Outbreak 'reviving stereotypes'
text size

Outbreak 'reviving stereotypes'

The discrimination faced by Thais abroad during the novel coronavirus outbreak shows how growing public anxiety can revive long-standing tensions and negative stereotypes about Chinese, an expert said.

Wasana Wongsurawat, a historian at Chulalongkorn University, said the discrimination experienced by the victims has roots in the mistaken belief that they come from China.

In the West, she said, stereotypes about the sanitary practices of the Chinese date back to the 19th century, when a large number of Chinese migrants came to the United Kingdom and Australia and settled in crowded "Chinatowns".

"The overcrowding led to unsanitary conditions, leading to epidemics within their communities. But they were underpaid and had no choice," she told the Bangkok Post in a phone interview.

"The stereotype that the Chinese can eat almost everything should also be understood in the context of poverty."

In addition, she added, China has long grappled with its overpopulation, poverty and urban sanitation issues, which further hurt its image abroad.

"The outbreak is reviving these negative stereotypes," she said.

Assoc Prof Wasana's comment came after recent news reports claimed Thai students in the United Kingdom have faced abuse and discriminatory behaviour since the outbreak became an international public health concern.

Panrawee Rungskunroch, a PhD engineering student at the University of Birmingham, said anti-Asian sentiments have always existed, but it deepened during the Lunar New Year holiday.

"At that time, a lot of Chinese tourists were travelling between the UK and their homeland. It coincided with Paris' confirmation of infections, fuelling mistrust towards Asians," she told the Bangkok Post.

Ms Panrawee said some people would cast scornful glances or even walk away when they saw her put on a face mask. However, since the UK confirmed a number of coronavirus infections, she said she has received severe abuse from strangers.

"They told me to leave the market, accusing me of spreading germs and pushed me away. They even shouted 'You're gonna f**king die!' and made fun of me by coughing," she said.

"I think these incidents relate more to personal abuse caused by their misunderstanding of the epidemic than racism."

Earlier, a Thai citizen working in the UK wrote on Facebook he was assaulted in what he claimed was a racist attack.

Pawat Silawattakun, a 24-year-old tax consultant, posted on his Facebook page on Feb 9 that two teenagers hurled abuse at him due to his race, mumbling "Coronavirus ... ha ha ... coronavirus ... coronavirus", and snatched his headphones in London.

Do you like the content of this article?