Picture of the University of Glasgow
Credit: Steve Houldsworth

A clash of cultures: the western double standard

Picture of the University of Glasgow

Credit / Steve Houldsworth

Jimmy Brock

Chinese students face a culture of prejudice in Western universities

Our attitudes towards Chinese international students across the western world have highlighted how uncomfortable we are with those who look and speak differently, and our reluctance to share privileges we believe should be for us, and only us.

Essentially, we treat our largest international student population differently because they don’t have the same values, and they don’t look like us.

For English-speaking students, language barriers rarely pose an inconvenience at European and international universities. In fact, many courses in China are taught entirely in English. The world is generally very welcoming to English-speaking international students, and yet we treat the many Chinese students that want to be a part of our own education system differently, holding them to an unrealistic and hypocritical standard.

This really hit home when I was in Melbourne over the summer. Due to proximity and reputation, Melbourne has a relatively high population of Chinese students. One morning, in early July this year, the city’s Chinese student body were greeted by racist posters spread across campus. They read, in shaky mandarin: “Chinese are forbidden from going in. Any violation will face charges or deportation.”

These acts of racism highlight a worrying trend that is not isolated to Australia, nor is it always so brazen. On my return to Glasgow, it became clear how acceptable ostracising students from China and other prosperous East Asian countries has become. They are ridiculed for not speaking English to a high standard, or for not being integrated into the domestic student population. Even their clothes and personal style are singled out and mocked online.

Yet European students with similar levels of English are simply not given the same treatment. This seemingly comes down to two facts: China now far surpasses Britain and every other country, bar America, in its economic power and influence, and it adopts a value system that is not based on western capitalism. Proponents of the argument that Chinese students are simply not being “respectful” to western culture seem to only barely conceal a broader fear we have of cultures detached from a western capitalist doctrine. I can’t help but think that these weak and hypocritical arguments seem to reek of a subconscious, insidious belief that different cultures shouldn’t be in an economically-superior position to the west.

This is most aptly illustrated by the hypocrisy with which our media presents travelers from China, as opposed to those from our own country. For instance, in 2016, The Times voted the travelling population of China the “worst in the world.” The New York Times went further, suggesting that Chinese tourists earned a bad reputation due to an interest in shopping, rather than in sightseeing or history.

Every country has tourists that occasionally give it a bad name, but, unlike Britain, the Chinese government hasn’t been forced to send their police force to deal with violent tourists in the Greek islands. Middle-class Chinese students don’t hold placards in South East Asia asking for native citizens to fund their gap year. As for the supposed lack of cultural engagement of Chinese tourists in white-majority countries, even if this wild generalisation were true, why should tourists or students from a country that modern-era Britain has viciously attacked and exploited feel obligated to visit an imperial war museum? Or, indeed, why should they visit the seat of the very monarchy that sent ships to destroy their country’s prosperity and peace?

The only conclusion I can draw from this double standard is that people essentially resent that a large portion of a non-western country can now go on lots of holidays and send their children to study abroad just like us. We use things like the language barrier, the volume of students, or other hypocritical arguments, to conceal the fact that our ill-feeling towards them is irrational and racist. I suggest we take the £14 billion-plus that non-EU international students bring to our economy every year ー as well as a seat ー and humble ourselves.


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