Race and the Law in China

It was with some interest that we read this story in the New York Times last week. It seems South Korea, like China, has some issues with racism. And South Korea, like China, is a country where the number of foreigners (often people of other races) is increasing. What was interesting about the article, then, is that the South Korean government is starting to do something about racist incidents. For example:

On the evening of July 10, Bonogit Hussain, a 29-year-old Indian man, and Hahn Ji-seon, a female Korean friend, were riding a bus near Seoul when a man in the back began hurling racial and sexist slurs at them.

The situation would be a familiar one to many Korean women who have dated or even — as in Ms. Hahn’s case — simply traveled in the company of a foreign man.

What was different this time, however, was that, once it was reported in the South Korean media, prosecutors sprang into action, charging the man they have identified only as a 31-year-old Mr. Park with contempt, the first time such charges had been applied to an alleged racist offense. Spurred by the case, which is pending in court, rival political parties in Parliament have begun drafting legislation that for the first time would provide a detailed definition of discrimination by race and ethnicity and impose criminal penalties.

That led me to wonder, does China have any kind of law preventing racial discrimination? There are, of course, laws and policies safeguarding ethnic minorities, but what about people of different races, i.e. Lou Jing, who is ethnically Chinese but racially half African? Are there laws that could punish people for hurling racist invective at her in China?

I decided to ask three people who know way, way more about the law than I do. I sent them a list of questions, but the most important one was this: “What, if anything, does the Chinese law have to say about racial and/or ethnic discrimination?”

The first to respond was Dan Harris, of China Law Blog, an international lawyer based in the US. Dan replied:

I have to confess that I know very little about the questions you ask […] I have to tell you though, that I cannot recall a single instance where any race related issue has come up involving any of our China clients, which helps justify my ignorance on the subject.

The second person I asked was Stan Abrams, of the blog China Hearsay. Stan is a lawyer who’s been living and practicing in Beijing since 1999, and he had this to say in response to my query:

Not much help from my end either, I’m afraid. Never comes up for me either (not exactly a corporate or IP law issue) in practice.

That being said, the law here does contain certain preferences and protections for ethnic minorities. I have come across this in the area of university admissions, and I believe that various other laws/policies contain similar provisions (State and local). I doubt that there is anything in law that collects all these different policies, which means that you will need to look around in various places for this stuff. Beyond the usual keyword searches, I’m not sure where to find this type of thing.

For what it’s worth, I have not heard anything about legal reform in this area. If something was going to be changed with respect to labor law on this specific issue, I would have expected that to have happened in 2007/8, and I don’t think it did.

The third person I asked was Liu Xiaoyuan, the only Chinese lawyer whose name I know, whose practice runs the gamut from criminal defense to traffic accident compensation to marriage law. I didn’t really expect Liu to respond, as we’ve never met or spoken before, but he did. His response — which was quite brief — is translated below:

In China, although there is much prejudice, there is no law on the books about racial prejudice. In fact, Chinese law gives foreigners all sorts of special privileges.

Further searches of the internet also proved fruitless. Dan Harris’s partner at theChina Law Blog, Steve Dickinson, offered me one interpretation why that might be. “There is no concept of race in China,” Dickinson wrote,

…the concept of “race” is a European concept that has no application in China. There is, however, a strong concept of ethnic identity […] Whether they are the same or not is something that would require a careful set of definitions. My point is that the Chinese care about culture but they do not care about blood. Therefore, your basic identity is the culture you follow, not who were your parents.

He’s right, of course, in saying that the Chinese spend a lot more time talking about ethnicity (民族) than they do about race (种族). But the idea that Chinese care about culture more than blood doesn’t really seem to fit with what happened to Lou Jing, an ethnically Chinese but racially half-African Shanghainese girl who was abused by many Chinese netizens for her skin color and racial background despite the fact that she shared their culture.

If there are laws to defend Lou Jing, and those that will inevitably follow her as the number of foreigners and mixed-race couples in China continues to grow, even Liu Xiaoyuan doesn’t know about them. The next questions, of course, are: should there be? And if so, when will there be such laws?

0 thoughts on “Race and the Law in China”

  1. No, I would not be pro-segregation because I’m fundamentally opposed to the presence of whites in America, period. You have NO RIGHT to force yourselves on the Native Americans.

    No, I would not have supported Hitler’s movement to attack Jews. I would have opposed the persecution of Jews in their homeland initially, which caused them to flee in the first place.

    As for the Turkish genocide of Armenians, I think the idea of the nation of Turkey was always a joke to begin with.

    But I’m sure it was white males who did every last bit of that, right?

    Lets see, you did segregation. You did slavery. You did the Native American genocide (and are continuing it). You slaughtered Australian Aborigines. You marginalized the Maori, killed at least 30% of Congo’s population, starved the Bengals, flooded China with opium, rejected Japan’s proposal for racial equality in the UN, fostered racial division in Sudan and Rwanda, destroyed Latin American democracies, bombed Southeast Asia and dumped Agent Orange, killed millions of Koreans after agreeing between yourselves to divide the peninsula.

    And that’s not even mentioning your corporations.

    Or maybe, like Custer said, you’re just mad because you saw a white guy with a hot Chinese girl

    “Hot” Chinese girls do not date white men, unless they’re the type who are just looking for money.

    Gotta love how you equate a non-white looking to protect his country to various white males killing hundreds of millions all around the world in the past 500 years.

    All in the name of protecting your idolized, homogenous nation, right?

    China is not homogeneous and the reason you think so is because you believe we “all look the same”.


  2. The reason you do that because you think your “right” to “your Oriental women” is more meaningful than the lives of 30 million Africans, 60 million Amerinds, 10 million Bengalis, 6 million Jews, etc.

    Stop thinking of all Chinese women as your exclusive, white male, sexual property and maybe my posts will give you less angst.


  3. Right, whereas in China, land of tolerance, gay marriage is legal everywhere. Goddamn Americans and their intolerance against gays! If only we were tolerant, like China!

    Oh wait, no, what I meant was that gay marriage is illegal in China, because out of the 2,937 delegates in the National People’s Congress, Li Yinhe couldn’t even get 35 to support it (the number required to have a bill actually introduced). Whoops!

    As a sidenote, no one here considers asian girls the exclusive sexual property of white men. What some of us, I think, believe, is that women (and men) of all races should be free to choose whoever they like, regardless of race or nationality. That means it’s OK for a white guy to date an asian girl if they’re both into it, just as an asian guy can date a white girl, or a black girl, or whoever. The only person on this site who has a problem with girls dating outside their race is (shocker): you.


  4. is that women (and men) of all races should be free to choose whoever they like, regardless of race or nationality.

    Such pretty words, but your concept of “love” gets ground to dust by international media brainwashing and power imbalances.

    China does not have gay marriage, but it does not have many rabid gay-hating psychopaths. It used to though, in some areas of the South, but lovely Western imperialism and then lovely Western Communism reared their ugly heads.


  5. I wonder if you see how deeply racist your assumption that there’s always a power imbalance in interracial relationships is. Of course, there are many examples of imbalance (both in interracial couples and couples of the same race), but do you really mean to suggest that (for example) there are no Chinese women strong enough to have an equal relationship with a white man?


  6. there are no Chinese women strong enough to have an equal relationship with a white man?

    There are. But the strong ones tend to be the smart ones… and they’re turned off by factors like history, socioeconomics, etc. The racism and arrogance thing on the part of whites doesn’t help either.

    No truly strong “Asian” woman would run off with a white man. That sends a message to all those that she is trying to “prove wrong” that she took the easy way out, defeating the whole purpose of independence.


  7. I’ll do my best to be polite, sorry if I snap, but the hypocrisy of media outlets of countries full of hateful bigots calling a relatively non-racist country like China racist infuriates me. It just screams ignorance.

    So my question is when, do you recall, were there ever any inter-ethnic relationships that were NOT unbalanced?

    Mongols with the Russians? Japanese with the Ainu? Taiwanese with the Aborigines? Whites with Native Americans? Ottomans with Greeks? Romans with the Gauls? Angles with the British? American colonists with enslaved Africans?

    These are nothing more than the crudest forms of power play imaginable, going from pure rape to some kind of exploitation of post-colonial schizophrenia.

    The mere notion of opening up a country of people who are misrepresented and disparaged in the international media, and earn on average $3,000 a year, to some sick idea of “globalized sex market” is astonishing to me. I believe in protectionism of all kinds, and yes I frown upon Taiwanese or Hong Kongers in rural areas of China or sniping wives from Southeast Asia. I see it as no different than Chinese men who take advantage of North Korean women.

    No offense but I find it absolutely vile.


  8. Of course inter-ethnic relationships, on a national scale, are always imbalanced. I’m not sure that has as much to do with race/ethnicity as it has to do with the nature of international politics, though.

    But the fact that you discount the possibility of equality on the individual level is mind-numbingly arrogant. Essentially, you are claiming that you know everyone in the world better than they know themselves, and that you’re a better judge of what they want and need in a spouse than they are.


  9. There are situations where 15, 16 year old girls and boys can genuinely fall in love with a man twice their age…

    But I’m not about to assume the best. I, like most non-Westerners, have been exposed to too much ‘reality’ to ever have that kind of worldview.

    As far as international politics goes China is very, very far from racist. Korea is pretty angry and they have a right to be, yet I wouldn’t call them horribly racist either.

    You keep saying China is going to see more foreigners and that they better get used to it and adjust… I just don’t see that happening, and if it does it will be a lot of (overwhelmingly male) expats from foreign countries (overwhelmingly other East Asians), creating an imbalance.

    Unless you are suggesting foreigner women proportionally represented in the pool of expats in China, and that women (lets face it) don’t have the tendency to marry those with greater wealth (while men go after looks).


  10. “I’ll do my best to be polite, sorry if I snap…”

    You don’t so much snap as implode. We’ll see about the apology.

    “But the strong ones tend to be the smart ones… and they’re turned off by factors like history, socioeconomics, etc…defeating the whole purpose of independence”

    In which case, she really wasn’t that smart after all; and she was conforming to societal pressure rather than demonstrating her independence.

    Do you see?


  11. In which case, she really wasn’t that smart after all; and she was conforming to societal pressure rather than demonstrating her independence.

    Conforming to pressure would be bowing to the internationalized ideal of white supremacy. Refusing the advances of a racist white male shows integrity and values.

    The strong ones are creating said social pressure- to steer the weaker ones away from yours.


  12. S –

    Wow, the hate radiates off of you like heat from the sun! That hate will kill you. Let it go, you can’t change the past. Marry a nice girl, have kids, and relax!


  13. As a Chinese Trinidadian (that is my mother is Chinese and my father is Trinidadian), I can relate to what Lou Jing must go through to a certain extent. I think if you are of mixed heritage (w/black), things will be much more difficult in the north of China then in the south. I have lived in Shanghai when I was younger and have traveled to Guangzhou. I rarely got stares in Guangzhou to say the least and many thought that I was just another Chinese person (some think I am Hakka or Canto (my mom is Canto). In Shanghai I really confused people I guess with my look people would stare a bit, but people would also called me Jiejie or Ayi. But when I went back five years later no one even stared so I think times in China are getting better. Of course, I couldn’t know Lou Jing’s daily interactions with other Chinese because I don’t know the community that she was growing up in, but to me it seems like they embraced her like they should!

    As for people saying that China is racist or America is racist, I say every country has their “status quo” and has racism. More countries are more open then others though and the degree of racism depends on the history of the country etc. China’s racism and America’s racism is different.


  14. C. Custer:
    Discriminating on the basis of race is illegal, except in college admissions, where minority applicants are generally favored over whites.

    A bit of an over-simplification. Depends on which minority you are. Asians are almost never favored over whites, and most famously so in California. In fact, I would say that Asians (American and foreign) are severely discriminated against in states where they are sizable minorities, like California. Also, not all universities have policies that favor minorities, or if they do, they might be restricted to the law or med schools, as an example.

    A run of the mill state university won’t have the same policies as a prestigious state university like Michigan, and then private universities have distinct policies as well.


  15. Thank you, Kim from 66 lou.

    Custer, Kim from 66 is what I was talking about. Mixed-race children and their experiences in China are the ones that are most relevant and convincing. I hope to read more about that. In your first blog about racism in China, there was a comment made by someone who said he was black. Out of all the comments, I only remember his words because I felt those was relevant. Sadly those people are quite rare across the expat blogs about racism. And if they do come up with the conclusion that the Chinese are racist then it should serve as concrete proof for people to start making changes. You remember the dispute you had with Hecaitou (sp?). The Chinese bloggers would have had more understanding if they were talking to someone who was actually black or over the black person’s true experiences instead of over a picture with no human touch. Expats interviewing black people in China is not that hard. But I agree with you that somehow it’s inevitable that anything here, good or bad, will be turned into a shout match between a bunch of people condemning the Chinese as racist on one side and s with his blah blah blah on the other…


  16. If you want to talk racism ask Vietnamese or Hmong children growing up with blacks and Latinos in the US.

    Chinese “racism” is a non-issue and trying to “solve” the “problem” before real issues like rural poverty smacks of self-hatred and betrayal.


  17. Why is it so important to have a specific hate crime law? The law exist out of practical needs but I don’t see the relevance here. Han Chinese do not have a history of lynching and you see the Han outcries out of the Urumqi was asking the government to eradicate the 二少一宽 (two restraints and one leniency) policy and enforce justice evenly among all ethnic groups.

    And IMHO, for the countries that do have such a law, all it can do is to sugarcoat some etiquette over the racism. Not particularly useful anyway.


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