16209 - This is about the coronavirus and Sinophobia.

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16209 - This is about the coronavirus and Sinophobia.


Dear Blueno


February 10, 2020

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"16209 - This is about the coronavirus and Sinophobia. I have seen multiple posts on social media about university students' fear of Chinese folks or concerns over getting in touch with them. Even worse, a man showing the mud on his sole, pointing to it and saying 'China' to a Chinese student around Harvard. These trigger counterposts by ethnic Chinese, or more often in my circle, Chinese students feeling defensive and insecure about the racist or quasi-racist surroundings they happened to be in.
Two comments I want to make about the phenomenon. First, when people have concerns over specialised health issue such as the coronavirus, the best source of advice to address such apprehension, is a professional medical practitioner rather than a social media tunnel, no matter how easily accessible or emotionally comforting it is. You need to believe in science. You need to jump out of your own box and try to overcome your own sentiment and think, what that matter really is.
Second, I strongly doubt the role elite universities play in the whole affair. At this moment of disease crisis, public apprehension and xenophobia, the university health service system should intervene more strongly and more professionally in providing reliable information about the virus and proper sanitary measures (such as careful washing of one's own hands or more frequent use of 75% alcohol on door knobs, etc.), in sootheing the apprehension of its students, and in executing proper quarantine. Some prestigious universities or colleges in the New York state, according to some grumpy posts of quarantined Chinese students, are executing the quarantine measure in a more or less careless and performative way. Their staff would call to a student's room in the dormitory and reprimand the person not to leave when the phone was not picked up last time. But - people need to go to the restroom, they need to shower, and they need to get themselves necessary supplies that have not been sent directly to their rooms. Thus precautionary quarantine and observation need to be executed professionally and of course, as you mentioned in our interview, mental health service would do good. Thus, the university authority, I have to say, has not acted as professionally as one might have desired.
Ethnic identity is a divisive issue in the US, just as the Cultural Revolution and 1989 are in China. But I am not presenting the solution from an ethnic perspective, which is quite popular among liberals nowadays. Surely I know some will dismiss those ideas as postmodern rubbish, though I do find them meaningful and useful. However, as a student of European history, I believe there are wiser ways, more universal ways than playing the ethnic card to address this xenophobia/(quasi-)racism problem. That's the moral lesson of Enlightenment philosphers: be alert at one's own sentiment, esp. pride and prejudice; always have curiosity about and awe towards science; as for institutions - handle social issues and policy making on campus in a professional way rather than fumbling like the French court on the eve of the revolution. This is why I really want to recommend Peter Gay's magnus opus to readers of this post: Peter Gay, The Enlightenment: An Interpretation, 2 vols. (pbk., New York, NY: W. W. Norton, 1977). Every sociey has its modern witch craze, so does the Chinese one. But here for the American society, looking at the intersection of coronavirus and race, if I am allowed to say a word than being censored, it goes as follows: if one gives way to fear rather than using such an occasion to learn a bit more about health and medicine, and worse, if one simply lets fear marry his or her own sense of ethnic superiority, this is even less so about 'orientalism'; this is really about forgetting the wisdom of his or her great great great grandfathers who opened a new page in European history and gave birth to this country."


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