With the US presidential election campaign entering its final stretch, I conducted an informal survey this week among my Chinese friends who reside in America. My poll comprised a dozen or so professionals and housewives aged 40 to 55, all born in mainland China but partly educated or trained in the US. And the result: about 75% support Donald Trump and only 25% Hillary Clinton.
The pro-Trump camp consisted mostly of men (and two women) and they were much more passionate about their candidate than those supporting Clinton.
I was shocked. Yes, we Chinese tend to be more conservative because we pride ourselves on hard work and self-reliance, and we look down on anyone who gets welfare. It’s a popular belief among the Chinese that the welfare system in Western countries has fostered laziness and destroyed productivity and competitiveness over the past decades – a period during which China itself experienced a meteoric rise in economic development and wealth creation.
To a certain extent I agree with this argument. But I never thought that my Chinese peers would go for Trump – a candidate whom I feel is unfit to be president and whom I’d assumed would have alienated my friends by persistently bashing China for “stealing jobs” from America.
So I probed the Trump supporters. Here is what I found.
They veer to Trump on the basis of economics and race. They accuse the Democrats of favouring blacks, Hispanics and illegal immigrants in areas of welfare, jobs and housing. And they believe that this comes at the expense of the hard-working, law-abiding and education-focused (legal) Chinese immigrants.
They are especially resentful of “affirmative action” at top universities where they say ethnic Chinese students are at a disadvantage compared with other groups. A California-based friend has been rather vocal about this over the years and he acknowledged that he would vote for Trump mostly based on this issue.
A Pittsburgh-based friend told me that Democrats and “affirmative action” have only helped blacks and Hispanics and destroyed equal opportunity for all.
Another university friend forwarded me an article which represents a lot of the Trump supporters’ views. It compares the US under Democrat presidents to post-apartheid South Africa, where there is no longer a vibrant middle-class but only a broken economy and excessive violence.
Shocking and racist? Yes, but I’m not too surprised. Firstly, I’m well aware that racial tension between Chinese communities and African Americans have increased in the past decade. Thanks to WeChat and Sina Weibo, I regularly come across reports of Chinese students, tourists, delivery men and shop owners being robbed or murdered in America by African Americans. The case of Peter Liang of the NYPD who shot and killed an unarmed black man earlier this year also received wide attention on Chinese social media, where there were petitions of support for Liang (see WiC315).
Last month, there was news of a Chinese shopkeeper in Atlanta who shot at three black intruders, with the incident captured on surveillance cameras. The story went viral across the Chinese-language media, where she was lauded as a hero.
Besides the racially-motivated rhetoric, there is also a cultural angle to this. China has a long history of authoritarian rule and – as the world’s most populous country – a lot of Chinese simply don’t believe in Western-style democracy. Movie star Jackie Chan’s comments in 2009 that the Chinese need to be “controlled” to avoid chaos (see WiC12) actually resonates with many of my Chinese friends inside and outside China. My Pittsburgh-based friend said it’s not always a good idea to “give the proletariat too much power and money”. That may partly explain why so many Chinese immigrants prefer ‘demagogue’ Trump’s politically-incorrect talk on immigration, trade, terrorism, inner city problems, and so forth.
When I asked one of my oldest female friends, who is married to an Oklahoman, if she is still voting for Trump even after so many women claim to have been sexually assaulted by him, she replied: “Yes! We’ll support him even more. He is human. He talks bad but Hillary has been doing bad. He puts Americans first. Hillary will be another term of Obama, during whose time America lost power, illegal immigrants infested the country, and Americans suffered from lower salaries and extremely expensive healthcare under the Affordable Care Act. Under Obama’s watch, race hatred exploded and terrorists are out of control.”
Then again, not all of those who said they were voting for Trump were Trump supporters per se. A Connecticut-based girlfriend, a brilliant engineer with multiple degrees from the prestigious Tsinghua University, told me that she is voting for the Republican Party instead of the candidate. Again, her conservative instincts are coming to the fore. She said she is against Obamacare and liberal social policies, and she’s concerned that a Democrat-nominated Supreme Court justice may be too liberal for her liking.
A native Chinese who grew up in northeastern China, Mei attended an elite university in Beijing in the late 1980s and graduate school in the US in the early 1990s. Over two decades she has worked in the US, Hong Kong and mainland China, both in the media and with two global investment banks, where she has honed her bicultural perspective.
If you’d like to ask her a question, send her an email at [email protected]
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