A Chinese university lecturer in Britain was viciously attacked last week, renewing fears of violent anti-Asian racism in the country amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Peng Wang, who teaches financial management at the University of Southampton, was attacked in broad daylight by four white men aged between 20 and 25 while jogging just minutes from his home last Tuesday (Feb 23).
“Some crazy guys shouted at me from their car on the other side of the road,” the 37-year-old lecturer said. “They said ‘Chinese virus’, get out [of] this country, f*** you.”
Wang said he yelled back at the men, who drove away but then circled back and attacked him. The assault left him with a bloody nose and bruises to his face and arm.
Bystanders called for an ambulance and contacted police. A 21-year-old suspect was arrested and later released while investigations continue.
The incident has reinforced fears within the local Chinese community that Covid-19-related racial hate crime against people of Chinese heritage is on the rise in Britain.
In March last year, soon after Covid-19 arrived in Britain, Singaporean student Jonathan Mok was attacked on London’s Oxford Street. A 16-year-old boy was sentenced to 18 months of rehabilitation service for the racially motivated assault.
Reports of race crime against people of East Asian appearance in Britain have soared in the past year. Between January and June 2020, there were 457 police reports of racially motivated crime against people who self-identified as Chinese.
“It’s definitely getting worse, since Brexit and then with the pandemic and people have got intolerant and angry, ” said Wang, who is originally from Tianjin in northeast China, and moved to Southampton in 2014 after completing a doctorate in Finland.
“When I first came to the UK I would go jogging in the night and had no worry of these things.”
In support of the lecturer, activists from the Southampton Stand Up to Racism campaign and the Chinese Association of Southampton held an online solidarity meeting on Monday night attended by around 300 people.
Community groups are also being trained to offer support and advice for Chinese victims of Covid-19-related attacks.
With diplomatic relations between Beijing and London also deteriorating over the National Security Law in Hong Kong and other issues, many Chinese people in Britain worry they could be targeted.
“The fact that the tensions that came out of Donald Trump’s government and subsequently with China and the way they painted [the coronavirus] as a ‘Chinese virus’ has not helped in the UK,” said Jackson Ng, a barrister of Chinese descent and a Conservative town councillor in Buckinghamshire, northwest of London.
He felt he had also been a victim of racial discrimination because of online accusations that he was working for the Chinese government.
“In such a globalised world, what happens in America has an impact here. People don’t distinguish. They associate a Chinese person wrongly as being representative of the Chinese Communist Party.”
Ng was born in Amsterdam, in the Netherlands. His parents came from Singapore and Indonesia.
“There has always been racism in the UK but what has happened over the last 12 to 15 months, with the rhetoric by certain governments and then the situation in the UK where people are getting stressed out because they have been made redundant or have children not going to school, there is a multiplier effect. It’s not right, it’s wrong, and this kind of stuff needs to be called out.”
Ng sought and received a statement from British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab last month in support of victims of this type of racism, noting the expected influx of British National (Overseas) passport holders from Hong Kong after London offered them a path to citizenship.
Responding to Ng’s question at a recent Conservatives for Chinese online event, Raab said: “I would always stand up and say that we have got no time for conspiracy theories and we stand with all our black, Asian and ethnic minority communities and I think particularly during Covid[-19], our Chinese communities”
“There is growing concern there isn’t enough support available for immigrants from Hong Kong, especially those moving to cities like Liverpool and Manchester,” Ng told the South China Morning Post , adding that it was important newcomers were helped to become involved in British society to avoid “community cohesion problems in the future”.
This article was first published in South China Morning Post.