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1981 anti foreign demonstrations in China

Author’s note:
The following item very much reflects the feel of the early 1980s, when China was hardly open and relationships between foreigners and Chinese were virtually non-existent. The headline, written not by me but by a sub-editor in London, is crude, but general xenophobia was quite strong in those days. China officially had been isolated for so long, accusing the US and Europe of being imperialists and the whole Soviet bloc of being hegemonists. Its only friends until quite recently had been Albania and Yugoslavia.

From today??s much more open perspective, it is interesting to get a feel for Chinese-foreigner relationships all those years ago. Confucius and Chairman Mao between them had left the Chinese people looking at the world in a hierarchical and combative way. But this report indicates much progress in the past 27 years. Racial attitudes have largely softened as Chinese people have gained greater awareness of the world. And while then, just a sports victory could result in aggressive pushing and shoving of foreigners, now even the purposeful official incitement of anti-French sentiment results in no violence, and only a postponement by a few days of a shopping trip.

Chinese retain their ancient dislike of foreigners
By Graham Earnshaw in Peking
November 20, 1981

The xenophobia of China today has come to the fore once more in recent weeks during demonstrations after sports victories and over the vexed question of marriage between foreigners and Chinese people.

For hundreds, perhaps thousands of years, the Chinese automatically considered anyone from outside their country to be a barbarian, and remnants of the extreme racial concept still exists today.

China’s successes in the recent women’s volleyball championships in Tokyo were the occasion for unprecedented marches by thousands of youths through the streets of Peking and other major Chinese cities.

Some foreigners who mingled with the crowds were roughly jostled and even beaten, and on the day China beat the United States volleyball team, a crowd of several hundred gathered outside the American Embassy to shout “Long Live China.”

The demonstrations were mostly innocent fun by young people glad of an excuse to make some noise. But to foreigners who were also in Peking in the late 1960s they brought back terrible memories of Chinese mobs which turned on foreigners without a thought.

The average Chinese has a not-quote subconscious belief in the innate superiority of his race which has been battered but not extinguished by the indignities suffered at the hands of foreigners over the past 200 years.

Ordinary Chinese people still seem to rank the races of the world in their minds, although unlike the old days, they are not so sure about who is number one.

One African student reported being told by a Chinese university intellectual: “We have to be frank. White people are better than us, but we are better than you.”

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