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  • Anna Wang

I Don’t Take Offense to Trump Saying “Chinese virus”

One of my friends wanted to write an article entitled, “To Indict the Whole of China.” This friend and I have very similar backgrounds. We were both born and raised in China, went to the same university in Beijing, became professionals in our respective fields and now work in North America. By “the whole of China,” he means not just the People’s Republic of China as a nation but also the Chinese people. He believes that every Chinese person, whether or not they even live in China, is responsible for China’s long-lasting communist regime. I disagree. I believe that I voted with my feet by immigrating to North America. Therefore, I’ve had absolutely no part in what went on after I left. I may have believed it at the time, but I’m starting to have second thoughts. Here is my story:


My daughter is going to a college in California. In the beginning of March, her school started holding all its classes online in an afford to curb the spreading of the COVID-19, and her friends were leaving for home. She still had a few friends around, though the numbers were dwindling. On March 11th, World Health Organization announced that the COVID-19 outbreak had become a pandemic. This changed everything. The morning of March 12th, my daughter called me asking if she could come home. She found it impossible to stay on such an empty campus.


I’d already downsized since she went off to college, but I assured her she could move back in. I went to my complex’s leasing office to see if they had any bigger units available. “How many square feet do you need?” the salesgirl asked.


“Just slightly bigger than what I have,” I said, fidgeting with my wallet.


As I was taking tours of available units, comparing sizes and prices, I received an email from my son’s high school. All classes would be held online starting the following week. Panic started kicking in. It would be easy to welcome my daughter back since she’s nocturnal, but my son not going to school would pose a bigger problem. To minimize distraction, I signed up at a coworking office last year. I go there every day to write, and it works pretty well for me. What if my office shuts down and I have to work at home with my son? I needed a bigger unit. I spent the whole day shuffling between units, examining my budget, debating various solutions and, finally, applying for the largest unit I could afford.


Dinner time came. I was in no mood to cook, so I drove to a nearby Vons. I picked up a few pounds of baked chicken and salad from the deli. After grabbing a bottle of milk and a tube of toothpaste, I was ready to check out. Approaching the checkstands, I was stunned. Each line stretched into the maze of aisles and out of sight. Every cart was loaded to capacity. There were staples like meat, milk, eggs, frozen food, and toilet paper. When people began hoarding toilet paper a while back, my friends and I had ridiculed the practice. Seeing how tired and bewildered everyone looked that night, I had no intention of making fun of anyone. On top of that, I sensed tension in the air. I felt as if I was driving in congested traffic and a road rage incident could occur any minute. I suddenly became very self-conscious about my Asian face. I had no intention of becoming a target should someone decide to take out their anger on me. I considered putting back the items in my cart and making an exit.


But here was the thing: Could I really put back the items I had picked up? The non-perishable items could be re-shelved. Even the milk could be put back as long as the seal was intact. But what about the chicken and salad from the deli? They’d get tossed if I returned them. When throwing them away, would the clerk remember that it was an Asian woman who had requested the food and wasted it? It might make him hate Asians more. But why? Why should I fear that he might hate Asians more? Because I’d already felt I’d somehow contributed to the crisis. My friend’s remark flashed across my mind at that moment: “We are all responsible for this.” I decided to wait it out. It turned out no one even noticed me. Everyone in line was just staring at their phone, moving slowly and mechanically forward.


Trump called COVID-19 the “Chinese virus” and many Chinese Americans are offended. They are accusing him of fanning the flames of racism and xenophobia. Photos of Chinese restaurants with broken glass doors have gone viral on Chinese social media. People are running around in a panic, saying that these incidents are the direct consequences of the President’s reckless speech.


No. This incident and others like it are consequences of us Chinese being complicit in the continuation of one-party rule in China. These are the consequences of Chinese living overseas intentionally or unintentionally blurring the lines between the multiple meanings of “Chinese.”


A Screenshot Taken from the TV Series, Counterpart

Trump had his own reasons for point his finger at China. I’m aware of that. He was trying to shift the blame for his mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic. His handling of things may seriously damage his campaign for re-election. And in his usual childish way, he felt the need to point at another kid when being scolded by angry parents.


I agree that it is right to be critical of Trump, but we also need to consider who exactly is buying Trump’s excuses. I thought of my long day wasted visiting vacant units and the extra costs involved with my kids’ schools unexpectedly closing. As a person with no money issues, I felt defeated enough waiting in that long, anxious checkout line by the end of the day. Imagine I worked in tourism, conventions, entertainment, or transportation… How could you expect me to calmly deal with sudden unemployment, extra childcare costs, and the evaporation of my stock portfolio? Think of the tired faces of the people waiting in the checkout line. Their lives have been disrupted for no reason. They don’t deserve trouble imported from China. If you feel angry at Trump for calling it the “Chinese virus,” it means you only consider yourself. You don’t feel one ounce of apology for burdening those random people.


On Feb. 9th, Margaret Brennan of CBS speculated that the virus might have come from China’s biological warfare program and asked Ambassador Cui Tiankai to comment. Mr. Cui replied, “It’s very dangerous to stir up… rumors and spread them among the people.… It will fan up racial discrimination, xenophobia, all these things, [and] that will really harm our joint efforts to combat the virus.” Cui laid the groundwork for muddying the water long before Trump tweeted about the “Chinese virus.” If you accuse Trump of being racist, you are taking Mr. Cui’s cue and you don’t even want to question where the virus truly came from.


I’m not saying that there isn’t racial discrimination in America and other Western countries. Nor am I saying we should tolerate racism, hatred, and violence toward Chinese people. I’m simply saying that when you hear “Chinese virus,” just take it with humbleness for a moment. Think of all the harm China has done to these people. Think of what you have done. Have you protested Asian subdivisions? Have you insisted that Taiwan was part of China? Have you posted China’s national flag on your WeChat account for China’s National Day? Have you photoshopped your photo to change your clothes into a PLA uniform because you thought it looked cute? Have you gone to every mall you could find to buy up all the face masks you can find to mail them to China? If you haven’t done a single thing, then you can protest against Trump.

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