#Open journalism No news is bad news

Your contributions will help us continue to deliver the stories that are important to you

Support The Journal
Dublin: 13°C Thursday 19 May 2022

'Living in Ireland, we didn't worry about serious racial physical attacks... how wrong we were'

Following the attack on her friend, Tian Yu Lloyd, suggests Irish society takes time to reflect as racist aggression becomes more common through the pandemic.

Screenshot of a TikTok video of the attack on Xuedan Xiong.
Screenshot of a TikTok video of the attack on Xuedan Xiong.

WHEN MY FRIEND Xuedan (Shelly) Xiong called me after being pushed into the Royal Canal, both of us were angry and upset on so many levels.

We are settled in Ireland for well over a decade. Until the beginning of 2020, other than the very rare “go back to your own country” or “ching chung wing” moments, race-related aggression was rare to us.

Then Covid-19 emerged.

I happened to be in China visiting family as the danger of the novel virus began to come to light. My granddad was in hospital and we went visiting him every day. His doctor
told us to wear masks, reduce visiting time and take every precaution possible because no one knew how dangerous this virus might be, or what transmission path it took.

Day by day, through social media, the whole country shared accounts of epidemiologists who wore standard protection gear and still caught the virus, how the first cases had been discovered in my city, the lockdown of Wuhan, and then suddenly my city (out of precaution) became the first city to announce a Class 1 alert outside Hubei Province.

I was fortunate enough to be back in Dublin before airlines started canceling flights.
Once back in Dublin, like many other Chinese people, I self-quarantined and kept my  distance from people until I was absolutely sure I did not have the virus.

Since February, many Chinese people here in Ireland and around the world have been called names such as “coronavirus” and “China virus”. The President of the most powerful country in the world actively promotes such rhetoric and gave license to this type of language.

We saw many incidents around the world where Asian faces were attacked. We know from social media that many Irish people are angry at China for Covid-19. From time to time, people were refused service based only on their nationality/Asian face.


Yet most of us didn’t expect physical racial aggression towards us in Ireland: the Irish people are very friendly people; and their fear is understandable even if it is not fair.

Some Irish kids get away with anti-social behaviour and petty crimes, but ‘surely they do it to everyone’, we thought, not worrying about serious racial physical attacks that are common in other countries.

How wrong we were.

Within one week, Martin Hong and Arthur Ma in Cork and my friend Xuedan were seriously physically assaulted. After being verbally abused many times – and always taking the normal Chinese route of avoiding confrontations –  all three finally decided to face up to the abusers, and will have to endure the aftermath of their trauma for quite some time.

Xuedan was pushed into the canal by minors, while two out of the three people involved in attacking Martin and Arthur were in their early 20s, the other a minor.

When racial discrimination combines with unchallenged anti-social behaviour, we become easy targets.

Indeed those young people who attacked my friend and the guys in Cork could have picked on any passer-by. But being Chinese during a pandemic has made us extra vulnerable. As well as politicians in the US actively promoting anti-China rhetoric tantamount to inciting hatred, the whole world is seemingly blaming Chinese lifestyle – such as wet markets (Asian-style fresh food markets) and alleged bat-eating habits (totally untrue) – for the global outbreak, despite a lack of evidence.

Making things worse, we know – in general – juvenile aggressors hardly ever get prosecuted or discouraged from repeating offences so people feel there is hardly any point or way to seek justice.

Looking ahead

The assault on Xuedan might be a turning point though.

On the night of the attack – when she shared her ordeal with my Wechat group – people felt angry but didn’t think anything could be done. Then the Tiktok video surfaced, the media covered it and the Irish Times and RTE interviewed her and reported her story in detail.

Then, suddenly, so many Irish people got in touch to show their solidarity and support. The warm responses have given Chinese people in Ireland who suffered from racial aggression the encouragement to come out and talk about what happened to them.

This is how we found out about the assaults on Martin Hong and Arthur Ma the week before. When I shared their story on Twitter, it too was immediately picked up by Irish media.

Gardaí are still investigating both incidents. Unfortunately from what we already know, at least prior to the media/social media coverage, neither case has much hope of justice for the victims.

It really isn‘t very surprising – petty crimes rarely get far in the justice system in Ireland: they happen too often and the chance of having enough evidence for prosecution is low.

Many of my Chinese friends have small businesses and quite a number of them have had the experience of being robbed at knife point, and gardaí couldn’t do much because the offenders were juveniles or the CCTV footage wasn’t enough evidence.

Still, being targeted for our skin tone feels like a threat on a different level altogether: there is nothing we can do to reduce our exposure to this risk, unless we hide behind a face mask.

Irish society as a whole though might want to take time to reflect on a few things.

We all know the majority of Irish people are welcoming and friendly and have great empathy. However, the reality is the country has also transformed from one of the most homogeneous societies in Europe to a country with a large proportion of immigrants in our workforce in just over two decades.

The success of the Irish economy needs this diversity, but is everyone adapting to social changes such as this diversity well?

The aggressors might be a very small proportion of the society, but many people do not really feel comfortable with the changes.

Shouldn’t we talk about the uncomfortableness and how to deal with it more openly, instead of arguing about whether Ireland has a racism problem or not?

It is understandable that An Garda Síochána has limited resources and it is also optimal that in most cases juvenile offenders shouldn’t have to carry criminal records which follow them for the rest of their lives.

However is it really good for a young person if he or she can easily get away with bad behaviour? What is there to discourage them from repeating ? How tempting it must be then for real criminal gangs to exploit young people.

So many people who got in touch with me through social media have been so kind and supportive to us, but I kept thinking of Xuedan’s comment that calling her young attackers “scumbags” or “low life” is giving up on them too early.

As much as responsible parents want to teach young people to stay on the right path, they do learn a lot from their peer group at their age. If we care about the future of Irish youth, then we as a society shouldn’t give any of them the impression that it is acceptable to intimidate people in any way at all by our non-action and acceptance that some young people should be feared.

#Open journalism No news is bad news Support The Journal

Your contributions will help us continue to deliver the stories that are important to you

Support us now

Traditional means for society to put positive influences in front of young people are often inapplicable in today’s world. Yet the stakes are so high, we really should put more thought into how our society should adapt.

Xuedan said the her young attackers should get more education. Many Irish people also got in touch to support the call for better education for young people. I couldn’t agree more.

Better education about empathy to all people and how to manage the changing world with a positive mentality could be so helpful to all of us.

I am aware of inclusive educational resources that promote cross-culture understanding and empathy in other parts of the world. I wish they could be taught in Irish primary and secondary schools too.

Covid-19 probably will stay with us for many years to come. The attacks by young people on Xuedan, Martin and Arthur are horrendous, but those young people couldn’t suddenly have become racist aggressors.

There is a Chinese proverb: Three feet of ice does not build in one day.

Perhaps now is the right time for the good people of Ireland to think about how to melt the ice for those troubled young people. What we do now will influence the future world our sons and daughters will live in. Let’s not let them down.


About the author:

Tian Yu Lloyd

Read next:


This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
write a comment

    Leave a commentcancel