Because of the great paranoia that generated the Coronavirus coming from China, several episodes of racism and violence against Chinese citizens in different countries of the world are being unleashed. The horror generated by an unknown virus mixed with widespread sinophobia (anti-Chinese sentiment) generally affects the “almond-eyed” people who are our fellow citizens.

I met Sun, about 18 years ago, in Siena, at the university. He called himself Sole (Italian translation on Sun, ndt); a really sunny, young and bright boy. Sun was the object of a racist attack during the famous Sars virus outbreak. Today he lives in Shanghai and tells us in his words what it means to be a victim of collective paranoia and how important it is to know how to appreciate people’s hearts, without defining them as a threat, or simply as a virus.

“I was in Siena when SARS occurred in 2003, I was 20 years old then. Back then, I didn’t really understand too many things around me, or I shall say I couldn’t care less about anything else other than taking care of myself. Schooling and working part-time as delivery guy for Chinese takeaway had occupied most of my time. I was exhausted by so-called everyday life.

One night, as I was walking back home from work, a group of local youngsters approached me and screamed at my face, SARS! We don’t want you here, you Chinese get the hell out of my country! Didn’t have time to think, I was shocked and furious, the rage of my anger reached to tipping point in a split second, I shouted back at them. Knowing that wasn’t a smart thing to do, but it was too late for that, and what happened next proved it. I was badly beat up by all six or seven of them. Alone and hurt, I slowly got back up from the ground, and start to move my legs toward home, because there wasn’t anything I could do…but it wasn’t over, at least it wasn’t for them, they had no intension of letting me go…they followed me, and continued to insult me with jokes and laughter. So, I did something, something that I regret even until today. I rushed home and grabbed a kitchen knife, rushed back downstairs, and slashed at the young man who hit me first. Somehow, the knife missed him, but I was there swinging it, and later on, when a roommate of mine who is also Chinese saw me fighting on my own, he went in the crowd and joined the scuffle. And all I remember was the police came shortly after. My shoes were missing, my clothes were torn, and we were all taken to the nearby police station, handcuffed.

In the hallway of the police station, where we were asked to sit and wait, my fear struck in, I knew I was in trouble, and had no clue what’s going to happen to me next, I was devasted. The youngsters sat not far from me, by the coffee machine, they were chatting while causally sipping on coffee, one even tried to tell to me that how they’d take care of me once we get out… I took a good look at them, they’re about the same age as me, or maybe even younger… I was exhausted from the fight, the pain from the injuries of my body also starts to kick in, I was suffering…moments later, I decided to talk to them, I wanted to speak for myself – You have your families here, your mum cooks for you, washes your clothes… we are about the same age, on top of going to school, learning the language, I have to work hard to make money so I can survive in Italy. I am worried about my rent next month, I need to figure out how much I can spend on food, every single day. What did I do wrong? Is it just because I am Chinese trying to make a living in this country?! The laughter stopped, they became quiet… Soon after, one young men with blonde hair came over and said to me that – “I apologize for my friends action, it wasn’t the right thing to do bullying you at first, but you shouldn’t have never taken the knife, it was just too exaggerated, and I will tell the police the truth, about what really happened”.

His honesty prevented me from a 3 years sentence in prison, and we also agreed to settle the case outside the court. At the end, my charge was disputed, but I had to pay 3,000 Euros as handling fee to the lawyer, which was quite a disaster for someone like me who makes 15 euros a day at that time. I didn’t tell my parents about it, I was too afraid to tell, because I knew they’d be upset and worried if I did. I’m not a person who likes to cry, but when later on my dad called me on the phone and asked me how I was doing in Italy, I broke down, my tears just wouldn’t stop pouring out, although I still told him that I was doing fine.

In the next few years, after the incident, my only goal was to earn more money so I can pay off my lawyer fee, my priority had switched, and I failed spectacularly at school. The Chinese roommate who fought with me was asked by parents to return home, we never met again. Because of me, he paid his due, a great one, not the one that him or his parents were wished for, and all is down to me, I fell responsible for it. They say, life is a circle, my other life lesson was learned 2 years later. When I move to a new house, I ended up living in an area where the youngsters also lived. I see them almost every day, and every time when I bump into them on the street, it just remined me of the reason that I am working my arse now is all because of them, it wasn’t a good feeling and I blamed them for where it was gotten me, I hated them.

I remember it was a summer morning, I left home for work. When I went downstairs, I saw there were people dressed in black gathering at the church entrance. I walked pass the church, there was this huge photo of a young man displayed in the centre of the church, it was a photo of a young man, the young man who got me into the fight 2 years ago, the young man who I’d hated for 2 years, he had gone, passed away in a car accident. Coming from nowhere, I suddenly felt a huge loss of emptiness. All the hatred in my heart was replaced by complicated yet mixed emotions. he was 19, he was younger than I was. I knew I hated him, but when I saw his picture in the church, I felt like I had lost a friend, someone who was closed to me. For some reason, I was hoping that he was still alive, so we’d fight again, because at least he is alive, not dead, not gone forever. Hartery is so small, when you compare it with death. From that day on, I gradually learned to accept the people I didn’t use to accept, I learned to appreciate things that I didn’t use to appreciate. No matter how we met, where we met, we met for a reason, we met for a purpose, and we shall all treat each other equally. At least since that day I have not been wishing anyone death, because that feeling of emptiness was too bad. 

Time passes fast, after 17 years, we are facing another great challenge of the century, the Coronavirus. Seeing people outside China putting on a different look towards Chinese people because of it just reminds me of my pasts, what I have experienced. We often live our lives with labels attached, perhaps this label favouritism / racism is something we should all think about. Yes, I am Chinese, and you may be Italian, and yes, we do have culture differences and things that we don’t agree with, but we often forget that we are all human beings. As human beings, we all have our wrongs and rights, we all have our good side and dark side. What’s important is that human have feelings. Viruses are terrible, but what’s even worse is to live in a world that is without empathy and love. I sincerely hope that after this epidemic has passed, not only our bodies will recover, but also our numb and unloved hearts.