China’s plan to relax immigration rules spurs all sorts of hateful comments from nationalistic Chinese

Society & Culture

In a move to attract more outstanding overseas professionals, China’s Ministry of Justice has unveiled a new set of regulations designed to expand the scope of foreigners eligible for permanent residency in the country. The proposed legislation, which is currently in the stage of seeking public opinions, has been met with fierce opposition underpinned by a string of grossly deplorable views such as racism, xenophobia, and misogyny.

The new proposal, which was published on the Ministry’s website on February 27, doesn’t contain any groundbreaking changes to China’s current green card program that began in 2004. Per the Beijinger, the two most notable differences are:

  • While current requirements restrict foreigners eligible for permanent residence to those who have already resided in China for at least four years, the new regulations would also allow some overseas professionals, such as high-skilled workers in certain areas and senior managers at high-tech Chinese enterprises, to apply without prior experience of living in the country.
  • Foreigners who used to spend time in China and are now living somewhere else may also apply as long as they meet a specific set of salary or education requirements, such as a graduate degree from a well-known international university or earning a salary at least six times the city average.

As the Beijinger pointed out, the new rules won’t “exactly open the floodgates” to immigrants. But regardless of the actual impact of the move, the news ignited a firestorm of angry posts on social media, providing an outlet for the crudest racist and xenophobic sentiments.

“I don’t wanna see China becoming a country like America in hundreds of years, a place where people of different colors live together. I hope that China’s territory only welcomes pure Chinese people to reside. We Huaxia people share a strong sense of patriotism. When one is in trouble, others feel obligated to help out,” a Weibo user wrote (in Chinese), adding that if the labor force is seriously depleted, China should completely abandon its family planning policies to boost its birth rate instead of easing its immigration restrictions.

The widespread xenophobia on the Chinese internet didn’t come out of nowhere. As a homogeneous country that thrives on a strong and sometimes aggressive sense of national identity, China, on the policy level, is traditionally hostile to outside influences and unwelcoming to immigrants. Even under the proposed rules, China offers no path to citizenship. In practice, the main benefit that comes with Chinese green cards is a prolonged residence period compared to work visas.

But that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been a significant shift in China’s approach to immigrants in recent years. In 2013, China announced an overhaul to its green card program with a landmark immigration law formulated to “promote foreign exchanges” and lay the foundation for the country to “open to the outside world.” One year later, in a bid to attract international “outstanding talent,” Xi Jinping publicly called for a more open immigration policy and teased the possibility of lowering China’s approval thresholds for green cards. In July 2019, following the establishment of a new national bureau dealing with immigration issues, China’s Ministry of Public Security rolled out a series of relaxed rules that make it easier for foreigners who possess in-demand skills and people of Chinese ethnicity from overseas to apply for permanent residence.

Despite these cautious steps taken by the government, China remains a country with nearly zero experience regarding large-scale immigration. This dynamic has led to concerns from critical observers, who argued that China would be taken over by an influx of incapable foreigners if the new laws eventually took effect.

In a Weibo post (in Chinese) that’s basically a rant about “foreign trash” (洋垃圾 Yánglājī), a derogatory term used by Chinese people to describe who they think are barbarian expats, a person wrote, “If we really want to attract top-level extraordinary talent from other countries, why are we lowering our standards?”

The backlash was steeped in long-standing anxieties caused by what many Chinese see as preferential treatment for foreigners in China, especially international students. Last July, Shandong University came under fire over a study buddy program that paired foreign students with local students of the opposite sex. The scandal was so severe that it forced the Ministry of Education to clarify its stance, saying that Chinese students and overseas students studying in China should be treated nearly equally with minor differences.

The news, coupled with the outrage it stoked, also amplified a specific form of hatred toward black people living in China. One of the most outrageously racist comments on Weibo reads (in Chinese), “I’m strongly against introducing black people to our country. It scares me thinking about our offspring being mixed with black.”

In trying to absolve themselves from accusations of racism, many of those who wrote hateful messages about black people stressed that by no means were they racists. “Black people as a population group are lazy and unhygienic. Having them in China is bound to cause myriad problems. It’s not racist for me to say that because it’s a fact,” a Weibo user commented.

When it comes to discourses about anti-black bigotry, this “I’m not a racist I’m just stating facts” narrative is nothing new. In 2018, when a skit featuring blackface appeared on that year’s CCTV Spring Festival Gala and caused an uproar in the black community, a number of Chinese people came to the broadcaster’s defense, saying that it was a form of art expression. According to them, because China has little knowledge of the historical context of blackface and even less understanding of racism, there was absolutely no malicious intention behind the skit when it was created.

Deeply infuriated by the offensive skit, the website Black Lives China, whose mission is “to capture the full breadth of the black experience in, around, and in relation to China,” wrote an article saying that it hoped the incident would inspire the black and African community in China to provide a counter-narrative and tell their own stories. But this strategy has proved to be largely ineffective in the wake of the news about immigration laws, which brought the anti-black sentiment on the Chinese internet to a fever pitch, with many people sharing footage of black people commiting crimes (in Chinese) in China.

On the video-streaming platform Bilibili, someone shared a video (in Chinese) filmed by a young black man named Shawn. In the clip, the man, who lived in China for 11 years, tries to offer his personal counter-narrative in fluent Chinese. He says:

“I grew up watching Xiyangyang (喜羊羊 Xǐyángyáng). I eat Chinese food. I speak Chinese. Every step I make is on Chinese streets. I’m no different from you except my face. But many people on the internet told me I didn’t deserve to be here. Some even called me the n-word. This was probably just a joke to them, but it profoundly upset me.”

Since being posted on March 2, the video has been flooded with negative comments and straight-up racial slurs. “Black nigga go back to your country,” a typical comment reads. As of March 5, the clip has attracted almost 200,000 views and more than 6,300 comments, most of which are blatantly racist.

To make things worse, a litany of misogynists who feared that foreign males would “steal” Chinese women from them found a sneaky way to insert their agenda into the discourse. Gathering around the hashtag #中国女孩, they constructed an egocentric campaign where they made overly sentimental promises to protect Chinese women from what they saw as “intruders.” One wrote (in Chinese), “Don’t panic, Chinese girls. You will be protected by us. We are not dead yet.” Adopting the language of racists, another person wrote, “I’m probably not the best man in this world. But I will not allow those black stuff to touch our Chinese girls at all costs.”