Violence against Chinese in the UK widespread and under-reported

Updated: 2016-08-18 10:12

By Angus McNeice in London(

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A series of muggings of Chinese students in the UK may be part of what one social justice expert calls the "deteriorating situation" of violent attacks, discrimination and hate crimes against Chinese people living in Britain.

Anecdotal reports of as many as eight break-ins and muggings of Chinese students since early July at the University of Birmingham have led to suspicions they are being targeted for their perceived wealth and are seen as easy marks. One confirmed attack of a male student in the Selly Oak district resulted in severe facial injuries.

A Birmingham student told China Daily that she and her roommate are scared to venture out by themselves after an attempted break-in of their room and having been followed home at night by strangers on a different occasion.

"My roommate was at home, she heard violent knocking before someone outside started to pick the lock. She waited until I came back to call the police. It took about 20 to 30 minutes before the police came," Yang Zidan, 21, said. "Now I'm afraid to go out alone."

The University of Birmingham issued a statement after the attack on the male student warning students to remain on their guard against violent robbery.

The incident in England occurred days after textile-designer Zhang Chaolin was violently mugged in the Parisian suburb of Aubervilliers. Zhang went into a coma after his head struck the pavement and he died five days later.

The Mayor of Aubervilliers, Meriem Derkaoui described the attack as a murder "with a racist targeting." Members of the Chinese community in Paris gathered to mourn Zhang last Sunday. A student told media outlet Le Parisien the attack was "based on prejudices that the Chinese are weak, docile and rich."

Aubervilliers, northeast of the centre of Paris, is home to a sizeable Chinese community, many of whom work in the cut price fashion outlets in the area.

Reported cases of violence against Chinese people are just the tip of the iceberg, according to Gary Craig, Professor of Social Justice at the University of Hull. Craig says that working-class Chinese — often from the service industry — across the UK are frequently subject to violent crime and racist abuse that goes unreported as the Chinese community has a documented lack of confidence in the police.

"The two projects I've worked on both showed very high levels of racism against Chinese people in the UK," Craig said. "If they are subject to racist attacks or abuse, Chinese people tend to be very wary of the police, either because they have had a bad experience in the past or because they don't trust the police will take it seriously. So they don't report it. The whole issue of racism against Chinese people tends to be somewhat hidden."

Craig contributed to a 2016 study by Zhifeng Tong of the Zhejiang University of Finance and Economics, Hangzhou, into the social and economic issues faced by the Chinese population in the UK's North East. Seventy percent of those interviewed said that reports to the police were not followed up.

He also worked on a 2009 study conducted by anti-racist charity The Monitoring Group which concluded that the Chinese community suffers from levels of racial harassment that are perhaps even higher than those experienced by any other minority group. A 2012 survey of over 9,000 students across the UK conducted by the National Union of Students delivered similar findings. Thirty percent of the Chinese students surveyed said they had been victims of hate crimes or incidents, more than any other ethnic group.

Addressing crime is made harder due to severe under-reporting of incidents. A 2013 report by the British Chinese Project and the All Party Parliamentary China Group found a "lack of confidence" in the police within the Chinese community. Half of the 520 surveyed said they did not trust the police to "deal effectively with their cases."

Manchester's Chinese Community Centre (MCCC) set up a hate crime reporting center in 2005 in response to rising levels of bigotry toward Chinese and the murder of restaurant owner Mi Gao Huang Chen. In April that year, Chen was beaten to death by a large group of youths outside his takeaway in Wigan, Greater Manchester.

An MCCC report states that Chinese people are verbally or physically harassed on a daily basis in the northern city. The center found that while 61 percent of Chinese in Manchester had been victims of hate crimes, three quarters said they chose not to report incidents to authorities.

This year, hate crimes across the UK surged by 42 percent on the same period in 2015 in the fortnight following the Brexit vote, fuelled by anti-immigrant sentiment.

"Hate crimes have come under greater scrutiny in recent times," Craig says. "One structural problem is in the data collection of hate crimes. When you look at the way data is collected in terms of ethnic origin, you get black African, Afro-Caribbean, Bangladeshi, Indian, Pakistani, but Chinese fall under ‘other.' So the Chinese are ‘invisibilized' by public policy. The police collect the data but don't disaggregate it to show the impact on Chinese people."

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