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Wednesday, May 5, 2004

Chinese here feel sting of prejudice

Staff writer

Huang Tianshu came to Japan from China five years ago, hoping to learn more about the language and culture of her peers at a China subsidiary of a Kobe-based car navigation system manufacturer, where she worked for six years after graduating from college.

Now a senior at Toyo Gakuen University in Tokyo and fluent in Japanese, she is looking forward to returning to her home country.

"As a foreigner, I can't picture myself living here for very long," said Huang, 33, sipping tea in a busy cafe in Akihabara, Tokyo, one recent afternoon.

"My friends who have gone to the U.S. and Canada say they have grown to like those countries and would like to settle there," she said. "I don't feel that way. Life doesn't get easier here with time."

Her feelings are probably echoed by many Chinese studying in Japan.

Coming to a country whose language you don't speak is tough enough. But many Chinese who have come to study here are encountering all kinds of prejudice, discrimination and inconveniences -- from being shushed for speaking Chinese on trains to being regarded by police as thieves for just walking on the street at night.

Huang said she was questioned by police one night last year while delivering a refrigerator to a student dormitory. She works part time as an assistant at student dormitories, and one of her duties is to get residents' broken appliances fixed.

The officer suspected her of stealing the refrigerator, and demanded she accompany him to a police station. Huang wasn't released until after being interrogated for hours, and she was offended by the officer's attitude.

"He never apologized," she said. "Would he have done the same if I were Japanese? I don't think so."

Fumio Takano, founder of the nonprofit organization Tokyo Alien Eyes, which works on behalf of foreign students in Japan, said public perceptions that all Chinese students are potential criminals are increasing, due in part to repeated remarks to that effect by politicians, including Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara.

"I never expected Chinese-bashing would become this fierce," he said.

One Chinese student at Tokyo Nichigo Gakuin, a Japanese-language school in the city of Saitama, observed that the 2003 killings of a Fukuoka family, for which former Chinese students stand accused, fostered the criminal image of Chinese students.

"Those people inflicted great harm on us," he said. "Now all Chinese students are considered evil. But there are a lot more people who study seriously here. I want people to realize that."

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