Racism in Asia

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Racism in Asia has roots in events that have happened anywhere from thousands of years ago to the present.


In 2015, the ruling Awami League Member of Parliament, Elias Mollah,[1] commented on his recent trip to Congo: "Our army has gone there (Africa) to civilise those black people. I am sure they will accomplish the task." He constantly referred to the Congolese as "uncivilized black people" and added "People there are yet to become civilised. They take bath every 15 days. After applying soaps before bath, they do not even use water in a bid to retain the aroma."[2]


In 1991–92, Bhutan is said to have deported between 10,000 and 100,000 ethnic Nepalis (Lhotshampa). The actual number of refugees that were initially deported is debated by both sides. In March 2008, this population began a multiyear resettlement to third countries including the U.S., Canada, New Zealand, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands and Australia.[3] At present, the United States is working towards resettling more than 60,000 of these refugees in the US as third country settlement programme.[4]


Brunei law provides positive discrimination in favor of ethnic Malay.[5]


Ne Win's rise to power in 1962 and his persecution of "resident aliens" (immigrant groups not recognised as citizens of the Union of Burma) led to an exodus of some 300,000 Burmese Indians from discriminatory policies, particularly after wholesale nationalisation of private enterprise a few years later in 1964.[6][7] Some Muslim refugees entered Banglades o suffer there as the Bangladeshi government provided no support as of 2007.[8]. In late 2016, the Myanmar military forces and extremist Buddhists started a major crackdown on the Rohingya Muslims in the country's western region of Rakhine State.

Since 2015, over 900,000 Rohingya refugees have fled to southeastern Bangladesh alone,[9] and more to other surrounding countries, and major Muslim nations.[10][11][11][12][13][14] More than 100,000 Rohingyas in Myanmar are confined in camps for internally displaced persons.[15][16] Shortly before a Rohingya rebel attack that killed 12 security forces, August 25, 2017, the Myanmar military had launched "clearance operations" against the Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state[17][18] that left over 3,000 dead, many more injured, tortured or raped, villages burned. Over 603,000 Rohingya from Myanmar,[17][18] fled to Bangladesh alone, and more to other countries.[19] According to Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commission, about 624,000 Rohingyas entered Bangladesh until November 7.[20][21][22][23][24][25]


Cambodia has disproportionately targeted ethnic minority groups. These included ethnic Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, and foreigners living in Cambodia. Part of this conflict stems from Chinese involvement in Cambodia before the Vietnam War. In the late 1960s, an estimated 425,000 ethnic Chinese lived in Cambodia, but by 1984, as a result of Khmer Rouge genocide and emigration, only about 61,400 Chinese remained in the country. The Cham, a Muslim minority who are the descendants of migrants from the old state of Champa, were forced to adopt the Khmer language and customs. A Khmer Rouge order stated that henceforth "The Cham nation no longer exists on Kampuchean soil belonging to the Khmers" (U.N. Doc. A.34/569 at 9). Only about half of the Cham survived.[26][27][28]


Scholars have noted that the People's Republic of China largely portrays racism as a Western phenomenon which has led to a lack of acknowledgement of racism in its own society.[29][30][31] For example, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination reported in 2018 that Chinese law does not define "racial discrimination."[32]

Discrimination against African students has occurred since the arrival of Africans to Chinese universities in the 1960s, with African students having been perceived as threatening and not punctual.[33] A well-documented incident in 1988 featured Chinese students rioting against African students studying in Nanjing.[34][35] African students are also reported to be subjected to drug testing far more frequently than students from other regions.[36]

In 2007, police anti-drug crackdowns in Beijing's Sanlitun district were reported to target people from Africa as suspected criminals, though police officials denied targeting any specific racial or ethnic group.[37][38] Similar police action has taken place in Guangzhou, where a group of Africans have settled.

Anti-Japanese sentiment in China is an issue with old roots. Japan annexed land from China towards the end of the Qing Dynasty. Dissatisfaction with the settlement and the Twenty-One Demands by the Japanese government led to a severe boycott of Japanese products in China. Bitterness in China persists over the atrocities of the Second Sino-Japanese War, such as the Nanjing Massacre and Japan's post-war actions. Today, textbook revisionism and censorship remain contentious issues.

Hong Kong[edit]

With a population of 7.3 million[39] Hong Kong has gained a reputation as an international city, while remaining predominantly Chinese. This multi-culturalism has raised issues of racial and gender discrimination, particularly among the 350,000 ethnic minorities such as Africans, Nepalese, Indians, Indonesians, Pakistanis, Mexicans and Filipinos, who have long established minority communities since the founding days of the former colony or have come to Hong Kong recently to work as domestic workers. For example, Filipino females are sometimes addressed by the derogatory term "Bun Mui" and Filipino males "Bun Jai" (literally Filipino sister and Filipino son, respectively).[citation needed] In 2003, the number of complaints filed with the body handling discrimination issues, the Equal Opportunities Commission[40] increased by 31 percent.

Since the transfer of sovereignty in 1997, there has been greater tension and more conflicts have risen between residents of the PRC (People's Republic of China or the "Mainland") and Hong Kong over a variety of political and socio-economical issues concerning the governance and constitutional autonomy of the territory. The issues partly involve the oppressive policy of the PRC government[41] and also partly the behaviours of Mainland residents when they travel to Hong Kong. Mainland residents suffered considerable set-backs in the 1960s and 1970s due to catastrophes such as the Great Chinese Famine that resulted from the poor governance of the PRC. However, since the 1990s, the Mainland has had considerable economic growth, and a large number of mainland tourists have visited Hong Kong in recent years.[41] There also have been many reports that visiting Mainland parents let their child defecate or urinate openly in the street in busy shopping districts or in public transports.[42]

Similarly, with the introduction of China's Individual Visit Scheme in 2003, which effectively grants Mainland residents an unlimited entry travel visa to Hong Kong, and following the 2008 Chinese milk scandal and other food safety incidents in China an influx of Mainland residents travel regularly to Hong Kong to buy baby formula and other daily necessities. In the process, this influx caused shortages of supply for Hong Kong parents and escalated rents; it also greatly harmed the commercial diversity of Hong Kong business. Due to the great demand from mainland residents, smugglers organizations have grown rapidly.[43] This deleterious effect on the economy has caused some Hong Kong residents to refer to Mainland residents as "locusts";[44] they are seen as invaders who swarm into the city and drain its resources.[45]

On the other hand, a race discrimination bill has been demanded by human rights groups for the last 10 years, and the government has been accused of putting the issue on the back burner. Last 3 December 2006 was the first time a drafted bill was proposed at the Legislative Council, and was expected to be passed before the end of 2008. However, the bill was criticized for being "too conservative".[46] The exclusion of Mainland Chinese migrants has also been a source of controversy, with the government claiming that they are not considered to be of a different race. Another issue of the bill has been of language instruction in schools.


The earliest rejection of discrimination was made as far back as the Hindu sacred text of Bhagavada Gita, which says that no person, no matter what, is barred from enlightenment. Even early Hindu texts such as the Rig Veda discourage the abuse of outcastes. The text reads, "Indra, you lifted up the outcast who was oppressed, you glorified the blind and the lame." (Rg-Veda 2:13:12).[47]

The varna (Hinduism) system was equivalent to division of labour and a Shudra's son (the lowest varna) could become a Brahmin. But later this system became hereditary and a Shudra's son would remain a Shudra, and became to known as caste system. During the British Raj, racist views against Indians based on the systemic scientific racism practiced in Europe at the time were popularized. Views include dividing linguistic groups into ethnic "classes" (see Historical definitions of races in India).[48] The first Prime minister of India, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, wrote

We in India have known racialism in all its forms ever since the commencement of British rule. The idea of a master race is inherent in imperialism ... India as a nation and Indians as individuals were subjected to insult, humiliation and contemptuous treatment. The English were an imperial race, we were told, with the God-given right to govern us and keep us in subjection; if we protested we were reminded of the 'tiger qualities of an imperial race'.[49]


A number of discriminatory laws against Chinese Indonesians were enacted by the government of Indonesia. In 1959, President Sukarno approved PP 10/1959 that forced Chinese Indonesians to close their businesses in rural areas and relocate into urban areas. Moreover, political pressures in the 1970s and 1980s restricted the role of the Chinese Indonesian in politics, academics, and the military. As a result, they were thereafter constrained professionally to becoming entrepreneurs and professional managers in trade, manufacturing, and banking. In the 1960s, following the failed alleged Communist coup attempt in 1965, there was a strong sentiment against the Chinese Indonesians who were accused of being Communist collaborators. In 1998, Indonesia riots over higher food prices and rumors of hoarding by merchants and shopkeepers often degenerated into anti-Chinese attacks. There were also racism against religion & believe wide across the country, especially between Muslims and Christians.[50]

Amnesty International has estimated more than 100,000 Papuans, one-sixth of the population, have died as a result of violence against West Papuans,[51][52] while others had previously specified much higher death tolls.[53] The 1990s saw Indonesia accelerate its Transmigration program, under which hundreds of thousands of Javanese and Sumatran migrants were resettled to Papua over a ten-year period, The Indonesian government saw this as the economical improvement and also population density improvement for Indonesia. Critics suspect that the Transmigration program's purpose is to tip the balance of the province's population from the heavily Melanesian Papuans toward western Indonesians, thus further consolidating Indonesian control.[54]


As late as August 2019, UN's anti-racism panel found the Islamic republic of Iran discriminating and practicing wide racism against Arabs, Kurds, Baluch, and other ethnic minorities. The United Nations panel said "Arabs, Kurds and other minorities in Iran face discrimination because of their ethnicity."[55] The U.N. urged Iran to tackle racism on Arab, Azeri, Balochi, and Kurdish communities and some communities of non-citizens.[56]


Organizations such as Amnesty International, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, and the United States Department of State[57] have published reports documenting racial discrimination in Israel.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) published reports documenting racism in Israel, and the 2007 report suggested that racism in the country was increasing.[58] One analysis of the report summarized it: "Over two-thirds Israeli teen believe Arabs to be less intelligent, uncultured and violent. Over a third of Israeli teens fear Arabs all together....The report becomes even grimmer, citing the ACRI's racism poll, taken in March 2007, in which 50% of Israelis taking part said they would not live in the same building as Arabs, will not befriend, or let their children befriend Arabs and would not let Arabs into their homes."[59] The 2008 report from ACRI says the trend of increasing racism is continuing.[60]


In 2005, a United Nations report expressed concerns about racism in Japan and that government recognition of the depth of the problem was not total.[61][62] The author of the report, Doudou Diène (Special Rapporteur of the UN Commission on Human Rights), concluded after a nine-day investigation that racial discrimination and xenophobia in Japan primarily affects three groups: national minorities, Latin Americans of Japanese descent, mainly Japanese Brazilians, and foreigners from poor countries.[63]

Japan accepted just 16 refugees in 1999, while the United States took in 85,010 for resettlement, according to the UNHCR. New Zealand, which is 30 times smaller than Japan (in terms of population), accepted 1,140 refugees in 1999. Just 305 persons were recognized as refugees by Japan from 1981, when Japan ratified the U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, to 2002.[64][65] Former Prime Minister Taro Aso called Japan a "one race" nation.[66]

Ainu people are an ethnic group indigenous to Hokkaidō, northern Honshū, the Kuril Islands, much of Sakhalin, and the southernmost third of the Kamchatka peninsula. As Japanese settlement expanded, the Ainu were pushed northward, until by the Meiji period they were confined by the government to a small area in Hokkaidō, in a manner similar to the placing of Native Americans on reservations.[67]


South Korea[edit]

Koreans, both north and south, tend to equate nationality or citizenship with membership in a single, homogeneous politicized ethnic group or "race" (minjok, in Korean). Discrimination and ostracism of biracial children is ubiquitous in South Korean society.[citation needed] A common language and culture also are viewed as important elements in Korean identity. Both North Korea and South Korea are among the world's most ethnically homogeneous nations.[citation needed]

South Korean schools have been criticized for hiring only white teachers who apply to teach English, because South Koreans positively regard fair skin color as representative of "Western" or "English"-ness.[68]

With South Korean society's passion for education, South Koreans can hold a stereotypical view of Jews as the model of academic excellence as well as Jews being very intelligent. Conversely, a survey by the Anti-Defamation League found that 53% of South Koreans show anti-semitic tendencies.[69] However, the half-Jewish journalist Dave Hazzan investigated on this result and found no anti-semitism in South Korea.[70] Moreover, Abe Foxman, head of the Anti-Defamation League, admitted that cultural norms affected the respondents' answers which has to be considered in future surveys.[70]


Malaysia is a multi–ethnic country, with Malays making up the majority—close to 52% of the 28 million population. About 30% of the population are Chinese Malaysians (Malaysians of Chinese descent), and Indian Malaysians (Malaysians of Indian descent) comprise about 10% of the population. Government policies of positive discrimination often favour the Malay majority with Bumiputra status, particularly in areas such as housing, finance and education. Such policies are protected by article 153 of the Constitution of Malaysia. The former long-term ruling party of UMNO also promoted Ketuanan Melayu: the idea that the ethnic Malays or Bumiputras should get special privileges in Malaysia. It was written into The Federation of Malaya Agreement signed on 21 January 1948 at King House by the Malay rulers and by Sir Edward Gent, as the representative of the British government, that Malays would lead the three main races. Malays dominate in: politics at both national and state levels; the civil service; military and security forces. Chinese have traditionally dominated the economy and live in large numbers in urban areas of Malaysia.

The Malay-controlled government ensures that all Bumiputras of Malay origin are given preferential treatment when it comes to the number of students placed in government universities. The Education Ministry’s matriculation programme allocates 90% for Bumiputras and 10% for non-Bumiputra students.[71]

Bumiputras are also given 7% discounts for new houses they purchase, and special Malay status reserved land in most housing settlements. Burial plots in most urban areas are for deceased Bumiputras, while the rest have to be cremated at such locations. All key government positions are to be held by Malays, including most sporting associations. Other forms of preferential treatment include the requirement of a minimum of a 30% Malay Bumiputra equity to be held in Listed Companies, full funding for mosques and Islamic places of worship (Islam is an official religion in Malaysia), special high earning interest trust funds for Bumiputra Malays, special share allocation for new share applications for Bumiputra Malays, and making the Malay language a compulsory examination paper to pass with a high emphasis given to it.[72] Even school textbooks have been criticised as racist, especially from Chinese and Indian-type schools who adopted learning methods from their respective countries. "Interlok" is a 1971 Malay language novel written by Malaysian national laureate Abdullah Hussain, with Chinese groups today condemning its depiction of Chinese characters as greedy, opium-smoking lechers keen to exploit Malays for profit. Some folks said that the Chinese were trying to conquer Malaysia as they did with Singapore. The Indian community earlier complained over the novel's use of the word "pariah". Chinese associations said the book was not only offensive to Indians but Chinese as well, as it depicted the character Kim Lock as a "miserly opium addict and callous adulterer" and his son, Cing Huat, as "cunning, greedy, unscrupulous and someone who would sell his daughters". "Interlok" was written based on the ideology of Ketuanan Melayu. The groups also condemned the "major thread" in the book, which depicts the Chinese "cheating and oppressing" Malays or as "nasty and immoral" communist guerrillas.

For Ramadan 2011, television station 8TV had some advertisements featuring a Chinese woman at a Ramadan bazaar. The condescending advertisements were pulled for being racist[73] following an online uproar, and the station was expected to apologise. Instead, they claimed the Ramadan advertisements were an "honest mistake" and went on to claim that the viewers misunderstood the clips.[25] The Ramadan advertisements – released as public service announcements (PSA) – appeared to be stereotyping Chinese people, depicting a socially inept Chinese woman embarrassing others at a Ramadan bazaar.[74] Some parts of the community claimed that they were "Islamophobic", especially among the Chinese in Malaysia. Quoting Austrian philosopher Karl Popper, the station said in its Facebook note: "It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." The PSAs clearly show disrespectful behaviour towards the Malaysian Muslim community and the religion itself. The PSAs highlighted the clueless behaviour of a Chinese woman played by an actor in scenes to demonstrate what might embarrass Muslim Malay hawkers and bazaar patrons alike. In one instance, the Chinese woman dressed in a sleeveless singlet, proudly showed her armpits, censored by pixels, to passers-by while touching a bunch of bananas. Each PSA was soon followed by a moral lesson, advising viewers on good public behaviour. One of these messages included "Do not be greedy and eat in public".[75]


Racist sentiments exist between citizens of Pakistan towards the citizens of Bangladesh. A strong anti-Bengali Pakistani regime during the Bangladesh Liberation War were strongly motivated by anti-Bengali racism within the establishment, especially against the Bengali Hindu minority.[76] This conflict goes back to when India was first partitioned into West Pakistan and East Pakistan when citizens of today's Pakistan dominated the original Pakistani government. Between 300,000 to 3 million "people" were killed during the 9-month-long conflict in 1971.[77][78] The Government of Bangladesh demands a formal apology for those atrocities from the Pakistani head of state, as well as putting on trial former military and political leaders who had played a role in the army action in then East Pakistan. Pakistan has continued to ignore this demand.[79]

Discrimination in Pakistan now is mainly based on religion,[80] social status[81] and gender.[82]


In the Philippines, preferential treatment was given to Spaniards and Spanish Mestizos during the Spanish colonization. After 1898, control of the islands passed on to new American overlords, who, together with a new generation of Amerasians, formed one of the country's social elite. Up to the present-day, descendants of White colonizers still obtain positive treatment while in the entertainment industry, actors/actresses are mostly of part-White descent.

Similarly, the status of Filipinos of Chinese descent varied throughout the colonial period. It is accepted generally, though, that repressive treatment toward Chinese were practised by both Filipinos and Spaniards together with Japanese immigrants and Americans during the colonial period. After independence in 1946, Chinese quickly assumed some of the top posts in finance and business. There were several setbacks, however, such as immigration policies deemed unfair toward migrants from China during President Ramon Magsaysay's term, as well as the limiting of hours for studying Chinese subjects in Chinese schools throughout the country, as promulgated by President Ferdinand Marcos.

In some ways, the Philippines is a surprisingly homogeneous society considering its multiplicity of languages, ethnicities and cultures.[83] The majority of the population is of Austronesian origin with small but economically important minorities of Chinese, White American, and Spanish descent. The Philippines is also home to an increasing number of immigrants from South Korea, India, Indonesia, Australia, the United Kingdom, Japan and other countries.


The term "pogrom" became commonly used in English after a large-scale wave of anti-Jewish riots swept through south-western Czarist Russia in 1881–1884. A much bloodier wave of pogroms broke out in 1903–1906, leaving an estimated 2,000 Jews dead. By the beginning of the 20th century, most European Jews lived in the so-called Pale of Settlement, the Western frontier of the Russian Empire consisting generally of the modern-day countries of Poland, Lithuania, Belarus and neighboring regions. Many pogroms accompanied the Revolution of 1917 and the ensuing Russian Civil War, an estimated 70,000 to 250,000 civilian Jews were killed in the atrocities throughout the former Russian Empire; the number of Jewish orphans exceeded 300,000.[84][85]

Racism inside Russia is quite a modern post-USSR phenomenon that has been steadily growing in the past decade. In the 2000s, neo-Nazi groups inside Russia have risen to include as many as tens of thousands of people.[86] Racism against both the Russian citizens (peoples of the Caucasus, indigenous peoples of Siberia and Russian Far East, etc.) and non-Russian citizens of Africans, Central Asians, East Asians (Vietnamese, Chinese, etc.) and Europeans (Ukrainians, etc.) is an ever-increasing problem.[87]

A Pew Global opinion poll showed that 25% of Russians had an unfavorable view of Jews.[88] Racism towards Central Asians is said to be widespread.[citation needed]


Since independence, Singapore has declared itself to be a multi-cultural society. The Singapore National Pledge is a declaration of anti-racism and the acceptance of all races and religions. Racial Harmony Day is celebrated in Singapore to mark the progress made since the 1964 race riots in Singapore. However, there remain hints of racism such as the social stigma attached to intermarriage of different ethnic groups.

There is a tendency towards collective cultural identity; that is a tendency to focus on group dynamics more at a societal than individual level. This in turn leads to an increased emphasis on being part of the 'in' group and not part of the 'other'. Many have on their identity document an ethnic classification of Other, although there have been recent reforms in 2011 that allow for double-barrel ethnic identifications like "Indian Chinese" or "Chinese Indian" for individuals of mixed heritage.[89]

It is still Chinese-Malay animosity that appears to pose the biggest threat in spite of general inter-racial tolerance. The potential dangers become stark under the threat of possible Jemaah Islamiah bombings in Singapore, which could result, it is feared, in some kind of a backlash against innocent Malay Muslims. The government has put in place plans involving religious and community leaders of all races to mitigate race violence in the wake of a potential terrorist attack.

Schools and Housing Development Board housing estates enforce ethnic quotas based on the race proportions to prevent racial enclaves. The system ensures the majority Chinese live with a certain ratio of Malays and Indians and vice versa. As a result, children grow up with at least some racial mixing both at school and in their residential blocks. For many years, community leaders have been organising cross-visits to celebrate each other's cultural and religious festivals.

Nonetheless, a number of young bloggers and commentators have been charged under the Sedition Act for making disparaging remarks about race and religion. One of the government's approaches to handle such 'hate speech' is to deal with expressions of extreme racism, e.g. on web sites, by way of the Sedition Act. However, this curtails freedom of speech in Singapore.

Anti-foreigner sentiments increased in the middle of the decade beginning in 2010 with house-owners and landlords refusing to rent properties to people from India]] and the People's Republic of China.[90][91]

In 2019, a 'brownface' advert featuring Dennis Chew in multiple racial attire with make up applied to exaggerate various racial features. This advertisement triggered a rap video in response which not only brought attention to the casual racism that minorities face in day to day life, but also attracted the attention of the authorities to the video creators.[92][93][94] Prior to this advertisement, there were several other 'brownface' incidents being reported as well.[95][96][97][98][99]


The Nationality Law of the Republic of China has been criticized[100] for its methods of determining which immigrants get citizenship.



The Sino-Vietnamese War resulted in the discrimination and consequent migration of Vietnam's ethnic Chinese. Many of these people fled as "boat people". In 1978-79, some 450,000 ethnic Chinese left Vietnam by boat as refugees (many officially encouraged and assisted) or were expelled across the land border with China.

See also[edit]


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