Wednesday 27 February 2013

No entry for “Japanese, Filipinos, and Vietnamese, and dogs”

Who said racism existed only in the West or casteism existed only in India? It’s time to look beyond these countries and we Indian have to just look at our neighbouring countries to see what’s happening there. No, I’m not talking about Pakistan which is witnessing the massacre of Hazara community – Sunni extremists have been methodically attacking Hazaras, a Persian speaking Shia minority which emigrated from Afghanistan more than a century ago; or of Myanmar which witnessed the massacre of Rohingya Muslims by Buddhists; or of Bangladesh which is going through violence due to war trials; or of Sri Lanka which witnessed ethnic violence which affected thousands of Muslims, Hindus and Christians; but I’m talking about China.

Yes, China, our yet another neighbour. Though it’s well known that there’s no racism in the country, how can we even forget that a 20-year-old girl, daughter of a Chinese mother and an absent African-American father was named one of Shanghai’s five finalists for “Let’s Go! Oriental Angel”, an American Idol-style show. The news was not that she got selected, but the news was when the whole country debated if she fitted to be on Chinese television because of her skin colour! Her story exposed deep racism in the country, where the ethnic Han are in a vast majority.    

And to add salt to the injury or to the image of China, here comes another racial attack. This time, it goes more public, hitting even the general public. A Beijing restaurant has refused to serve customers from certain countries that have locked in maritime territorial disputes with China. The restaurant and the action has drawn the ire of a particular country, if not the world anger – yes, from Vietnam!

The restaurant has put a racially charged poster in Chinese and English on the window which say: “This shop does not welcome Japanese, Filipinos, and Vietnamese, and dogs”. This has been doing rounds on Facebook since last week. The owner of the restaurant in Beijing’s Houhai neighbourhood, surnamed Wang, told BBC News this week that he didn’t care what others felt about the sign and that he had put it up out of “patriotism”! “Chinese customers support me,” he said.
A sign at a restaurant in Beijing refusing service to Japanese, Vietnamese, and Filipinos shown in a photo taken by Facebook user Rose Tang on February 22, 2013 [Photo courtesy: Rose Tang, Facebook] 
China is currently caught in territorial disputes with Japan over Senkaku or Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea, and with the Philippines and Vietnam over islands in the South China Sea. The disputes have seen several protests in all the related countries, especially in Japan. The restaurant’s action has drawn strong criticism in Vietnam, where tensions over the Spratly and Paracel Islands had already sparked a series of anti-China protests for the past two years.

Authorities in Vietnam are wondering as to why is China not taking any action against the restaurant owner. “They should have told the restaurant to take that note off and disciplined them because that insults other people in the world. It is racism. The Beijing government should have strong measures against that,” Dissident lawyer Le Hieu Dang reportedly told RFA’s Vietnamese Service. “The government of Vietnam should see their true colours through this fact that they let their own people do such things.”

This action is seen similar to how China “bullies” its smaller neighbours in its foreign policy. “I think people around the world will have strong reactions against this extreme nationalism, which shows the hatred between nations and how big country bullies small countries,” Le Hieu Dang said.

However, the photo, posted last week by a Chinese-American user from New York, drew a mixed response from netizens in China. While some blasted the restaurant’s sign as nationalist racism, others supported the owner’s action.

Meanwhile, some felt the Beijing restaurant owner’s actions reflected a Sinocentric attitude that they thought was common in China. “This mentality dates back so many years,” an academician said.

He said the sign was reminiscent of China’s colonial era, when British-owned establishments barred Chinese from entering. “I think they are following what the English did before. The English said, ‘No Chinese and no dogs’,” he said.

While, George P Jan, a US-based former professor of Chinese politics, said that the views of one restaurant owner should not be taken to represent all of China. “This sign does not represent the attitude of most Chinese people. I think it is unwise and emotional. Chinese people are not opposed to all Japanese, Filipinos, or Vietnamese indiscriminately,” he said.

He said nationalism could cause people to get carried away with their views. “Patriotism is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it can unite people. But on the other, it will bring disasters to a country,” he added.
Xie Xuanjun, another US-based scholar, said he thought the restaurant owner had succeeded more in embarrassing Chinese people than in denigrating those of other races. “The sign itself is a symbol of racism, and ironically the restaurant owner has drawn ridicule on the Chinese ourselves,” he said.

He asked why the restaurant owner had not refused to serve patrons from Russia, which was embroiled in a long-running dispute over islands near China’s northeast until 2008. “If he refuses to serve people from Japan, the Philippines, and Vietnam because of their territorial disputes with China, why doesn’t he refuse to serve Russians? Russia has grabbed more lands from China than the other three countries.” “Is it because Russians are Caucasians?” he said.

Rose Tang, who originally posted the photo, has asked netizens to share the photo widely in the hopes it will spark more discussion about racism. “Please share it with as many people as possible. I'm hoping pressure from the public and media will teach these guys a lesson,” she said in a comment on Facebook.

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