What you don’t know about the politics of coronavirus: The headlines haven’t told you everything

Since the coronavirus outbreak was first reported in the UK there have been alerts of racism against East Asian students. These events should be recognised. However, there are many other sides to the reactions to coronavirus.

I’m a Chinese student at University of Law in Moorgate and I certainly don’t feel discriminated against by anyone.

As a matter of fact, I’ve seen a lot of people supporting each other over the past few weeks. I’ve seen Chinese students remind each other not to meet friends who’ve just came back from China. People I know have shared costs and advice to buy masks for family and friends in China. Social media users have been quick to share good advice online. For instance, go to construction stores like Travis Perkins, rather than Boots, for high-quality face masks.

Other Chinese students and graduates are creating platforms to donate money to support our people through fundraising. Plus, I’ve also seen English people buy masks and ship to China for their friends who work there.

What worries me is how my fellow Chinese people can overcome this devastating challenge in the next few months. In China, our news and media focuses more on conveying an “attitude”, rather than “information”.

The big picture is about intergenerational politics

I also question what our generation can change when the “90 Hou” and “00 Hou” (people born in 90s and 00s) take office in the next 20 to 30 years. In today’s China Doctor Li Wen Liang in Wuhan had to give his life to reveal honest and accurate information and save lives. Similarly, human rights lawyer Chen Qiu Shi went missing recently. He had reported on both coronavirus and the Hong Kong protests. These sacrifices show that our leaders haven’t changed their ways of thinking on welfare and freedom of speech, compared to a few months ago (Hong Kong), 20 years ago (SARS), or 30 years ago (the Beijing uprising).

I reckon most young Chinese students I know are aware of this and agree that discrimination is the second worry, compared to how to deal with the virus problem. We urge our parents and friends in China to wear masks and stay safe. Meanwhile, we discuss what we’re obliged to do and what we can possibly do in the next 30 to 50 years, rather than complain about being discriminated against in a different society. In the UK, we’re all far safer than our people in Wuhan.

Some of us know that traditional ways of political reform or legislation won’t help much. But our future is in our hands. That’s why we we’ll make the most out of our time studying in the UK.

From what I’ve seen, some Chinese students do have the initiative to engage in mainstream public topics, both here and in China. There are hurdles, of course. Some people may feel marginalised as migrants or stereotyped as people without spiritual and emotional needs. Many Chinese students, furthermore, are used to very different ways of joining politics and public debates, compared to what’s the norm in the UK. However, this shouldn’t stop us from having these important conversations about the future.

None of this is to say that discriminating comments like “China virus” are acceptable. But they reflect that western society is undergoing a spiritual emergency on certain topics too. That’s why the priority for all of us is to find out about the root cause of this emergency situation by joining the relevant debates.

Pasha Lin studies law at University of Law, Moorgate.

Image: Shutterstock, Creative Commons 1.0.

Would you like to reply? Email the opinion editor at david.dahlborn.13 [at] ucl.ac.uk.

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