Recently, I saw an article posted on the BBC’s Chinese website about how Chinese Americans have become a major donation source for the white supremacist group Proud Boys. I found it interesting and wanted to talk about it. The BBC, despite being left leaning, is actually one of my favorite news sources because it has news in Chinese (easier for me to read), and it is still much less biased than most mainstream American news outlets.
Back to the article. My first reaction on seeing that title was “why does the media pay so much attention to groups like Proud Boys or QAnon, which are both absurd movements, who do not merit much news reporting?” Not only do those organizations gain no considerable support from the right, but in my experience the vast majority of conservatives don’t even know what they are about. It would seem that the media is solely trying to stigmatize conservatism as a whole.
However, the second part of the article about the “right turning” of Chinese-Americans, is much more interesting. I am going to explain the reasons why the BBC is actually correct, and why Chinese Americans are becoming more conservative than ever.
First of all, most first-generation Chinese are very socially conservative.
Here is the translation of a direct quote from the article:
“Some Chinese Americans are disappointed by educational affirmative action, in which the Democrats advocate yet hurts the benefits of Chinese, as well as the party’s propositions on the legalization of marijuana and rules on gender-fluid toilet use; thus they started to gradually lean toward the Republican Party.”
I agree 100% with this quote. Affirmative action in some of this country’s top educational institutions sets a limit on the number of Asian students they will accept, merely because Asian students statistically outperform those of other races. This is inherently racist. And it is a fact that in China, marijuana is considered a dangerous drug and one can get serious consequences for its use. Though I personally tend to be neutral on this issue, it is also true that many older Chinese feel very uncomfortable toward LGBT issues, given the fact that Chinese people who come out of the closet often receive heavy backlash from their families and friends.
There is much common ground between the Chinese and Westerners when it comes to traditional values. Both traditional Chinese and Christian values emphasize good morals, abstinence, the fear of God, the nuclear family, and the idea of the “American Dream” — hard work leading to success. My parents, for instance, both grew up in impoverished, remote rural areas but are now living a decent life. Therefore, there shouldn’t be any surprise when very socially traditional Chinese immigrated to America and were disgusted by “wokeness” in their new home.
Second, the opposition to the Chinese government plays a large role.
The BBC, in this article, describes Chinese Americans as “gradually becoming a backbone among American conservatives,” and claims that this phenomenon is due to the dissemination of “misinformation” on Chinese-speaking social media.
I agree with the former statement, but not the latter. The fact is that there is a large political polarization among the Chinese as well, which is between pro-government and pro-democracy groups. Since the vast majority supports the government, the Chinese-speaking Internet is certainly filled with propaganda, but CCP propaganda as opposed to QAnon.
Many pro-democracy people, including many Hong-Kongers, Taiwanese, and myself, see the communist party as a dictatorship that oppresses its own citizens and threatens the world in numerous ways. Many of them are disappointed by the fact that, in recent decades, amid China’s countless human right abuses, US presidents from both parties before Trump still sought to improve US-China relations by appeasing the Chinese government and increasing trade, seemingly for their own financial benefit. The Bush, Clinton, and Biden families all have been doing a large volume of business with the Chinese for years. Furthermore, the US has also been tirelessly getting involved in the Middle East, giving China the opportunity to grow even stronger in both the economy and military, deteriorating the situations of both domestic human rights and the geopolitics of the Indo-Pacific. It is fair to say that whichever US president pushes hard on China will get broad support from those pro-democracy Chinese.
Third, it is because of Donald Trump.
Donald Trump, on the other hand, switched to an “America First” policy and initiated a trade war that addresses the disadvantage of trading with China that had been perpetuated for decades. Though Trump appears to admire dictators quite often, the actions of his administration toward the Chinese government in terms of human rights in places such as Xinjiang and Hong Kong say otherwise. The progress was obvious even before the pandemic hit. As a result, a large number of pro-democracy people were united and provided large support for Trump. Therefore, it is inaccurate to cite misinformation on the Internet for the “right turn” of Chinese Americans.
However, many turned against Trump due to him saying the term “China virus”. Now, I could be biased here as a Trump supporter, but I don’t see how that is racist, especially if you have looked at the full context. On March 12, 2020, Chinese diplomatic spokesman Zhao Lijian promoted a “baseless conspiracy theory” on Twitter that COVID-19 originated from America and that the US army “brought the epidemic to Wuhan.” Trump, as a response, called COVID the “China virus”; and I personally don’t see anything wrong with defending one’s beloved country against misinformation. It is unfortunate that in English, “Chinese” means both “something of the country of China,” or “people with Chinese heritage,” and the media keeps twisting the story, even until today. And what is more unfortunate is that what Zhao said on Twitter was not even censored or fact-checked, and this conspiracy theory remains largely unknown in the western world. Therefore, I believe that anyone who knows the full context would criticize both Zhao and the media for the cover-up.
In conclusion, I can tell that the mainstream media is certainly disappointed by the fact that Chinese Americans are becoming more conservative. As more Chinese become aware of these facts, we will be seeing much more.