Racism in Asia

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


In 2015, the ruling Awami League Member of Parliament, Elias Mollah,[1] commented on his trip to the Democratic Republic of the 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 who 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 a condition of its 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" (groups of immigrants whose members were not recognized as citizens of the Union of Burma) led to an exodus of some 300,000 Burmese Indians who were victims of Ne Win's discriminatory policies, particularly after the wholesale nationalisation of private enterprise in 1964.[6][7] Some Muslim refugees who entered Bangladesh also suffer there because the Bangladeshi government provided no support to them 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 have fled to other surrounding countries, and major Muslim nations.[10][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 have fled 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 who live 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 the Khmer Rouge's genocide and emigration, only about 61,400 Chinese remained in the country. The Cham, a Muslim minority group whose members are the descendants of migrants from the old state of Champa, were forced to adopt the Khmer people's 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 suggested 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][32] For example, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination reported in 2018 that Chinese law does not define "racial discrimination" and lacks an anti-racial discrimination law in line with the Paris Principles.[33]

Discrimination against African students has occurred since the arrival of Africans to Chinese universities in the 1960s.[34][35][36] A known incident in 1988 featured Chinese students rioting against African students studying in Nanjing.[37][34][38] 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.[39][40] According to Foreign Policy, African students have reportedly been subjected to more frequent drug testing than students from other regions.[41] Accordingly, some Chinese vloggers have attempted to change the negative stereotypes in their country regarding Africa,[42] while black expats residing in China have reported a mixture of positive and negative experiences.[43][44][45] Reports of racism against Africans in China grew during the COVID-19 pandemic in mainland China.[46][47][48][49]

Hong Kong[edit]

With a population of 7.3 million[50] 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).[51][52] In 2003, the number of complaints filed with the body handling discrimination issues, the Equal Opportunities Commission[53] 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 intrusive policies of the central government[54] 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.[54] 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.[55] Tensions have grown between Hong Kong and mainland China since the handover.

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.[56] This deleterious effect on the economy has caused some Hong Kong residents to refer to Mainland residents as "locusts";[57] they are seen as invaders who swarm into the city and drain its resources.[58]

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".[59] 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 varna (Hinduism) system was equivalent to division of labour and a Shudra's son (the lowest varna) could not become a Brahmin.The discrimination have been occurred many centuries before the British arrival which is found in Hindu Mythologies and their history. But later this system became more hereditary and a Shudra's son would remain a Shudra, and this came to be known as the 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).[60] 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'.[61]

In recent years there discrimination against people from North-East India and South India has been reported. In 2007, the North East Support Centre & Helpline (NESC&H) was started as a separate wing of All India Christian Council. Its stated goal is to increase awareness regarding prejudice and attacks against people from North-East India.[62] Many North-Eastern Indians face discrimination; are refused living accommodations when they travel to urban areas to study;[63] and are subjected to racial slurs[64] in reference to the appearance of their eyes. A spokesman for the NESC&H has stated that abuse and harassment of North-Easterners is increasing.[65] A World Values Survey reported India as the 2nd least tolerant country in the world, as 43.5% of Indians responded that they would prefer not to have neighbors of a different race.[66] The most recent survey, however, in 2016, conducted by the World Values Survey, found that 25.6% of the people living in India would not want a person of a different race to be their neighbour.[67]


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.[68]

Amnesty International has estimated more than 100,000 Papuans, one-sixth of the population, have died as a result of violence against West Papuans,[69][70] while others had previously specified much higher death tolls.[71] 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.[72]


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. Discrimination and racism against Afghan refugees in Iran are widespread. The United Nations panel said "Arabs, Kurds and other minorities in Iran face discrimination because of their ethnicity."[73] The U.N. urged Iran to tackle racism on Arab, Azeri, Balochi, and Kurdish communities and some communities of non-citizens.[74]


Organizations such as Amnesty International, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, and the United States Department of State[75] 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.[76] 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."[77] The 2008 report from ACRI says the trend of increasing racism is continuing.[78]


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.[79][80] 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.[81]

Japan only accepted 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.[82][83] Former Prime Minister Taro Aso called Japan a "one race" nation.[84] A 2019 Ipsos poll has also suggested that Japanese respondents had a lower sympathy for refugees compared to the other surveyed nations.[85]

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.[86]


According to a 2013 study conducted by Scandinavian academics, Jordanians are the most racist nationality in the world, followed by Indians at second place.[87]


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.[88]

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.[89] 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[90] 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.[91] 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 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, showing her armpits censored by pixels, to passers-by while touching a bunch of bananas. Each PSA was soon followed by a message on public behaviour. One of them included "Do not be greedy and eat in public".[92]

In the 2010-2014 World Values Survey, 59.7% of Malaysian respondents indicated that they would not want immigrants or foreign workers as neighbours, which was among the highest out of the countries surveyed.[93]


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 is still significant 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.[94]

Schools and the Housing and 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.

Such racist sentiments have not escaped those in power. In 1992, former PAP MP Mr Choo Wee Khiang said: "One evening, I drove to Little India and it was pitch dark but not because there was no light, but because there were too many Indians around."[95]

Since 2010, anti-foreigner sentiments have been significant with house-owners and landlords refusing to rent properties to people from India and the People's Republic of China.[96] A 2019 YouGov poll has revealed similar results, with Singaporean respondents showing the highest percentage of bias against mainland Chinese and Indian travellers out of all the nations surveyed.[97][98]

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.[99][100][101] Prior to this advertisement, there were several other 'brownface' incidents being reported as well.[102][103][104][105][106]

In July 2019, A 47-year-old man was sentenced to four weeks' jail and issued a S$1,000 fine for a number of offences including subjecting an India lift passenger to racist remarks.[107]

In June 2020, a mother and son were being investigated for using racist terminology in breach of racial harmony, when referring to people of African origin during an Instagram video.[108]

Singaporeans are not the only ones to express racist ideas to foreigners. There have also been incidents by foreigners who have been accused of being discriminatory to locals and has generated a lot of negative publicity over comments made about locals[109][110][111][112] In the case of banker Anton Casey, he had posted comments on Facebook in 2014 which had abused, variously, a taxi driver and Singaporean commuters in general.[113] For Filipino nurse Ello Ed Mundsel Bello, in 2015 he suggested that Singaporeans could not compete with Filipinos.[114] Mr Sonny Truyen, in his exasperation that Pokémon Go was not available in Singapore, made condescending remarks about Singapore.[115]

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). A common language and culture also are viewed as important elements in Korean identity.

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.[116]

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.[117] However, the half-Jewish journalist Dave Hazzan investigated on this result and found very little anti-semitism in South Korea.[118] 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.[118]


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.[119] 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 and 3 million "people" were killed during the 9-month-long conflict in 1971.[120][121] 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.[122]

Discrimination in Pakistan now is mainly based on religion,[123] social status[124] and gender.[125]


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 the Americans, 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.[126] The majority of the population is of Austronesian origin with small but economically important minorities of Chinese, White American, and Spanish descent.


Taiwanese nationality law has been criticized[127] 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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