By Manya Koetse
This week has seen various heated discussions on Chinese social media regarding the alleged privileged position of exchange students in the PRC. Anti-black racism is ubiquitous within these online discussions.
In the same week that a short video exposing the dorm disparity between Chinese and foreign students went viral, another issue has sparked controversy regarding overseas students in China.
This time, Chinese bloggers and social media users show their discontent with another type of alleged “internationalization” at Chinese universities – Jinan University in specific.
The controversy was triggered by a Weibo post published on June 24, in which a female netizen claimed that Jinan University was “forcing female students to participate in [cultural] ‘exchange’ activities with black exchange students.”
The post added fuel to recent ongoing discussions about the privileged position of foreign students, in which many Chinese social media users show their anger over exchange students’ relatively better dorm conditions, the scholarships they get, and other ways in which universities allegedly prioritize the comfort of international students over that of Chinese students.
This week, the alleged installment of new air-conditioning at the exchange students’ dorm at Jinan University – rather than an installment of air-conditioning at the Chinese students’ dorm – also sparked anger.
What stands out in these online discussions is that, although there is a general anti-foreign trend, many netizens specifically talk about black students when they vent their anger, with waves of anti-black racism permeating these debates.
The claim that Chinese female students would be required to participate in on-campus activities with black exchange students triggered controversy on many online media platforms, from Sina Weibo to Zhihu.com and Tianya.
Some internet commentators suggested that it was improper for university staff to ‘assign’ Chinese girls to African students.
Photos of the programme arranged for the foreign students, in which Chinese students were to take part in, also leaked online.
“Not only does China educate these black devils for free, lets them eat and live for free on a scholarship, but also do they provide them with women. Just reincarnate me as a black person in my next life,” one commenter on messageboard Tianya writes.
“Why don’t they send their own wives and daughters to ‘communicate’ with black students?”, one Weibo user asked.
Jinan University responded to the online controversy on Weibo, writing:
With the promotion of the One Belt One Road initiative and closer China-Africa relations, thousands of African students come to China on scholarships every year, pursuing undergraduate and graduate degrees subsidized by the government.
According to Quartz Magazine, more Anglophone African students studied in China in 2017 than in the United States or the United Kingdom, which used to be their traditional destinations of choice.
The issues of the recent viral short movie – exposing the better living conditions of foreign students – together with the Jinan University controversies, have sparked off hundreds of comments on Weibo over the past week.
Saying they feel that Chinese students are being treated as “second-class citizens,” some netizens ask: “Is this the People’s Republic of China, or People’s Republic of Africa?”
“The Ministry of Education has become like an immigration office,” one Weibo user says: “It is damaging our country.”
Some blogs focusing on “black exchange students” in China say they bring HIV into the country, writing: “The Ministry of Education spends ten-thousands of yuan to let these low-class exchange students come to China, yet they haven’t had medical checks and bring in diseases.”
This is a recurring pattern on Weibo and other Chinese social media, where phrases such as “black devil go away” or “black monkey go back to Africa” are commonplace. Discrimination of Africans often comes with issues in which Chinese netizens themselves somehow feel marginalized or discriminated.
Online racism against Africans has been an ongoing issue on Weibo since the platform was launched in 2009. At the time, an essay about the racism against Chinese in Africa drew much attention. In 2013, Weibo was flooded by news of Chinese being killed in Ghana.
The existing idea that Chinese are looked down upon in Africa has allegedly worsened anti-African sentiments in China, although there are also those who already warned in 2013 that “the denigration and discrimination of black people [in Africa by the Chinese] is spreading like an epidemic.”
Throughout the years, multiple news stories concerning Africans have triggered waves of racist remarks. In “From Campus Racism to Cyber Racism,” scholar Cheng (2011) argues that anti-black racism in China has re-emerged with China’s deeper economic involvement in Africa, due to which large numbers of Chinese and Africans have come to work and study in each other’s countries.
Cheng writes that, although there already were waves of racism against Africans in the early post-Mao era, it has resurfaced over the last decade with the rise of China as a global power. Given that there are still many Chinese regarding Africans as “racially inferior,” “these people think it is wrong for Africans to create social problems in Chinese cities and impede China’s actions in Africa” (561).
What is noteworthy is that anti-African sentiments on Weibo are mostly targeted at black men, not black women, and that their relations with Chinese women are strongly denounced. (Note: the Google image search results for ‘black African exchange student’ in Chinese (非洲黑人留学生) are very telling for what African exchange students are associated with online). It is perhaps for this reason that the Jinan incident especially ignited controversy.
But there are also those who resist racial stereotyping and discrimination.
Popular Weibo blogger Mai Tian (@) wrote this week: “Lately, in the news feed of Weibo, I see more and more content that denounces Chinese girls being romantically involved with black men. This kind of content distributes racial discrimination, narrow-minded views, and a conceited stinkiness. It’s unbearable.”
“Chinese students often suffer discrimination when they go abroad. Why would they do the same to black students here?”, another commenter writes.
Others think the problem can be easily solved: “Just give Chinese students the same dorm conditions as other students and foreign students.”
For now, discussions are quieting down; most online threads and articles discussing this issue, including the response by Jinan University, have been taken offline by censors.
From whatsonweibo.com through chinaafricaproject/com