My Experience In China During The Pandemic: “Communication Would Have Eased A Lot Of Tension”

by Nora Aidoo

As panic increased throughout the world due to COVID-19, accounts and rumors spread about the lockdown, testing, and who to blame. We at ‘Africans on China’, want to demystify China for Africans and Africa for Chinese. Our September theme for human stories is the China Lockdown Experience.

Ghanaian medical student in China
Credit: Nora Aidoo

As a communist country, the ease of citizens’ compliance with all the rules and regulations, including quarantine and social distancing, wasn’t a surprise. China experienced the outbreak of SARS in 2003, hence the government seemed more prepared than any country in the world for this public health crisis. 

As of July 2020, when I was last a resident, it was still illegal to be in public spaces without a face mask on. I believe that these factors are the main reasons why their recovery rate is so high and their economy seems to be stable. 

The public health regulations, however, were not unique to foreigners. The call to action given was mostly to comply with the national health regulations and self-report when we felt symptoms, in order to curb the spread of COVID-19. 

Prior to the pandemic, the microaggressions on public transport, the blatant discrimination at some shops, and even the spontaneous kind gestures from strangers at the park existed for me. My reality of daily interactions with Chinese people, as a foreigner, did not change much.

 In fact, it seemed to remain the same, until I faced racial discrimination myself. I narrated my ordeal on my social media as a coping mechanism to not feel alone. Simple communication of why a mandatory testing and imposed quarantine had to be done to Africans, within my city, would have eased a lot of tension.

Ghana medical student with Chinese classmates
Credit: Nora Aidoo

 There were many theories and reasons spreading on social media and inconsistent reasons given by the health personnel in charge. This led to a grave mistrust, which did not help the already stewing anxiety of a possible COVID-19 infection, especially if one was not extra careful during the peak of the pandemic. I digress. 

I have often perceived that Africans are generally considered 2nd class foreigners in China. Amongst the many foreign nationalities in the country, we are the least in the hierarchy, due to the color of our skin. Ergo, we would have to claim citizenship as North Americans or Europeans, before receiving top-notch quality of service or favor in many settings; varying from teaching gigs to bargaining in the market place.

It’s safe to say that the perception of rights, that we had as Africans in association with structural development, will be marred if anyone stays long enough in China. In my opinion, there isn’t a real sense of protection because our continent is not respected. Every Black person may have a different journey in China. Many may be positive, some negative, but nobody can deny the lack of respect for us just because we’re Black. It may not seem like a problem to most, but it’s evident that negative assumptions restrict our prosperity as Africans and in some cases, threatens our existence. This is why I believe that the reports of the pandemic and the Black experience on social media and global news outlets are not far off.  

Ghana medical student in China
Credit: Nora Aidoo

China is doing great with its public health measures, but has it ridden its society of discriminating against Africans? Has the nation ever rendered an apology for the miscommunication with the African citizens in Guangzhou during the lockdown period? Is that something they would even consider whilst interacting with African citizens in the future in any capacity? 

I digress. 

I hope I don’t seem to come off as a “Negative Nancy” but I think it’s only fair to sound a warning bell for anyone interested in being in the country as a Black person. 

With impending travel restrictions in 2020 for most countries, it would be a shame to risk infection of COVID-19, arrive and live in China, for a varying amount of time, and still be naïve to the possible discrimination that can be faced. 

Staying informed through the power of storytelling is self-preservation to me. Hopefully, the volume of our stories as Africans in China will affect a positive change on immigration laws, on our colonized mindset in pursuit of economic freedom, and on our sense of patriotism as Africans in the diaspora. 

Thank you.

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