Sneezes & Sinophobia


I am British-born Chinese. I am the second-generation daughter of Hong Kong immigrants who came over to the UK in the 1960’s and set up a successful business. My sisters and I grew up in leafy Hertfordshire and attended state schools where we were subjected to the occasional joke but didn’t suffer too badly from racism as people took us for who we were once they had got over the fact that we looked different to them. We were as invited to parties and holiday get-togethers as any of the other children at school.

I’ve never really looked back since.

Now I have three children and they don’t get any abuse at all, certainly none of the abuse that I hear about in British Born Chinese forums in other parts of the country. We live in a fairly cosmopolitan commuter belt town and outward racist abuse is very rare indeed.

It’s only in the last month or so that I have begun to understand what being “treated like a leper” actually means. I have noticed even my close friends and colleagues asking me about my health and my family members back in Hong Kong. I dared sneeze in the supermarket the other day and dispersed a crowd of shoppers. I had a dribbly nose at church and I noticed the pew was empty. Waiting at the school gate for my friend, I noticed one lady pulling her scarf up over her mouth and nose when she saw me.


I do not blame the reaction of people on racism. There is no racism in this awful disease, just as how the so-called “super-spreader” who infected nine was British and white. I blame these reactions on a lack of logic. Just because I look Chinese does not automatically mean that I am Chinese or that I skin dogs alive or eat live mice and octopi. Indeed, I am so British that I pollute my tea with milk and dunk digestives in it. I am so British that I enjoy a Full English and every Sunday cook a roast for the family. I am so British that at this time of the year I sport a cold and carry a packet of Lockets around in my purse.

I am not alone in being suddenly treated like a pariah. The outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19), which originated in the city of Wuhan, Hubei, China, has led to increased prejudice, xenophobia and racism against Chinese & other East Asian ethnicities. On the 30th January, the World Health Organisation’s Emergency Committee issued a statement advising all countries to be mindful of the “principles of Article 3 of the IHR,” which the WHO says is a caution against “actions that promote stigma or discrimination,” when conducting national response measures to the outbreak.

Chinese businesses in the United Kingdom, including the busy Chinese takeaway sector and businesses in Chinatown, London, recorded significantly reduced customers in the aftermath of the coronavirus outbreak compared to usual elevated sales related to Chinese New Year celebrations, due to fears of coronavirus spreading through food or unhygienic working practices. In London, a student of the Royal Holloway University was verbally abused by train passengers at Clapham Junction station, while a similar incident was reported by passengers on the London Underground; in general, there was a widespread rise in anti-Chinese sentiment reported in all forms of public transport. Just yesterday my Chinese friend was spat at by two city workers at Moorgate station and told to go back to China.

Again, on 30th January, a postgraduate student walking alone while wearing a face mask on West Street in Sheffield city centre, towards the University of Sheffield, was verbally abused and nudged by three people. Tottenham Hotspur footballer Dele Alli posted a video on Snapchat where he wore a face mask and appeared to mock an Asian man seated near him in Dubai about the coronavirus outbreak. He later apologised and deleted the video.

Silly. End this nonsensical Sinophobia. Please.

I do not know how to get this message across save by writing this article. I have as great a chance of contracting coronavirus as any white, black or other British Asian. What more can I say? I am coronavirus free! Please believe me.


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