Chinese Migrants and COVID-19: Mobility and Exclusion in the Time of Pandemic
The article analyzes the practices of exclusion and discrimination against Chinese migrants in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. It highlights the mechanisms of exclusion towards Chinese migrants in the countries of settlement, the country of origin and their transnational communities as well as the resistance to discrimination. The author connects these practices to specific sets of mobility imaginaries and speculates about the effects of such exclusions in rearranging the relationship between the conceptual pair “migrant–citizen”.
KEYWORDS: Chinese migration, COVID-19, pandemic, discrimination, racism
The article analyzes the practices of exclusion and discrimination against Chinese migrants in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. Because the COVID-19 outbreak originated in the People’s Republic of China, Chinese migrants have been in the center of discourses on the pandemic in all critical locations of the migration process: in the countries of settlement, the country of origin as well as in their transnational communities.
In the countries of settlement, Chinese migrants faced various forms of exclusion based on racism that have thus targeted all people whose phenotype has been deemed as “Chinese”. For this reason, many Japanese, Filipinos, and Koreans became targets of discrimination as well. These acts included online bullying, distancing, and awkward behavior, the decline of visits to Chinese restaurants and shops as well as physical attacks. Some Chinese groups and communities sought to push back against this treatment by starting online and offline campaigns against racism and prejudice (e.g., #JeNeSuisPasUnVirus).On the other hand, the people who contracted the virus were also targets within their transnational communities. While information on these forms of exclusion is scarce, the author recounts one such case where death by COVID-19 prompted intense pressure in the form of rumors, online commenting and bullying from the community towards the victim’s family. To defend against the claims of reckless behavior, the family resorted to a public rebuttal through social media.
Lastly, the article investigates the cases of the strong exclusionary discourse against Chinese migrants who returned to China on the eve of the purported victory over the virus transmission, thus becoming the suspects of virus importation. The exclusionary discourse that ensued was led by online users, so-called netizens, who can exert a strong influence on the lives of their targets. There was a weak resistance against these attacks by migrant returnees, but eventually, the Chinese mainstream media addressed the dangerous discourse, calling for more tolerance.
By highlighting the mechanisms of exclusion towards Chinese migrants along the entire migration process as well as the resistance to exclusion, the author reveals how exclusion is part and parcel of Chinese migration, which becomes only more evident in the time of the pandemic. She argues that while the exclusions experienced at various “locations” along the migration process are differently structured, they nonetheless all rest on the mobility imaginaries that various groups hold about Chinese migrants. She also speculates that the effects of these acts of exclusion are reinterpretations of the dichotomic relationship in the conceptual pair “migrant–citizen”. In contrast, the resistance against such exclusions by Chinese migrants gives hope that such “acts of citizenship” (Isin 2008) can trigger much needed public debate on the connection between exclusion and mobility.