What do Mongols think of Asians

(Anti) racism

Kimiko Suda

To person

is a sinologist and social scientist as well as a research assistant in the cooperation project "The Corona Pandemic and Anti-Asian Racism in Germany" of the Humboldt University of Berlin, the Free University of Berlin and the German Center for Integration and Migration Research. [email protected]

Sabrina J. Mayer

To person

is a political scientist and project manager of the cooperation project "The Corona Pandemic and Anti-Asian Racism in Germany" at the Humboldt University of Berlin, the Free University of Berlin and the German Center for Integration and Migration Research. [email protected]

Christoph Nguyen

To person

is political scientist and project leader of the cooperation project "The Corona Pandemic and Anti-Asian Racism in Germany" of the Humboldt University of Berlin, the Free University of Berlin and the German Center for Integration and Migration Research. [email protected]

Anti-Asian racism has not only existed since the outbreak of the corona pandemic. Based on actual and imagined visits to Asia, [1] Europeans have constructed and disseminated narratives since the 13th century that are still powerful today. In them, Asians appear as "different", "exotic" and "dangerous". [2] In Germany, too, historical examples show a clear continuity and system immanence of anti-Asian racism. [3]

For example, the establishment of the German colony Kiautschou in 1897 was legitimized at the time with the alleged superiority of the Germans over the Chinese within a racist system and the goal of Christian proselytizing and so-called civilization "in the name of a higher civilization". [4] A few years later, on July 27, 1900, Kaiser Wilhelm II argued in his "Huns Speech" at the farewell of German marines who were sent to China to fight the "Boxer Rebellion" (1899–1901) that the Chinese with their act resistance to the colonial powers would have forfeited their right to life. After the National Socialists came to power, the Chinese living in Germany at the time were also directly affected by Nazi racial policy: They were expelled or taken to concentration and forced labor camps and murdered there. [5]

As the most serious cases of anti-Asian violence after 1945, the pogroms in Hoyerswerda in 1991 and Rostock-Lichtenhagen in 1992 went down in the collective memory of Asian Germans. Residential buildings in which a large number of Vietnamese lived were attacked by violent right-wing extremists in the presence of applauding spectators. In both cases, the police waited days for minor interventions. The politicians responsible surrendered to the right wing violence and in both cases had the attacked evacuated instead of arresting the attackers. The pogroms in Hoyerswerda and Rostock-Lichtenhagen are not only to be classified as a consequence of the unification policy, but as an expression of the continued existence of racism in the German population. [6]

However, this specific form of structural discrimination has only recently been recognized. For example, the racially motivated murders of Nguyen Ngọc Chau and Do Anh Lan, who died in an arson attack by right-wing terrorists in Hamburg on August 20, 1980, are hardly known to this day. [7] While the pogroms in Hoyerswerda and Rostock-Lichtenhagen were still seen as situation-related "xenophobia" towards "foreigners", anti-Asian racism is now increasingly being discussed in the context of the corona pandemic, which was accompanied by increasing racist discrimination and attacks on people who read Asian spoken in Germany.

People who read Asian in Germany are affected in contradicting ways by both positive and negative racism. On the one hand, they are often described as "model migrants" and played off against other (post) migrant groups; on the other hand, they are presented as a homogeneous mass, which poses a threat to the white majority society. Anti-Asian racism in Germany encompasses different forms of violence. These range from verbal microaggression and structural discrimination to physical attacks and murders. In daycare centers and schools, children are confronted with racially misrepresented "Asian bodies" and "Asian culture" in textbooks and at parties. [9] The racial attributions that are widespread in popular culture and media coverage also differ according to gender: women read Asian are sexualized, exoticized and infantilized, while men are desexualized and feminized. [10]

These already existing patterns intensified in the context of the corona pandemic. For example, people who read Asiatic report more and more of physical assaults in public spaces and feel physically and socially avoided. [11] In order to scientifically record these and similar developments, the cooperation project "Social Cohesion in Times of Crisis. The Corona Pandemic and Anti-Asian Racism in Germany" has been collecting data on the social perception of people who read Asian people and the effects of the pandemic on these perceptions since August 2020 . Our contribution uses the results of a survey carried out at the end of August 2020 to outline anti-Asian racism in Germany using current examples, to link these with historical developments and to identify gaps in the prevention, documentation and fight against anti-Asian racism in Germany. [12]

Stories of Asian Migration

Asia is the largest and most populous part of the world, which is characterized by a multitude of migration flows. The question therefore arises, who are we talking about when we talk about "Asians". People from West Asia, such as Iran, are perceived as Muslim rather than Asian in Germany, and people from Central Asia are more likely to be associated with the former Soviet Union. With regard to anti-Asian racism, the stereotypes and prejudices again differ between South Asia (e.g. India), Southeast Asia (e.g. Indonesia) and East Asia (e.g. China). Anti-Asian racism is context-dependent - it differs in Great Britain and Germany, for example - and has grown historically. In many cases, it is conveyed through individual countries of origin that are present in the media. When asked which groups are associated with people from Asia, 75 percent of the respondents in our survey answered with people from China, 46 percent with people from Japan and 13 to 15 percent with people from Thailand, South Korea, India and Vietnam. West Asian countries such as Iran and Afghanistan were named by less than two percent and only marginally associated with Asia.

The social group potentially affected by anti-Asian racism in Germany consists of different generations and is heterogeneous in terms of socio-economic backgrounds and migration histories. The two groups that were most likely associated with countries from Asia are not the numerically strongest groups - people from Japan are numerically significantly less represented than people from Vietnam (table).

Table: Number of people of Asian origin and their descendants in Germany. The table includes all groups from South, Southeast and East Asia, which are shown separately and comprise more than 30,000 people. The numbers have been rounded to 1,000. (& copy microcensus 2016)

An important part of Asian migration stories is the state-organized labor migration to the Federal Republic since the late 1950s. In addition to several hundred Japanese and 8,000 Korean miners, more than 10,000 Korean nurses also immigrated from 1966 onwards. Other nurses from India, Indonesia, and the Philippines followed. [13] When the federal government's intention to return after the recruitment ban in 1973 became apparent, the Korean women's group in Germany successfully fought for their right of residence with a signature campaign in 1978. [14] Since March 1, 2020, medical nurses from the Philippines and Vietnam have been recruited within the framework of the new skilled immigration law, again without the legal perspective of permanent settlement. The history of discrimination against Asian migrant workers threatens to repeat itself.

In addition, against the background of the Vietnam War and Vietnamese reunification, over 40,000 refugees from Vietnam migrated to the Federal Republic from 1975 onwards. Thousands had fled by boat across the South China Sea and were therefore referred to as "boat people". As quota refugees, they and family members who followed them were given an unlimited residence permit. [15]

Another part of the collective Vietnamese migration history is the labor migration organized by the GDR from 1980 onwards. The contract workers, including a third women, were employed in mechanical engineering as well as in light and heavy industry. Like the migrant workers in Germany, they should work there for a set period of time and not settle down permanently. In 1989 almost 60,000 Vietnamese contract workers lived and worked in the GDR. Bilateral agreements were also concluded to a lesser extent with Mongolia in 1982 and with China and North Korea in 1986. [16] After the fall of the Wall, almost a third of Vietnamese contract workers stayed in Germany, many of whom fought for years for residence permits and their livelihood, until a legal basis for this was created in 1997 with the second right of residence regulation in the German Aliens Act. [17]

The history of the Chinese communities in Germany has been documented especially for the metropolises of Hamburg and Berlin since the end of the 19th century. Around 1900 several thousand Chinese stokers and seamen worked on German steamships and from 1919 settled in Hamburg, opened shops, restaurants and founded families. In the 1920s and 1930s, prominent Chinese intellectuals such as the future Prime Minister Zhou Enlai studied in Berlin. [18] After the beginning of the reform and opening-up policy in the People's Republic of China under Deng Xiaoping, more and more Chinese students came to Berlin from 1980; at present, Chinese make up the largest group of foreign students at many German universities. In addition, cultural workers, academics and business people from the People's Republic, Taiwan and Hong Kong live in Berlin, in particular, and have established structures for cultural self-representation such as the "Times Art Center", which are necessary for establishing counter-perspectives to racist narratives.

Anti-Asian Racism and Covid-19

The intensification of anti-Asian racism in the context of the corona pandemic can be historically classified against the background of (post) colonial narratives on "Asia". The "yellow danger" has been associated with the emergence and spread of epidemics such as the plague since the 19th century, and more recently with infectious diseases such as Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome) linked. [20] The biological-medical phenomenon of a pandemic is racialized and culturalized; Eating, living and hygiene habits are held responsible for the development and spread of pandemics as part of an imagined "Asian culture". However, the historical and current discourse differ in one aspect: While China used to be classified as "traditional", "uncivilized" and "underdeveloped", the country is now considered to be economically, geopolitically and technically dangerous competition for Europe ]

So when the "Spiegel" headlines its issue on the corona pandemic on February 1, 2020 with the words "Made in China. When globalization becomes a deadly danger" in yellow, comparisons with colonial narratives are immediately obvious. Similar attributions were made implicitly or explicitly in other German-language media articles on Covid-19. [22] On the street and on the Internet, people with Asian readings are arbitrarily ascribed "being Chinese" in order to refer them to a supposedly lower social position or to deny them an existence in Germany. The commemorative plaque for Chinese Nazi victims in Hamburg's Schmuckstrasse, in the vicinity of which Hamburg's "Chinese Quarter" was located in the 1920s and 1930s, was also badly damaged by strangers after the start of the corona pandemic. [23] In response to these anti-Asian narratives and attacks, however, resistance from the media also formed. For example, the interactive, digital platform "I am not a virus", initiated by people reading Asian, went online in May 2020. [24]

The exclusions experienced by people reading Asian since the beginning of the pandemic are not isolated cases. In view of the media discussion, which is heavily focused on China, it is not surprising that around 29 percent of those surveyed see the responsibility for the corona pandemic at least partially in Asia - and there in particular in China. This assessment cannot be classified as anti-Asian racism without further information, but it does indicate a clear link between the pandemic and Asia. A more explicit connection between negative stereotypes and ascribed responsibility is shown in the assumption that Asian eating habits, such as the presumed consumption of bats, and poor hygiene conditions, for example due to so-called wet markets, on which fruit and vegetables, freshly made foods such as pasta, soy products and breadcrumbs, fish and meat, and in some cases live poultry and sea animals are sold, would have led to the outbreak of the pandemic. This is the perception of ten percent of all respondents.

Our survey also showed that people who read Asian (still) are often perceived as "model migrants". While we find substantial differences in the perception of Muslim people and Germans without a migration background, there is basically no statistically reliable difference between the assessment of people who read Asian and Germans without a migration background. The pandemic appears to be changing this ratio. Our results show that people who place responsibility for the pandemic in Asia generally perceive people who have read Asian to be more negative, even within Germany. Although no clear causal sequence between the attribution of responsibility and negative perceptions could be tested, the results suggest that the context of the pandemic activated or at least made anti-Asian racism visible.

In addition to changes in the general perception of people reading Asian, we were also interested in the extent to which the corona pandemic has changed everyday interaction with one another. That is why everyday situations were also analyzed, such as the choice of seat in public transport. The respondents were confronted with the situation of being able to choose between a place next to an Asian and a person who was read as belonging to the "normal population".

Here, too, it was shown that the corona pandemic affects people's behavior. Confronted with the everyday situation before the pandemic, 51 percent of all respondents chose the "Asian" seat next to them. This selection cannot be statistically differentiated from a random decision, so that - in contrast to the selection of other seat neighbors with a migration background [25] - no clear exclusion patterns can be identified. It is different under Corona conditions. If people were shown wearing masks, only 46 percent of all respondents chose the seat next to the people who read Asian, so that avoidance behavior can be identified. This behavior was particularly present among people who are close to the AfD. Under Corona conditions, almost 70 percent of them preferred a white person sitting next to them, while in the scenario without a mask this proportion is 53 percent.

The results of this survey show how contradictory, heterogeneous, but also fragile and context-dependent, the perception of people reading Asian in German society is. Compared to other (post) migrant groups, they experience less frequent direct rejection and exclusion and are perceived more positively by the "normal population". But the results also show how unsafe this condition is. Existing prejudices and rejections can be activated quickly in real or imaginary crisis situations and lead to small and large forms of anti-Asian racism.


The structural basis of racism in German society suggests that outbreaks of collective anti-Asian racist violence must also be expected in the future.

The persistence of racial attributions and their effects can be traced back, among other things, to the lack of content-related and personal diversity in institutions.This exists in particular with regard to the representation of Asian migration in science, in educational institutions and formats, in the media and in culture. Without closing these gaps, public awareness of anti-Asian racism cannot be made sustainable, as basic knowledge cannot be established. In addition, some of the German colonial policy in China has been scientifically investigated, [26] but has not been dealt with politically.

Almost two weeks after the racially motivated murders in Hanau on February 19, 2020, the eleventh integration summit in the Federal Chancellery decided to set up a cabinet committee against right-wing extremism and racism. The interests of the Asian-German communities are represented in this committee by the association "Korientation" in the federal conference of migrant organizations. This representation is a first step towards representation at the federal political level.

Almost a million Asian Germans and Asians live in Germany and are potentially affected by anti-Asian racism. Anti-Asian racism is not only relevant for people who read Asian, but is part and symptom of a social, economic, political and cultural system. This is reproduced by people living here against the background of a specific historical context. The intensification of discrimination against people reading Asian in times of the corona pandemic makes it necessary to publicly position political actors and ultimately every person who is discriminated against. Further studies and systematic documentation of anti-Asian racism are also essential in order to be able to combat it more effectively.

We would like to thank Noa K. Ha and Jonas Köhler for the helpful suggestions and comments on this article.