Chinese Tourists are Returning to France, But Racism Hasn’t Gone Anywhere

In 2016, the number of Chinese visiting France declined dramatically. Data from the Office of Tourism and the French Congress demonstrate a 25% decline in Chinese tourism. This is significantly higher than the 6% decline in tourism overall, a drop that is mostly attributed to the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris. However, the disproportionate difference between the decline in general tourism and Chinese tourism indicates that something else is going on for Chinese tourists.

Chinese travelers historically favored France as a vacation destination, but acts of aggression against people of Chinese heritage are prompted them to look elsewhere for their travels. In 2016, a group of 26 Chinese tourists were assaulted by six men while boarding a bus. In 2017 in Val-de-Marne, a French department southeast of Paris, four men targeted forty Chinese tourists in a tear-gas attack and robbery outside a hotel known for having a large Chinese clientele. Less than two weeks after the gas attack, three Chinese exchange students were deliberately hit by an automobile in Blagnac.

Because France does not collect data about ethnicity, even for crime statistics, it is difficult to know the exact number of crimes against people of Chinese heritage. The crimes against Chinese often begins as a robbery, motivated by the stereotype that Chinese individuals are more likely to carry cash. These robberies often escalate to the point of physical harm. Available statistics reveal that the number of violent robberies targeting the Chinese in Aubervilliers, a suburb of Paris, increased from 35 in 2015 to 105 in 2016 during the January-August period. This represents a rise from 7% to 16% of total violent robberies in Aubervilliers. Robbery and assault are the most prevalent threats against Chinese individuals in France.

A protest at the Place de la Republique on April 2, 2017, over the death of Liu Shaoyo. (c) AFP

Richard Behara, the author of China in Paris, describes the Chinese as just recently migrating to France. He states that Chinese travelers and minors are particularly vulnerable to violence, but “for fear of the police, they prefer to silence their suffering.” According to Behara, 90% of Chinese in France are victims of at least one assault per year. “[The Chinese] are still perceived as being capitalists, wealthy, dominant, and not worthy of defense.”

Chinese officials in China and France have repeatedly expressed concern over the safety of their citizens and people of Chinese heritage. According to Jean-François Zhou, the president of the Chinese Association of Vacation Agencies (ACAVF), “not a day goes by” that Chinese tourists are not assaulted in France. He asserts that this is “because [the Chinese] are known to travel with large amounts of cash.”

In recent years, Chinese tourists and residents of France have begun to retaliate. Four thousand protestors took to the streets after the death of Chaolin Zhang in August of 2016, a Chinese tailor in Aubervilliers who was violently robbed by a group teenagers, and died from the injuries. In an editorial, Caroline Chu, a Chinese woman living in Paris, described how her Asian features make her an ideal target for violence. “I was peacefully walking not far from my home when when two men attacked me by surprise and threw me to the ground … one of the two men leaned down to take away my bag.” She explains that “others, who had too much shame to speak out before, began to tell the same story,” making her realize that Chinese-targeted robbery was more common than she had previously believed. The youngest generation of Chinese in France have reacted by creating their own movement, the Chinese Youth Association in France, which made it their goal in 2015 to combat discrimination against the Chinese.

French politicians have voiced their support for the Chinese community after extensive protest efforts, and the French government has invested substantial amounts in security for tourists. In February 2018, according to European Travel Commission Executive Director Eduardo Santander, “the Chinese are very alert to questions of security, [but] they tend to forget more easily than other tourists.” This, as well as increasing security measures broadly appear to be producing positive results for French tourism, with a 7.7% increase in general tourism (89 M up from 82.6 M), and a 19.3% increase in Chinese tourism. According to French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves le Drian “After the downturn following the attacks in 2015, the recovery is here.”

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