Western media says Hong Kong protests are “clean and orderly.” Is that racist?
Updated by Max Fisher on October 2, 2014, 5:50 p.m. ET @Max_Fisher firstname.lastname@example.org
If you’ve read more than a couple of articles in the Western press about the ongoing pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, you have probably encountered an article describing, in a tone that might sound like surprise or wonder, just how clean and orderly the demonstrations have been.
This has led some observers, including a number of reporters writing these stories, to argue that this orderliness shows the unique and praise-worthy cultural traits of Hong Kongers, whom they describe as more responsible and peaceful than protesters in other parts of the world. Meanwhile, other observers have argued that such media coverage is racist, either because it indulges stereotypes of orderly, well-behaved Chinese or because it implies that non-Chinese protesters are more violent. …
At the same time, however, Hong Kong’s protesters are not the first in the history of protest to do this. This was also a major, pointed activity at the 2011 Egyptian protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, for example, and in Istanbul’s Taksin Gezi Park in 2013, and in Ferguson, Missouri, earlier this year.
… But a number of China-focused writers, who are otherwise rightly considered among the most talented in foreign journalism, have explicitly written that this practice is unique to Hong Kong's protests, which is categorically false. (A weakness of regional specialists can be this loss of context.) Worse, they have portrayed this story as indicating the praise-worthy cultural traits of people in Hong Kong. Positive stereotypes are still stereotypes; in the American context, these traits of cleanliness and obedience are often central to positive stereotypes of Chinese people as a model minority, which is patronizing and racist.