HONG KONG — Daniel Lou graduated from Peking University before entering Columbia University as a journalism major in the 1990s. After working for a few years for a Taiwanese newspaper, he became a businessman. He is also a diehard supporter of President Donald Trump, and has never stopped campaigning or fundraising for him since the 2016 election. According to Lou, all the Chinese-Americans who supported Trump last time will do the same in November.
Sun Yuanfan, another Chinese-American, has done everything in her power to oppose Trump. A Bernie Sander's backer and convinced of the centrality of racial issues, she remembers being discriminated against when she first landed in the US as a student. Though now economically comfortable, 24 years later, she is committed to fighting for those less well-off, and particularly sensitive to the plight of immigrants.
Also, in her view, Trump's trade war with China is "stupid" and it is the people at the bottom of society who have ended up being harmed. Moreover, in the face of COVID-19, "90% of masks in the U.S. come from China, and when China stops making them, the U.S. will face a shortage" — and Trump bears all the responsibility for America's struggle against the pandemic. Now that Sanders has pulled out, Sun must decide if she can vote for Joe Biden as "the lesser of two evils."
Robert Daly, the director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States, says that American politics has come to an unprecedented state of polarization, and that Chinese immigrant groups are not exempt.
The coronavirus has infected millions of people in the world while the Sino-U.S. trade war gets worse. Resentment against China has formed a near consensus across American society. Yet this has not united the Chinese immigrants. In fact, it has done just the opposite: with both Trump backers and critics growing more convinced of their respective stances.
Trump is a bit of a big-mouth and is boastful. But nobody is perfect.
Li Bin, a computer developer working in the Bay Area of California, voted for Obama in 2008, the year he was naturalized as an American citizen. However, he abstained in 2012 because he felt that "the Democrats didn't take care of the Chinese diaspora and minorities" as he used to believe when he first arrived in the US.
This time he is definitely voting for Trump, just like in 2016. "Chinese people abide by the rule of the law, work hard and place emphasis on education. These match perfectly with the Republican party philosophy," he said. "It's true, Trump is a bit of a big-mouth and is boastful. But nobody is perfect. Electing a president isn't about choosing a role model," Li concludes.
When Trump defeated Hillary Clinton, the consensus was that he'd won thanks to support from working-class whites. However, Trump supporters have an average annual income of $72,000, and two-thirds of people who voted for him earn more than the median income of Americans.
Liu Dong, a well-established artist living in New York confirmed this based on his observation of the numerous Chinese-American doctors, lawyers, real estate developers he has encountered. Two years ago, the government proposed to convert a hotel near his house into a shelter for the homeless, sparking massive protests from the Chinese community. The opening of a medical marijuana shop in New York also outraged Chinese Americans who are generally conservative, as did the recent decision to release some inmates from New York's prisons in order to prevent the spread of the pandemic.
The use of the term "Chinese virus" by Trump has set off a wave of arguments among the Chinese diaspora. Some people believe it is plain racism whereas others are convinced that Trump is absolutely right. The truth that matters is that a lot of Chinese immigrants actually support Trump's intention of linking the coronavirus with China.
"There are two connotations for the world Chinese – namely that which comes from China and the Hua-ren (華人), meaning the ethnic group of the Chinese diaspora. Trump talked about a virus from China, not about the Chinese Americans," said Li Bin defending Trump.
Tang Min, an IT engineer working in Wall Street and a Shanghai native also supported Trump's claim. "The whole world is in such a mess, and it's China's fault. The authorities concealed information and the origin of the virus," Tang said.
Meanwhile, Liu Dong attributes Chinese Americans' support of Trump to a lack of basic humanistic values. "They often have a strong scientific background and good command of English. But their culture is still stuck in the ancient Chinese system," he argued.
Activists hold a "Chinese Americans For Trump" banner. — Photo: mccauleys-corner
According to Liu, many Chinese Americans loath China's era of "Da-guo-fan", which translates as Big ricebowl in English, to refer to communist egalitarian philosophy that everybody should be on equal footing. Thus, the big government policies of the Democratic Party bring back bad memories for them.
In the diaspora, feelings toward China are a mix of love and hate.
But for Liu, this still has great value, and Trump's approach is repugnant, and he hopes his American citizenship comes through by November to help "pull Trump out of the White House. Anyone will do as long as he is out."
The coronavirus has completely disrupted the social and political order in the U.S. In an article recently published in The Wall Street Journal, Walter Russell Mead, a professor at Bard College, wrote that "President Trump's likeliest path to re-election runs through Beijing. With the economy in a shamble and the pandemic ravaging the country, making the election a referendum on China is perhaps Trump's only chance."
Tang Min is fine with that. He feels that Chinese forces have seriously penetrated the U.S. and cannot be taken lightly. Like many Americans of Chinese origin, Tang's feeling towards China is a mix of love and hate. Though living far away from their native land, they more or less still benefit from the country's economic boom. Many own real estate there or their businesses have an intersection with China. But they can't bear China's trade barriers, its trampling of human rights or its official propaganda machine.
In Liu Dong's view, many supporters back Trump because they like the idea of "a rogue versus a rogue" — a tussle between him and Chairman Xi Jinping.
Cheng Yizhong, a dissident journalist working in the US, stated that "A lot of Chinese Americans' minds are extremely distorted and confused." He asks an age-old question: "Does an enemy of one's enemy become one's friend?"
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