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Racist attacks against people of Chinese heritage have soared in the UK since the coronavirus outbreak, according to a new report.
Victims describe being spat at, physically abused and told to “f*** off back to China” in experiences that made them feel “shocked” and “anxious”.
Over a third of people of Chinese heritage had experienced anti-Chinese racism in public places, while 20% of those surveyed say they had encountered increased racism in the workplace.
The study, led by Professor Binna Kandola and included a survey of more than 400 people and interviews with 29 participants, warned that these attacks could once again increase when the lockdown is lifted.
Liam* noticed a rise in anti-Chinese sentiment when the virus first broke out in China at the beginning of the year, but was not too worried at first.
It was not until the end of February when the British-born former lecturer felt the racism hit home.
His elderly father was taking his usual walk in his residential neighbourhood in Manchester when a group of teenagers shouted “coronavirus” and coughed directly into his face.
Now Liam’s parents, who are in their 70s and have lived in the area for nearly two decades, are afraid to leave the house.
“My dad doesn’t feel safe anymore, and my mum is afraid of being targeted,” he said.
The study also showed examples of people of Chinese heritage being verbally abused and receiving death threats.
One man claimed he had stopped travelling on public transport before lockdown because he was “feeling so uncomfortable”.
Prof Kandola said these recent incidents were bringing back childhood memories of anti-Chinese sentiments from long ago.
“For a lot of British-born Chinese, it was a sense that this was something they had grown up with,” he told HuffPost UK.
Until this year, Leah* had thought these incidents had been relegated to her past.
“Before the virus, I don’t think I experienced much racism for a long time,” the British-born Londoner said. “I thought it had gotten a lot less than when I was young.”
However since the outbreak began, she has experienced several incidents at her workplace which have left her feeling “hypersensitive” to anti-Chinese racism.
“I’ve always felt really proud of my Chinese culture,” she said. “Now I don’t feel like I can speak up at work.”
Reports of anti-Chinese racism have escalated since the coronavirus outbreak, in Europe and the US as well as the UK.
On Tuesday it was revealed that the rate of hate crimes against Chinese people between January and March was nearly three times that of previous two years.
At least 267 offences were recorded in the first three months of 2020, according to freedom of information data released to Sky News.
Juinn Tang, from Cambridgeshire, is positive that racism against people of Chinese heritage has risen in the past few months.
Before the outbreak began, the British-born IT manager described his “normal” experiences of racism as coming from children.
“They would pull their eyes into slants and make ‘ching chong’ noises,” he said.
Since January, he has seen anti-Chinese sentiments from adults, for example when a man muttered the word “coronavirus” at him as he was walking through a car park outside a Tesco’s in Peterborough.
A few days later, he saw a woman swerve immediately away from him along a supermarket aisle.
Although the 43-year-old describes these incidents as “mild”, he admits that his wife - who is also Chinese - now worries about his safety when he goes food shopping.
The study said those who had reported experiencing cases of anti-Chinese discrimination were left with feelings of shock, fear, paranoia and anxiety.
All the people the study spoke to who have experienced racism in the recent months pointed to anti-Chinese remarks made by high-profile figures, such as when US president Donald Trump called Covid-19 a “Chinese virus”.
“It’s down to words,” said Liam. “It can influence the public and what language they pick up on.”
Among the Chinese community in Britain, many have felt their experiences of racism dismissed or not taken seriously.
“There is a perception among victims of anti-Chinese abuse that the only way the media will pay attention is if someone is killed,” said Prof Kandola.
When Good Morning Britain presenter Piers Morgan mocked the Chinese language in January, more than 1,600 people called to complain to the broadcasting regulator Ofcom. Juinn was one of them.
Where once he was more accepting of so-called “normal” experiences of racism, he says the rise in anti-Chinese attacks have changed his attitude.
“This is my way of standing up,” he said. “I’ve been too passive for too long.”