[ As bigots blame them for the coronavirus and President Trump
labels it the "Chinese virus," many Chinese-Americans say they are
terrified of what could come next. For American-born Asians, there is
a sudden sense of being watched that is unsettling]
SPIT ON, YELLED AT, ATTACKED: CHINESE-AMERICANS FEAR FOR THEIR SAFETY
Sabrina Tavernise and Richard A. Oppel Jr.
March 23, 2020
The New York Times
_ As bigots blame them for the coronavirus and President Trump labels
it the "Chinese virus," many Chinese-Americans say they are terrified
of what could come next. For American-born Asians, there is a sudden
sense of being watched that is unsettling _
"It's a look of disdain," said Chil Kong, a Korean-American theater
director in Maryland. "It's just, `How dare you exist in my world. You
are a reminder of this disease and you don't belong in my world.'",
Credit: Alyssa Schukar for The New York Times
Yuanyuan Zhu was walking to her gym in San Francisco on March 9,
thinking the workout could be her last for a while, when she noticed
that a man was shouting at her. He was yelling an expletive about
China. Then a bus passed, she recalled, and he screamed after it,
“Run them over.”
She tried to keep her distance, but when the light changed, she was
stuck waiting with him at the crosswalk. She could feel him staring at
her. And then, suddenly, she felt it: his saliva hitting her face and
her favorite sweater.
In shock, Ms. Zhu, who is 26 and moved to the United States from China
five years ago, hurried the rest of the way to the gym. She found a
corner where no one could see her, and she cried quietly.
Yuanyuan Zhu said a middle-aged man started shouting at her while she
was walking to her gym and then spit at her as she waited to cross the
Credit: Cayce Clifford for The New York Times
“That person didn’t look strange or angry or anything, you
know?” she said of her tormentor. “He just looked like a normal
As the coronavirus upends American life, Chinese-Americans face a
double threat. Not only are they grappling like everyone else with how
to avoid the virus itself, they are also contending with growing
racism in the form of verbal and physical attacks. Other
Asian-Americans — with families from Korea, Vietnam, the
Philippines, Myanmar and other places — are facing threats, too,
lumped together with Chinese-Americans by a bigotry that does not know
In interviews over the past week, nearly two dozen Asian-Americans
across the country said they were afraid — to go grocery shopping,
to travel alone on subways or buses, to let their children go outside.
Many described being yelled at in public — a sudden spasm of hate
that is reminiscent of the kind faced by American Muslims, Arabs and
South Asians in the United States after the terrorist attacks of Sept.
But unlike in 2001, when President George W. Bush urged tolerance of
American Muslims, this time President Trump is using language that
Asian-Americans say is inciting racist attacks.
Mr. Trump and his Republican allies are intent on calling the
coronavirus “the Chinese virus,” rejecting the World Health
[[link removed]] against
using geographic locations when naming illnesses, since past names
have provoked a backlash.
Mr. Trump told reporters on Tuesday that he was calling the virus
“Chinese” to combat a disinformation campaign by Beijing officials
saying the American military was the source of the outbreak. He
dismissed concerns that his language would lead to any harm.
On Monday evening, Mr. Trump tweeted, “It is very important that we
totally protect our Asian American community in the United States.”
He added they should not be blamed for the pandemic, though he did not
comment on his use of the phrase “Chinese virus.”
“If they keep using these terms, the kids are going to pick it
up,” said Tony Du, an epidemiologist in Howard County, Md., who
fears for his son, Larry. “They are going to call my 8-year-old son
a Chinese virus. It’s serious.”
Mr. Du said he posted on Facebook that “this is the darkest day in
my 20-plus years of life in the United States,” referring to Mr.
Trump’s doubling down on use of the term.
While no firm numbers exist yet, Asian-American advocacy groups and
researchers say there has been a surge of verbal and physical assaults
reported in newspapers and to tip lines.
San Francisco State University found a 50 percent rise
[[link removed]] in the number of news articles related
to the coronavirus and anti-Asian discrimination between Feb. 9 and
March 7. The lead researcher, Russell Jeung, a professor of
Asian-American studies, said the figures represented “just the tip
of the iceberg” because only the most egregious cases would be
likely to be reported by the media.
Professor Jeung has helped set up a website in six Asian languages
[[link removed]] to
gather firsthand accounts; some 150 cases have been reported on the
site since it was started last Thursday.
Tony Du, an epidemiologist in Howard County, Md., said that hearing
government leaders call the coronavirus the "Chinese virus" had made
him afraid for his son, Larry, 8.
Credit: Alyssa Schukar for The New York Times
Benny Luo, founder and chief executive of NextShark, a website focused
on Asian-American news, said the site used to get a few tips a
day. Now it is dozens [[link removed]].
“We’ve never received this many news tips about racism against
Asians,” he said. “It’s crazy. My staff is pulling double duty
just to keep up.” He said he was hiring two more people to help.
No one is immune to being targeted. Dr. Edward Chew, the head of the
emergency department at a large Manhattan hospital, is on the front
lines of fighting the coronavirus. He said that over the past few
weeks, he had noticed people trying to cover their nose and mouth with
their shirts when they are near him.
Dr. Chew has been using his free time to buy protective gear, like
goggles and face shields, for his staff in case his hospital runs out.
On Wednesday night at a Home Depot, with his cart filled with face
shields, masks and Tyvek suits, he said he was harassed by three men
in their 20s, who then followed him into the parking lot.
actually ridiculed yourself, you really feel it,” he said the
A writer for The New Yorker, Jiayang Fan, said she was taking out her
trash last week when a man walking by began cursing at her for being
“I’ve never felt like this in my 27 yrs in this country,”
she wrote on Twitter
[[link removed]] on
Tuesday. “I’ve never felt afraid to leave my home to take out the
trash bc of my face.”
Attacks have also gotten physical.
In the San Fernando Valley in California, a 16-year old
Asian-American boy was attacked
[[link removed]] in
school by bullies who accused him of having the coronavirus. He was
sent to the emergency room to see whether he had a concussion.
In New York City a woman wearing a mask
[[link removed]] was
kicked and punched in a Manhattan subway station, and a man in Queens
[[link removed]] was
followed to a bus stop, shouted at and then hit over the head in front
of his 10-year-old son.
People have rushed to protect themselves. One man started a
buddy-system Facebook group for Asians in New York who are afraid to
take the subway by themselves. Gun shop owners in the Washington,
D.C., area said they were seeing a surge of first-time
At Engage Armament [[link removed]] in Rockville,
Md., most gun buyers in the first two weeks of March have been
Chinese-American or Chinese, according to the owner, Andy Raymond.
More than a fifth of Rockville’s residents are of Asian ethnicity,
and Mr. Raymond said buyers from Korean and Vietnamese backgrounds
were not unusual. But Mr. Raymond said he was stunned by the flow of
Chinese customers — in particular green-card holders from mainland
China — that began earlier this month, a group that rarely
patronized his shop before.
“It was just nonstop, something I’ve never seen,” he said.
Mr. Raymond said that few of the Asian customers wanted to talk about
why they were there, but when one of his employees asked a woman about
it, she teared up. “To protect my daughter,” she replied.
For recent immigrants like Mr. Du who are in close touch with friends
and family in China, the virus has been a screaming danger for weeks
that most Americans seemed oblivious to.
Mr. Du is trying to remain hopeful. He spends his weekends training to
become a volunteer with Maryland’s emergency medical workers. He is
part of a group of Chinese-American scientists who organized
a GoFundMe account
[[link removed]] to
raise money for protective gear for hospital workers in the area. In
three days, they raised more than $55,000, nearly all in small
But he said he was afraid of the chaos that could be unleashed if the
United States death toll rises significantly.
Already a gun owner, Mr. Du, 48, said he was in the process of buying
an AR-15-style rifle.
“Katrina is not far away,” he said, alluding to the unrest in New
Orleans following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. “And when all these bad
things come, I am a minority. People can see my face is Chinese,
clearly. My son, when he goes out, they will know his parents are
For American-born Asians, there is a sudden sense of being watched
that is as unsettling as it is unfamiliar.
“It’s a look of disdain,” said Chil Kong, a Korean-American
theater director in Maryland. “It’s just: ‘How dare you exist in
my world? You are a reminder of this disease, and you don’t belong
in my world.’”
He added: “It’s especially hard when you grow up here and expect
this world to be yours equally. But we do not live in that world
anymore. That world does not exist.”
One debate among Asian-Americans has been over whether to wear a mask
in public. Wearing one risks drawing unwanted attention; but not
wearing one does, too. Ms. Zhu said her parents, who live in China,
offered to ship her some.
“I’m like, ‘Oh please, don’t,’” she said. She said she was
afraid of getting physically attacked if she wore one. “Lots of my
friends, their social media posts are all about this: We don’t wear
masks. It’s kind of more dangerous than the virus.”
A 30-year-old videographer in Syracuse, N.Y., said he was still shaken
from a trip to the grocery store last week, when the man ahead of him
in the checkout line shouted at him, “It’s you people who brought
the disease,” and other customers just stared at him, without
offering to help. That same day, he said, two couples verbally abused
him at Costco.
Edward, a videographer in Syracuse, N.Y., said he was still shaken
from a recent episode in a grocery store.
Credit:Libby March for The New York Times
“I feel like I’m being invaded by this hatred,” said the man,
Edward, who asked that his last name not be used because he feared
attracting more attention. “It’s everywhere. It’s silent. It’s
as deadly as this disease.”
He said he had tried to hide the details of what happened from his
mother, who moved to the United States from China in the 1970s. But
there was one thing he did tell her.
“I told her, whatever you do, you can’t go shopping,” he said.
“She needed to know there’s a problem and we can’t act like
it’s normal anymore.”
_[Sabrina Tavernise is a national correspondent covering demographics
and is the lead writer for The Times on the Census. She started at
The Times in 2000, spending her first 10 years as a foreign
_Rich Oppel is a national enterprise and investigative
correspondent based in New York. Since joining The Times in 1999, he
has also covered business, Washington, a national presidential
campaign, and for six years was a war correspondent in Iraq,
Afghanistan and Pakistan.]_