limiting opportunities for Chinese individuals and communities.

• Psychological and emotional impact:

Experiencing Sinophobia can lead to psychological distress, anxiety, and trauma for targeted individuals. It can also create a sense of alienation and isolation within the Chinese community, leading to a loss of belonging and identity.

• Education and academic freedom:

Sinophobia can affect Chinese students and scholars studying abroad, as they may face discriminatory policies, racial profiling, and limitations on academic freedom. This can impact their ability to pursue education and engage in cross-cultural exchange.

• Negative impact on international relations:

Sinophobia can strain diplomatic relations between countries and contribute to geopolitical tensions. It can also lead to a deterioration of trust and cooperation between China and other nations, affecting global politics, trade, and international relations.

• Perpetuation of stereotypes and racism:

Sinophobia can reinforce harmful stereotypes and racist attitudes towards Chinese people, perpetuating discrimination and prejudice. It can also contribute to normalising xenophobic rhetoric and hate speech, creating a hostile environment for Chinese individuals and communities.

Addressing Sinophobia could be a long process, requiring concerted efforts at individual, societal, and policy levels. However, the below steps should be considered by policymakers:

• Raising awareness and education

Educating people about Chinese history, culture, and contributions can help dispel misconceptions and reduce ignorance and prejudice.

• Promoting diversity and inclusion

Promoting diversity and inclusion in all aspects of society, including employment, housing, education, and public services, can help create a more inclusive environment for Chinese individuals and communities.

• Advocacy and activism

Engaging in advocacy and activism to challenge discriminatory policies, practices, and rhetoric can help create systemic change and promote equality and justice.

• Promoting cross-cultural exchange

Encouraging cross-cultural exchange, dialogue, and understanding between China and other countries can foster mutual respect and cooperation, helping to reduce tensions and misunderstandings.

• Condemning hate speech and violence

Condemning hate speech, discrimination, and violence against Chinese individuals and communities, and holding perpetrators accountable, can convey that such behaviour is unacceptable.

• Promoting positive representation

Promoting positive representation of Chinese people in media, arts, and popular culture can help challenge stereotypes and promote a more nuanced understanding of Chinese culture and people.

Sinophobia is a deep-seated issue with historical roots and contemporary manifestations. It impacts individuals, communities, and international relations, and efforts are needed to combat discrimination, promote understanding, and foster inclusivity and respect for all individuals, regardless of their background or ethnicity.

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