I initiated Sinophobia in February 2020, after having read on a Facebook post the experiences shared by more than two hundred Asian individuals living in The Netherlands. They navigated through a surge of racism triggered by the Covid pandemic and their stories revealed a profound level of suffering.
Influenced and moved by their narratives, I embarked on a photographic work to amplify their voices and raise awareness about this pressing issue.
I connected with each individual online, and following a video call and conversation, I captured each portrait using my camera, with the image being taken directly through my laptop screen.

The Coronavirus outbreak has led to a lot of racism towards Chinese and Asian people. This isn’t new. Sinophobia, the fear or dislike of China or Chinese people, is a well-documented phenomenon that spans centuries. This negative sentiment towards the Chinese population has manifested in the form of racism, currently linked to the coronavirus pandemic.
The impact of this pandemic is not confined to China and its citizens. It has led to a situation where people feel entitled to express their racism and fear of the virus towards the entire Asian community. Asians are being denied access to restaurants, shops, and public transportation due to fears that they might be carriers of the Coronavirus. They are subjected to insults from passers-by, radio programs, television, and social media.
These episodes don’t belong only to the Netherlands but are a global concern. 

One of the things that touched me the most, while working on Sinophobia and doing research, is that almost every country truly believes that this issue doesn’t affect their nation.
This project intends to prove otherwise and to serve as a call to society to address this issue and to stand against racism.

Read more on this project 

CARG (Campaign Against Racism Group)

This is Kyungmi’s story

Portrait of Kyungmi part of the series Sinophobia
Kyungmi is from Seoul, Korea. She lives and studies in Eindhoven, The Netherlands

“I want to be part of your project because I feel the need to speak out as a way to protect myself.
I’m afraid of going outside alone due to people that call me “corona” or worse and make fun of my ethnicity. When you answer them back they just tell you ‘Oh you’re overreacting, it’s just a joke’.
I also have a lot of friends went through these racist episodes, they decided to return to Korea until this virus will be over.

Once I went out to the grocery store with my boyfriend. Outside of the shop, there was a lady who sneezed. After a while, I sneezed as well. I won’t forget the way she looked at me. Like I was nothing and I shouldn’t be there. Like being Asiatic is synonymous with Coronavirus.

A racist is following his fears, his instincts. We are not animals, we don’t live on instincts. We are human beings who live in a society.
I hope people don’t use a virus as an excuse to be racist. I hope everyone can be human and respectful of those around him.
We always have to remember this”

This is SeungJae’s story

Portrait of Sj part of the series Sinophobia
SeungJae is from Seoul, Korea. He lives and studies in Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Seung-Jae has lived in Amsterdam for three years.

You have to be brave to be an Asian in a European country. I avoid being alone in public situations. Once I was walking down the street and a guy stopped me, grabbed my shoulder, and told me ‘Hey Chinese, go back to your country with rice and sushi’.
This is light racism because there is much more over here. Every day.

He shared with me two episodes he experienced linked to racism during Coronavirus pandemic.

It was the beginning of March.
I took a tram and I realized my card didn’t have enough money to get in so I went up to the service desk in the tram to buy a ticket.
The woman behind the desk didn’t want to sell me a ticket and she suggested I bought one outside.
I asked her the reason, maybe the card reader was broken.
“I don’t have a ticket for you”. So I told her to explain to me what she meant saying that. She tried to refuse the conversation.
After a while, she said “I have a responsibility to protect passengers in this tram and keep this tram clean. I want you to get out of here and have a nice day”.
I was really furious and I left the tram.

The following episode happened a month later, at the beginning of April.

I was late for my work and since I really hate to be late at work, I called a uber and I took it. He started a conversation “how are you doing” and I answered back “I’m good, thanks”.
Since I was checking my phone and some email, I didn’t go further with the chat and after few seconds of silence, he turned at me from the driver seat saying in a very aggressive way “If I say how are you, you have to say how are you back to me. If you don’t want to talk back to me just get out of my car”
I was very offended so I decided to get off of the car. When I was about to get off, he said “You fucking Chinese are cancer, you bring Coronavirus.”

I got really mad, it’s not the first time that I face racism, my patience is almost over.

I also insulted him and I slammed the door of the car.
He got angry with the slamming. While I was searching for another Uber, he got off from his car, and he grabbed my cloth saying ‘Hey kiddo what did you say’?
As soon as he went away from me, I try to call the police.
He got scared with the word ‘police’ and he suddenly tried to negotiate with me as offering travel with no fee.
I told him to go away, but he doesn’t listen to me.
I decided to walk and try to reach the tram station. He took his car and he drove to the walking road blocking me with his car.
Then finally he noticed that I was actually calling with the police, so he tried to run away. I tried to block his car with my body but he ran away.

I had various levels and types of racism so far past 3 years but I didn’t report any of them until today. Unfortunately, the police told me they had bigger things than mine to solve.

What I really want is simple, you should know that racism in Amsterdam exists very well and it happens daily. Please support who faced racism because they are going through something that you’d never experienced here as a majority race group.

This is Jiye’s story

Portrait of Jiye part of the series Sinophobia
Jiye is from Seoul, Korea. She lives and works in The Hague, The Netherlands

At the end of February, I was biking back home from my usual dance class when I started noticing two men on a scooter following me. I had this bad feeling that something will happen.
Those men driving past me on a scooter yelled out “Chinese” and the one sitting on the back tried to punch me.
It was really scary because it was late, I was alone and I was on a street where I couldn’t see anyone nearby.
I swerved when I saw the punch coming. The men drove away and I rode the rest of the way home.
Unfortunately, they were too far away to take a photo of the license plate.
I’ve filled a report to the police in my area, and I stopped going out at night for a couple of weeks.

There is more.

In the first days of February, I was on the tram and I noticed people intentionally avoiding me.
As soon as I got off the tram, the crowd has split into two parts to not be around me.

Jiye told me, with a bitter smile, that Asians created the metaphoric expression correlating them to Moses. “We split the people, instead of the sea”.

In the middle of March, I was on the train, going back from Leiden.
I was wearing a face mask.
A guy was sitting in front of me, not too distant. He was on the phone and, staring at me, he said “Corona, corona, corona”.
And I was like ” Ok, maybe he’s just talking about the Virus, without referring to me”.
Getting off the train, he kicked my lower leg saying “ Why do you wear a mask?” in an aggressive tone. “What’s your problem?” I answered him.
Luckily some people calmed down the situation.

This is Sumin’s story

Portrait of Sumin, part of the series Sinophobia
Sumin is from Busan, Korea. She lives and studies in Amsterdam, The Netherlands

“Racism towards Asians didn’t begin with Coronavirus. It’s been here all the time.” This is what Sumin told me in the first place.
When the minority of the people talk about racism episodes they experience in The Netherlands, she notices Dutch people usually answer with “ Be positive. You’re so sensitive. Maybe you got something wrong. It’s full of bad people everywhere. Focus on the positive things, you have to get away from this trauma. You have to live your own life”.

People who have the privilege of not suffer racism don’t believe what we are going through almost every day.

It was the end of March when Sumin incurred this severe racism episode:

I and my Korean (female) friends went to the groceries. When we came back to my friend’s house we noticed people in their thirties gathering around there. They were having a drink, smoking. Technically it is not allowed getting together, due to the Coronavirus.
As soon as I saw this group of guys I knew that they’re going to say something to us. They said, “Hey how are you?” “I’m good. Take care”. Then they added in a very denigrating way “Chinese, Chinese”. I just stopped “Hey are you being a racist?”
And then the all thing happened.
They were shouting at me “you Chinese, go home, why you are here, why are you spreading the virus”. They threw the drink that they were drinking at me. I started filming to have a piece of evidence, otherwise people don’t believe this is really happening.
I took the picture of the license plate.
They were four. As soon as I started filming two of them ran away. Another one took his motorbike. The last guy had a car so he couldn’t go away so easily. I was filming him. We had a little argument again.
He said “I’m alone, I’m going to bring more people, stay here”.
He never came back.

Sumin contacted the Korean Embassy. This time with the proof they believed her words but they didn’t know what to do to help her out.
She also explained to me that the Chinese Embassy got tons of files about racism episodes with proper documents and they were able to make a public announcement. Instead, the Korean Embassy didn’t have enough papers to do that.

Racism here has always existed. It is just floated to the surface. Everybody can see I am Asian. We are so easy to blame, because we are recognizable. Not matter what nationality you are, if you are Asian you probably have something. No matter what, you came from China, you have the virus.

Whenever she goes out, she has to be prepared to face racism and she puts on earphones to ignore any comments.

One month ago, it was early in the morning. There was nobody, so silent, no rumors, so nice weather, no birds, no cars. Nothing was there. I told myself “I want to be alone in this world for like few hours so I don’t need to prove myself, to protect myself. I can just be myself without thinking”.
It was such a big moment in my life.

Sumin is still scared to go out.

It’s tough, it’s not fun sharing, but people need to know, because they’re not going to be in my shoes. We need to share things even if this is a difficult topic. We have to communicate to get a better understanding of our society for us and the next generation.
How can we destroy barriers? With communication.

She will continue to share her story because what happened to her is not just her personal misfortune, but a shared experience among Asian people. She is just one of many cases.

A lot of victims think that no one is going to understand. A lot of people don’t want to share and that makes them be more isolated and more traumatized. Not everyone got discriminated against having to voice out but we could do that all together and then find a way to do something, as a collective.

During our conversation, she confessed to me that she preferred to do everything independently. She avoided seeking help from others as she felt like she may be a burden to them and that they may not be attentive or caring enough. Furthermore, she expressed that she believes the responsibility for this situation lies with her.

I want to encourage people: Nothing of this is your fault. No matter what people say about it.

After a significant period of work on Sinophobia, I have concluded this journey. Despite my best efforts, I found it increasingly challenging to connect with more individuals willing to share their experiences, likely due to the sensitive nature of the subject matter.
While this particular project has ended, the fight against racism and the need for understanding continues. I am grateful to all those who participated and helped to amplify the voices of the Asian community during these challenging times.

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