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Studies link political rhetoric to anti-Asian violence

By MINLU ZHANG in New York | China Daily | Updated: 2022-05-20 09:20
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People attend a rally against racism and violence facing Asian Americans in Gabriel Valley, Los Angeles, in March last year. XINHUA

Political rhetoric about China during the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States has contributed to bias and anti-Asian violence, analysis shows.

Studies have found that Asian hate crime incidents surged notably during the administration of former US president Donald Trump after an overall and continuous drop since the mid-1990s. Trump and several members of his administration repeatedly made pejorative comments about China in addressing the pandemic.

A study in the American Journal of Public Health found that words such as "Chinese virus" are closely associated with anti-Asian sentiment in the US.

The journal published the study in March last year on the association of Trump's tweets with the anti-Asian sentiment. Conducted by a group of scholars at the University of California, San Francisco, the study found that when comparing the week before March 16, 2020, to the week after, there was a significantly greater increase in anti-Asian hashtags, associated with #chinesevirus compared with#covid19.

According to the study, Trump's tweet about the "Chinese virus" on that date was directly responsible for a major increase in anti-Asian hashtags and the use of terms like "Chinese virus" and "kung flu", which Trump publicly said at a rally in June 2020, led to a rise in racist sentiment toward Asians in the US.

When the US was hit by COVID-19, Trump labeled it "kung flu" to cheers and laughter at mass rallies and other public events. He sought to deflect widespread criticism of his handling of the pandemic by blaming the Chinese government and people in general-conflating the Chinese martial art of kung fu with influenza.

In 2017, researchers at Tufts University also found that "exposure to Trump's prejudiced statements made people more likely to write offensive things" among test subjects.

"He really unleashed all this through the misinformation. I mean, what does the virus have to do with China?" Oscar Tang, who founded the Yellow Whistle campaign in response to the rise in anti-Asian violence, told China Daily.

'Wrong type of leaders'

"When you get the wrong type of leaders that use this conflict for their own benefit, when you have the president of the United States using such words, 'the China flu', it doesn't help Chinese Americans."

Historical data suggest a link between heated rhetoric from top political leaders and ensuing reports of hate crimes, and that link has existed in the US for as long as Asian immigrants have been in the country.

A rise in Chinese immigration in the late 19th century triggered the "yellow peril" stereotype. That justified policies that ranged from the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 to Executive Order 9066, which placed US citizens of Japanese descent into isolated camps during World War II.

In the 1980s, officials from both political parties cast Japan as the economic enemy out of fears that Japan would have a monopoly on the cheap car market. The fears led to an increase in bashing and hate crimes against Asian Americans.

While US President Joe Biden has denounced anti-Asian violence, his administration has inherited critical positions on China.

"I think if you look at the history of the country, we are constantly struggling with the aspirations of equality for all. The history of human nature, us versus them," said Tang, a Chinese-born American. "So, the pendulum swings back and forth, and we are clearly swinging into a period of tribalism focused not only on Asian Americans, but all minority groups."

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