Anti-foreign sentiment directed primarily at African students flared into rioting in the city of Nanjing on Christmas weekend, injuring 13, according to reports reaching Beijing on Monday.
The trouble began Saturday evening with an argument between African students and university gatekeepers. It developed into a rock-throwing attack by Chinese students on a foreign students’ dormitory at Hehai University, according to American and African students who spoke by telephone with reporters in Beijing.
Call for Punishment
The official New China News Agency, in a report Monday, portrayed the incident as an attack by African students on university employees, which led to a clash between African and Chinese students and then to a demonstration Sunday by Chinese students calling for punishment of the alleged assailants. The agency said 11 Chinese and two Africans were injured Saturday evening.
About 130 African students took refuge in Nanjing’s central railway station Monday while a crowd of about 1,000 Chinese marched through the streets shouting anti-African slogans and criticizing favoritism in treatment of foreigners, according to David Wivell, an American student at Nanjing University who was interviewed by telephone.
“They were shouting ‘Down with the black devils!’ and ‘Blood for blood!’ The Africans will not leave the train station,” Wivell said. “They do not feel safe in the station, and they feel less safe anywhere else.”
The Africans were seeking arrangements to board a train as a group and travel to Beijing, according to Wivell and other students who spoke with reporters.
Other witnesses told reporters in Beijing that several thousand Chinese youths yelling anti-African slogans gathered at the train station later Monday.
Several Americans, who spoke on condition that they not be identified by name, said that many in the crowd believed that a Chinese person was killed in the Saturday night incident. But Chinese authorities continued to tell reporters that no one had died.
On Monday evening, police put the African students on buses, and they were driven away, according to a witness. The New China News Agency reported early today that the students were “persuaded by local officials to go back to their dormitories.”
The news agency said the incident started when gatekeepers asked two African students to show their identity cards and register the names of the Chinese dates they had brought to a dance.
The Africans refused, and other Africans then “forced the door open and pushed the doormen,” the agency said.
“Using iron sticks, bottles and rocks, some African students attacked university employees, who came to the spot to maintain order, and Chinese teachers and students who just went by,” the agency asserted. “A clash thus took place between the African and Chinese students.”
An African student who spoke by telephone with the Associated Press in Beijing said he first became aware of trouble when rocks and bottles began flying into the dance hall.
Pelted With Rocks, Bottles
He said a crowd of angry Chinese surrounded two dormitory buildings that house primarily African students and pelted them with rocks and bottles for seven hours Saturday night.
A band of Chinese returned to the Hehai campus at noon Sunday and resumed throwing rocks and bottles at the dormitory buildings, he said. The crowd then marched to other campuses, where they also threw rocks and bottles at dormitories housing African students, he said.
Estimates of the number of Chinese involved in Saturday’s incident ranged from several hundred to more than a thousand, while students said the crowd on Sunday numbered 2,000 or more.
Wivell said that during the last two days, there has also been some “verbal antagonism” directed at non-African foreigners in the city.
Foreigners in China receive preferential treatment in terms of residence facilities and access to quality food, while at the same time facing a host of barriers designed to limit their contact with ordinary Chinese. These policies foster resentment by foreigners against the restrictions imposed on them and bitterness by some Chinese about the special treatment.
Widespread Racial Bias
The situation of African students--who have been involved in similar incidents several times during the last eight years--is compounded by widespread racial prejudice. In ordinary Chinese conversation, the label “black devil” is often used to refer to Africans.
There also is conflict between the cultural patterns of many African students--most of whom are men--and the puritanical Chinese social environment in which they find themselves.
“The African students have a strong tendency to have parties, to drink a lot and to associate with females,” Wivell said. “The Chinese react very negatively to that. Many of them think of the Africans as stepping out of the woods and just coming to China, and having no culture. They’re very prejudiced here.”
Tensions at Hehai University began to rise several weeks ago, when construction began on a wall near the foreign students’ dormitory complex.
The African students believed authorities intended to extend the wall to surround their compound, thus making it easier to control access to the building, students said. The Africans responded by tearing down the partially constructed wall and were then threatened with having to pay to rebuild it, the students said. The threat was dropped after a protest sit-in by the students, according to these sources.