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Chinese students in the US annoyed by being seen as "spies"

By Weining Wang (People's Daily Online)    10:36, July 11, 2019

Chinese students take part in a graduation ceremony at Columbia University in New York. Guo Ke / Xinhua

“Just stop speaking Chinese!” A white girl said, irritated, when my friends and I were chatting in an elevator with all our classmates inside, during a summer program at Columbia University. I was very upset, but I stopped talking. Neither did any of my friends say another word in the elevator. I wanted to stand up for myself, but I just didn’t want things to get more complicated.

Things like this have become increasingly common on campuses in America. With the growing economy of China, more and more Chinese families are sending their children for education abroad, and the U.S. is one of the major destination countries. In fact, according to the statistics from the Migration Policy Institute, more than 32% of all international students enrolled in U.S. universities in the academic year of 2016-17 were from China, and the number keeps growing.

It is not difficult to identify Chinese students on campus. With a strong sense of belonging to the community of Chinese students in the U.S., it is easier for us to hang out with people that we identify with, and naturally, we speak our own language to communicate. Therefore, we often travel in packs.

With the trend of more Chinese students flowing into the U.S., Chinese faces are seen in almost all the universities in the U.S., yet some of the hosts are welcoming their guests in a not so friendly manner.

About two month ago, there was an email incident at Duke University in which a professor wrote an email asking Chinese students to speak English all the time. An even worse discrimination towards Chinese students happened at New York University (NYU), according to several victim students.

At around the same that the incident at Duke happened, an article about Professor Sandra Holtzman from the School of Professional Studies (SPS) at NYU discriminating against Chinese students went viral on Chinese social media. According to evidence presented in the article, the professor discriminated the accent, grammar, and language skills of Chinese students, while treating and grading Chinese students differently in comparison to other students.

Twenty-six NYU students from China who have taken classes with the professor wrote a report to the NYU Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO). The result they got back from OEO was that “the evidence presented does not support the finding of a violation of the University’s Non-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment Policy.” People were furious when they read about this, leaving angry comments under the comment section, mostly because the university didn’t do anything to protect the students’ rights, even when they stood up for themselves due to being treated unfairly.

Mimo Yan, a junior from NYU who also went to high school in the U.S., has spent a long time as an international student here. She is surprised that such serious discrimination happened at NYU, which is a school known to support diversity.

She said that this kind of “obvious and conscious” discrimination does not happen constantly. “It is always some little thing that makes you uncomfortable. I don’t know if they just don’t know or they are doing it on purpose.”

Politics is also an important but very sensitive matter to Chinese students. She recounts seeing in different places on campus the representation of Hong Kong and Taiwan as countries instead of as a part of China.

Furthermore, Chinese international students face another challenge, which is being accused as spying for their government. According to Politico, U.S. President Donald Trump commented at a dinner with executives and senior White House staff in August 2018 that “an unnamed country that the attendee said was clearly China, ‘almost every student that comes over to this country is a spy.’”

Ling Tang, a politics major student at NYU who is from Jiangxi, China, commented on this matter.

“It is just so ridiculous,” said Tang, “if it is what he truly believes, then I don’t even know what to say.”

But the U.S. president isn’t alone in this portrayal. More than a year ago, The New York Times covered an event that happened on the campus of UC San Diego, which Chinese students protested when the school invited Dalai Lama to deliver a speech. The article’s headline? “On Campuses Far from China, Still Under Beijing’s Watchful Eye.” Many Chinese students just laughed when talking about this.

“How is it possible that such a huge number of us are all spies for the government? And what are we spying on here exactly? I just don’t see how protesting against an offensive event like this one would make us spies,” Tang said.

Chinese students say that they should serve as a bond between the two countries to promote China-U.S. relations, however, with intentional and hopefully unintentional mishaps happening here in the U.S., things have been “too political and too complicated,” according to Tang.

Regarding things like this, Yan commented that “at first I would become really angry. But after several times I just got used to it. Everyone did. There’s nothing much you can do about it.” Many students feel that there is not much one can do. And they are right.

“These things will not disappear overnight,” Yan said. 

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Web editor: Liang Jun, Bianji)

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