Particularly since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Republic of China and its approach to slow down the virus has been widely discussed in the whole world. Because of the spread of the virus, Chinese have been discriminated all over the world. Others have welcomed the strong government of China during the pandemic. I have asked a student from China about her personal experiences with the German answer to the virus.
L: First of all, I would like to know, why have you decided to come to Germany?
H: Four years ago I came from China, first to study Economics at the University. But now, as I am finishing my degree, I am also interested in staying in Germany and dive into the working world. In fact, here, the life is really good.
L: So, what do you enjoy the most here?
H: Mostly that I can just be myself. For example, I am smoking. In China a lot of people just look at you because you are a woman, and smoking is not for women there. Here, I just walk in the street, I smoke my cigarette and nobody cares or stares. Or, another thing. In China, people are asking: “When you are going to get married? When will you get a child?” I think, I do not have to justify my decisions. I do not want to get married as everybody else, and it is my decision to have children one day or not. The people asking you these questions do not care about you, they just enjoy the gossip. And, something that bothers me a lot is that in China, parents have great influence. For example, if I want to apply for a job, particularly if the work is with the government, they will make a background check up on your parents. So, they see what they are doing, what your grandparents have been doing, whether it was something illegal, and deny you the job if they find something. Their status will influence you and your future, even when you might not even live with them anymore.
L: For us, China is often very difficult to understand. Many criticize the strength of the government; others praise its ability to react fast and provide the citizen with security. What is the biggest difference for you?
H: It is like this: In China, the individual often gives up the personal right to serve the greater good of the community, particularly when it comes to collective safety. For example, my parents are from a Muslim minority in China. Since there have been terrorist attacks in my region, I am not allowed to travel to countries that are officially Islamic anymore. Our government wants to prevent attacks and other types of insecurity in this way. Since the attacks, our government tries to make sure that religious groups are checked and their practices controlled, in order to prevent activities connected to terrorism. Yes, this restricts my individual freedom a lot. Whether I think it is unfair? I also understand the concern of the government. I am also afraid about being secure, not having to fear a terrorist attack in my home town. So, until the situation is under control, I can live with the law.
And it is not only law that takes freedom, there is also law that improves the rights of minorities. There are for example certain policies to make university access easier. A member of linguistic or ethnic minority receives improved opportunities as their exams will get 50 extra points because of the minority status, so the entrance in universities is much easier. I think this can also be perceived as unfair, but every measure has a positive and a negative side.
The same I believe happened in this pandemic. We would agree wearing a mask and staying at home much more than people here in Europe for example. Also in my home country many people loose their jobs or experience other difficulties because of the lockdown. But we also know that the government wants to protect us. We want stop this virus, it is dangerous, so we accept the measurements.
L: And what do you think about the media in Europe and the US that portrays what happens in China with prejudice?
H: I cannot quite understand, why. You are looking at the news there, and then here… The story is completely different. The pictures are the same, the videos are the same. But the story, the story is completely different. I believe both sides have an interest in conveying their version of the truth, but it also is their truth. I cannot speak for others and how they should feel, or what they should believe. I, myself, have not experienced many disadvantages of, for example not having international human rights. But I understand why others might.
L: In fact, every place on earth has a different story to tell, and also is facing different societal problems. What negative experiences for example did you make because you are not from here?
H: I have experienced racism and discrimination in Germany as well. I wish I haven’t, but I feel special treatments, and not just rarely. For example, when I am in the supermarket, in the streets or in public transport. People look at you, and you can feel they are acting differently towards you than to the others. I can feel it, maybe they do not know how obvious it is. I even remember being completely ignored by a lady in the market at the cashier. I asked for her help, but she did not answer me. After I paid, I saw her attitude to the woman behind me, where she smiled and was just normal. This situations are rather normal than exceptional.
L: Has COVID-19 changed the behavior towards you? We often hear stories how people blame Chinese for bringing the virus.
H: There were many instances, unfortunately. For example, at the beginning of Corona, me and my boyfriend took the tram and a woman told us to go back to China. She was shouting at us, Chinese go back! But many others reacted and showed us that they were shocked by the woman’s behaviour and even told her to shut up. I actually coughed at her, because I was so angry. When you experience these things, you cannot be quiet. I know many Chinese who would not speak up, but I think remaining quiet makes it worse, people won’t stop. We have to stand up and tell that we are not okay with this behaviour.
Also, before the German government told us to put masks, we were already wearing them. We knew corona was dangerous, and in my culture masks are normal if you want to protect yourself. Here, when people saw us, they stayed away from us or left to the other side of the street. I can feel this behavior, as if we were conveying the virus. It is not like we do not recognize this. And even some of my colleagues joke about the Chinese fault of Corona. Even when they don’t mean it, I feel uncomfortable.
But, do not get me wrong. Most of the people are very nice, and very helpful people. For example, when I came from China with a huge baggage, a German offered their help to carry my heavy luggage. Or, often when I am in the streets looking for the right way or the public transport, people usually approach me and show me how to do it or where to go. I think there is good and bad everywhere, and I also experienced both in any place so far.
L: Do you think the same could happen to Europeans in China as well?
H: Europeans or Americans in China will make very different experiences when visiting China. People there love foreigners, they think they are better than their own people. “Everything is better there than in China”, this is something that a lot of people believe. And China is somehow still underdeveloped, and in direct comparison with here, people still get these stereotypes. On the average level, it is not true, but we have many poor people living in the countryside. The division and inequality is even rising. The rich become wealthier and wealthier and the poor, poorer and poorer. In rural areas there is not enough good education, some live in the mountains or very far, no schools, no teachers. There are some terrible conditions still, and if you are saying those people are above average, yes, they are improving but it is not the whole picture.
L: What do you think about racism and ethnocentrism and the current debate?
H: Yes, worldwide we have a core problem with structural racism. You even experience it at home, against your own people. Being discrimated abroad, does not give you much self-confidence at home. We have to fight for being recognized, we have to convince the others of being good people, while others are already assumed to be good.
Do you think the situation can improve for minorities from Asia in other places as well?
H: I think, people from Asia are actually at the bottom of this debate. To be honest, we are not fighting enough for our rights. We remain quiet, we do not protest collectively. Only few people will react, while most will tolerate being discriminated or insulted. When will we wake up and fight for ourselves? I don’t know, but I really hope that one day, your nationality, religion or cultural background does not have any importance anymore.
L: Thank you very much.