If you have traveled internationally, you will probably be familiar with meeting people in other countries who - after finding out where you are from - suddenly reference some random bit of pop culture from your country that you have no fucking idea what they are talking about. In China, if you say you are Canadian, you will almost certainly hear about the great Canadian hero 白求恩.
I think i can safely say that nobody in Canada has ever heard of 白求恩.
白求恩 is the Chinese name for Norman Bethune, a Canadian doctor who became a Communist during the 1930s, then moved to China in 1938 to serve under Mao Zedong in the war against Japan. He died a year later. Mao wrote an essay praising Bethune's selfless Communist spirit, and that essay continues to be taught in Chinese schools today.
When people ask me where i'm from, i say Canada, then they reply with, "just like 白求恩!" Now i can nod sagely, as i know his story well. "Yes, i'm just like 白求恩!" A true 外国朋友 (foreign friend).
There is another famous Canadian in China - 大山 - a comedian who moved here in the 80s and became a staple of television in the following decade. There is only a narrow age-group who mention him, though. He's just a 90s TV personality, after all, not a noble Communist martyr.
I suspect it's performative, when people mention 白求恩 in public. Gotta mention the martyr, you never know who might be listening.
Anyway, life in China was good as a Canadian, right up until Meng Wanzhou - CFO of Huawei - was arrested in 2018. As usual, whenever anyone, anywhere in the world does anything that pisses off the CPC, they unleash their internet attack dogs to claim that [insert target here] has "crossed the bottom line of civilized society" or "hurt the feelings of the Chinese people". Immediately several Canadians in China were arrested in retaliation, and when the Canadian government protested the vague charges of their arrest, the Chinese government accused Canada of engaging in "white supremacy".
The most infuriating thing is that Canada arrested Meng Wanzhou on America's behalf. There was an outstanding warrant for her arrest, and Canada has an extradition treaty with the US. But the CPC doesn't care about the rule of law, they only care about crafting a narrative of China being bullied and oppressed by foreigners. The fabulous irony happened a few months later, when the protests against the law that would enable extradition from Hong Kong to mainland China kicked off. Suddenly all the CPC trolls had to flip the script on extradition and praise it as an entirely legal and very wonderful idea.
During all that shit, i contacted the Canadian embassy and officially listed myself as a foreign national in China, just to make sure i would have some kind of support in case the xenophobia hit a point where the government would just start fucking over anyone with a maple leaf passport.
I didn't hear anything from the Canadian embassy until coronavirus hit. Then they kept in pretty regular contact, and i cannot praise them enough. They gave good advice, they provided contact numbers, they let us know exactly when and where to get direct flights out of the country.
Yesterday was the most chilling email yet.
They sent an advice that "Canadians of colour" should consider leaving China, due to the extremely fucking racist bullshit that has been going down in Guangzhou over the past couple weeks.
Guangzhou has a small part of town known as Little Africa, and there are a few thousand African migrants living there. The local stereotype is that they are mostly illegal immigrants and drug dealers. The government publicly likes to present China as a friend of the continent, altruistically helping lift the African people out of poverty. But the government can also easily squash rumors and racist chatter on the internet, so you always know their true feelings when you look at what they don't censor.
They didn't censor the hilarious memes about how "foreign trash" is bringing the coronavirus to China, which included a cartoon of a black man being thrown into a garbage can and sprayed by a Chinese in a hazmat suit.
They didn't censor the shitshow that ensued after a Nigerian man allegedly bit a nurse while trying to escape quarantine. They didn't censor the comments that black people were criminals who should be deported.
Now it turns out that black people in Guangzhou have been evicted from their homes and some are sleeping on the streets. Hotels in Guangzhou have been instructed not to provide rooms to foreigners. A man here in Shenzhen was made to get tested for corona, despite not having left China in a year. Others in Guangzhou have been rounded up and forced into quarantine, even if they already tested negative, even if they have a green health code on the government-approved app. And now the Canadian embassy is saying your citizenship doesn't matter either. 白求恩 won't protect you. If you're black, you're not welcome here.
So, yeah, that email made me feel really great about staying in Guangdong.