Anti-Chinese discrimination can make Chinese students in the U.S. more likely to support China and its authoritarian political system, a new study shows.
The study: Researchers from Stanford University and Sun Yat-Sen University in Guangzhou, China collaborated to find out the effects of xenophobic discrimination — most recently heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic — on the democratic preferences of Chinese students in the U.S.
- The study involved a survey and an experiment that included 312 first-year undergraduate Chinese students from 62 U.S. institutions in late spring.
- The survey asked the respondents to fill information about their family demographics, social-economic status, perceptions of how well governments have handled COVID-19, as well as questions to measure ideology on nationalism and political liberalism.
- The experiment randomly divided the respondents into three groups: one control group and two treatment (A and B) groups.
- All three groups were asked to read similar news articles on Dr. Li Wenliang, the Chinese physician reportedly silenced for “whistleblowing” about COVID-19 (and who subsequently died after contracting it).
- The control group read an article from an independent Chinese media outlet, while the treatment groups read an article from a U.S. media outlet, which included a Chinese translation.
- After reading the article, the control group was shown 10 Chinese comments critical of the Chinese government’s handling of COVID-19.
- Meanwhile, Treatment group A was shown 10 comments critical of the Chinese government’s handling of COVID-19 under a U.S. article.
- Finally, Treatment group B was shown 10 comments on the situation of COVID-19 in China under a U.S. article, but this time, they included five racist comments.
- One of the racist comments reads: “The Chinese have disgusting dietary habits. If something moves, they consider it food. Not to mention that they’re destroying habit, polluting the skies and the waters and just making a mess of everything they touch.”
- After reading the articles and the comments, the respondents were asked to share their feelings, responses to the commentators (if any), and the extent of their support for China’s current political system, as well as their trust in Chinese central and local governments.
The findings: The researchers found that xenophobic comments boosted support for China and its authoritarian political system.
- Students who read racist comments are less likely to endorse political reform in China, reporting higher levels of trust in the Chinese government.
- Such outcomes appear to be more pronounced among students who originally hold less nationalistic views.
- Meanwhile, groups that did not read racist comments did not show support for the Chinese government.
- Jennifer Pan, one of the researchers from Stanford, shared that she and her colleagues identified two possible reasons for the results.
- “First, Chinese nationalism and support for the Chinese regime are highly correlated,” Pan told Newsweek. “This means people who hold strongly nationalistic views already have very positive views of China’s political system. Therefore, it may be more difficult to change their minds (make them more positive).”
- “Second, racist comments may convey information that is new to respondents who are less nationalistic. Respondents who are nationalistic may already view the West as an enemy that wants to denigrate and control China and thus exposure to racist commentary is not as surprising or unexpected as for those who are less nationalistic,” she added.
- However, the researchers noted that results may be different for students who have lived longer in the U.S., such as U.S. high school graduates, upperclass students and graduate students.
- Another factor that may have influenced the study is that it was conducted in the early months of the pandemic when the virus was still spreading quickly overseas.
- The researchers believe that results may be different if the study was conducted in February, just around the time when the world was focused on China’s containment of the virus, and when Chinese students remained in the U.S. “out of a belief that it was safer” rather than due to travel restrictions.
- “What we find provides evidence that discrimination interferes with the transfer of democratic values. Our findings suggest the rise of anti-Chinese discrimination under the Trump administration may further strengthen the rule of the Chinese Communist Party by boosting support for [its] rule among a new generation of Chinese students who were the most likely to subscribe to democratic values,” the researchers wrote.
The study was published by the Social Science Research Network. Read the full article here.