Three Americans get heat for cutting in a COVID-19 testing line in Qingdao; local government apologizes on their behalf

Society & Culture

An altercation between three Americans and some locals outside of a COVID-19 testing site in Qingdao, Shandong Province, shows the rising tensions between Chinese people and foreigners as China fears a fresh coronavirus outbreak driven by imported infections.

An altercation between three Americans and some locals outside of a COVID-19 testing site in Qingdao, Shandong Province, shows the rising tensions between Chinese people and foreigners as China fears a fresh coronavirus outbreak driven by imported infections.

In a video (in Chinese) shared on social media on April 1 (here is a version with clearer audio), while waiting in line to enter a medical facility in the city’s Laoshan district, an American man grabs a piece of paper held by a local and throws it up in the air without explanation. While the Chinese person who gets cut in front of doesn’t say anything, other people in the queue call out the American for the behavior and demand an explanation.

The ensuing argument is a bit difficult to make out, but at one point, the American yells, “there are eight million Chinese in the USA!” He also tries to justify cutting in line by saying they are “just signing” some papers, and are going back to the U.S. the next day. When someone in the line tells him to “don’t come back forever,” he responds, “I’ll come back forever and tell the eight million Chinese to get out!”

When reached out to by journalists for more context on the incident, the woman who filmed the video said that the local staff at the facility allowed the three foreigners, including the one who got in the argument, to skip the line when they arrived. “We locals waited for a long time to enter the site. The staff told us it’s their way to show respect for foreigners,” the woman said.

The controversy prompted Laoshan’s public health committee to respond this morning. In a statement (in Chinese) published on Weibo, the local health authorities apologized for the line-jumpers and vowed to adopt “more effective measures” to keep lines in order.

The statement, however, didn’t address the fact that the Americans were given permission to ignore lines, which was seen by many critics as another example of preferential treatment that foreigners receive in China. The news comes on the heels of a controversy surrounding a British man in Shanghai last week, in which the local government made an exception for him after the man returned home after overseas traveling and refused to practice isolation in a quarantine facility.

“This is beyond my comprehension. A foreigner told us to get out on Chinese territory? This is China! Where else can I go? You should go out!” an angry internet user commented (in Chinese) on Weibo. Other disgruntled observers condemned the local government for “beating around the bush” in its response, accusing it of treating “foreign masters” as superiors. “I’m disgusted by their spinelessness. Imagine if a migrant worker wanted to cut in line. Would they act the same?” a Weibo user wrote.

In an attempt to curb the number of imported coronavirus cases, China recently implemented a stringent travel ban, blocking almost all foreigners from entry and drastically cutting international flights. On social media, there was a near-unanimous chorus of praise for the decision, as well as a deluge of hateful comments featuring xenophobia and racism toward foreigners. Meanwhile, an increasing number of local businesses such as restaurants and grocery stores have enacted a no-foreigners policy to avoid the potential trouble of being connected with imported transmissions.

UPDATE: