Across the globe, racism against East Asians, particularly people of Chinese ethnicity, whether in person or on the Internet, has been widely reported since the outbreak of COVID-19. The United States President Donald Trump has referred to the virus as “the Chinese virus”, fuelling verbal and physical abuse and xenophobia towards Asian Americans. In the United Kingdom, there have been incidents of mask-wearing Chinese and Asian students becoming targets for racist attacks. This phenomenon is not only a problematic combination of racist hatred and maskaphobia, but also constitutes a dilemma for Asians who are forced to choose between exposing themselves to the threat of Coronavirus and fear of racist abuse. On the other hand, the association of the virus with a particular ethnicity or Asians who exhibit Chinese physical characteristics has also contributed to a conflation of Asians, Chinese people, China and the Chinese government. Under the mask of political critique against the authoritarian-backward Other and concerns over the health and safety of non-Asian populations, central to the racialised and political discourse on the COVID-19 crisis is a dangerous Orientalism that exposes the limits of ethnic and cultural diversity, and frustrates efforts of states in ensuring the overall well-being of its residents in an increasingly globalised and connected world.
In response to these issues, the Contemporary China Centre has invited four panellists for a roundtable discussion to share their insights and experiences.
Chair and panellist
Dr Shzr Ee Tan
DrShzr Ee Tan is a Senior Lecturer and ethnomusicologist (with a specialism in Sinophone and Southeast Asian worlds) at Royal Holloway, University of London. She is interested in impact-based issues of music and decolonisation, aspirational cosmopolitanism, and anti-racist activism in music scenes around the world (including HE), with a view towards understanding marginality through the lenses of intersectionality. Her recent research project initiated with Mai Kawabata, 'Cultural Imperialism and the 'New Yellow Peril' in Western Art Music, has gained considerable traction among East Asian music communities around the world and turned her towards more activist-informed scholarship and teaching.
Dr Diana Yeh
Dr Diana Yeh is Senior Lecturer in Sociology, Culture and the Creative Industries, City, University of London. She works on race and racisms, migration, cultural politics and activism. She is author of The Happy Hsiungs: Performing China and the Struggle for Modernity (2014) and co-editor of Contesting British Chinese Culture (2018). She is currently Principal Investigator of the British Academy/Leverhulme funded project ‘Becoming East and Southeast Asian: Race, Ethnicity and Youth Politics of Belonging’. She is also researching racial inequalities in the creative and cultural industries, via the project BEAST: British East Asians on Screen and in Television, which has led to a series of collaborative short films by Rosa Fong.
Flair Donglai Shi
Flair Donglai Shi (施東來) is a final year Ph.D. student at the University of Oxford and works at Warwick University as Associate Tutor in Translation and Cultures (2018-2020).His doctoral project investigates the racist concept of “the Yellow Peril” as a traveling discourse in contexts as diverse as early 20th century England, Apartheid South Africa, post-Mao China and post-handover Hong Kong. His articles on postcolonial feminism, Chinese literature, and world literature have been published in Comparative Critical Studies, Women: A Cultural Review, Chinese Literature: Essays, Articles, Reviews, and Comparative Literature & World Literature, etc. His other research interests include Alice in Wonderland and China, Chinese British cultural history, and China-Africa relations in the cultural domain.
Sam Phan (潘家森) is a British-Asian freelance journalist and MA Translation and Interpreting Studies student currently studying at the University of Manchester. Born in Vietnam with both Chinese and Vietnamese heritage, Phan is interested in the themes of belonging, race and identity and is also a strong advocate for social justice and equality. These themes run throughout his work where he aims to amplify Asian voices as well as to challenge injustice against all marginalized people. He has most notably written and produced media content for The Guardian, and has also appeared on the BBC, LBC, and Sky News.
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