By Erin Wen Ai Chew
The views and opinions expressed in this article are of the original author. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of Nee Hao.
China’s political system has slowly transformed stage by stage from a Mao ruled Communist regime, to a socialist sphere during Deng Xiaoping’s time to now a cross between socialism with glimpses of capitalism. It is because of this slow transformation which has allowed China to grow both economically and politically. The interesting part of this is, this economic prosperity and global influence has allowed many Mainland Chinese the opportunities to be more mobile, in terms of setting up businesses, making investments and going overseas to establish their bases in both studying, living and working. One of the fastest growing global investment the Chinese have made is that of education – with many young Mainland Chinese students traveling abroad to study their diploma, certificate and/or degree. In terms of Australia, China is the fastest growing in terms of the number of students studying in Australian educational institutions.
As of March 2017 Australia’s Department of Education and Training stated that around 480,092 international students are enrolled in Australian education institutions – 30% of this number is from China (around 144,000 Chinese students) . This is a huge number and this has also made Mainland Chinese students extremely visible on and off campuses. Logically, you would think that this is a good thing, considering the amount of money which is being injected into the Australian economy, but sadly, the rapid growth of Mainland Chinese international students in Australia has attracted more negative media attention than positive, and the court of public opinion is lapping this up and being brainwashed by mainstream Australian anti-China rhetoric.
The biggest theory in the Australian mainstream rumour reel is that the Chinese Government (CCP) sends students to Australia to act as Government spies. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) in June reported that the Chinese Embassy in Australia organised a huge turnout of Chinese international student organisations to welcome Chinese Premier Li Keqiang . This was reported as though it was somewhat illegal or unethical – I mean it is logical that any embassy would be organising and urging their citizens living in Australia to attend events when their national leader/leaders are making official visits. But somehow, the ABC reported on this as though this was somehow shady and shrouded in suspicions and mystery.
Having personally spoken to many Mainland Chinese international students in Australia this idea that the Chinese Government has a stronghold over the views and opinions of their students studying in Australia is not 100% accurate. Of course, like any major nation, respective Governments will keep tabs on the activities and behaviours of their fellow citizens studying in Australia – this is not just limited to China. In addition, the majority of Mainland Chinese students studying in Australia are here to enjoy the experience of living and studying in a different country and system – they are not spies and they are not being monitored for their activities.
Over the past year, there have been some University academics who feel they are restricted in terms of what they say in classes where there are a significant number of Mainland Chinese students. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)  has recently reported that some Australian academics find this a problem:
“Colleagues from many Australian universities have noticed this. It is a genuine concern,” said Jonathan Benney, a Chinese studies lecturer at Monash University.
Expressing such ideas is not a problem per se, Mr Benney stressed. But he said many academics, including himself, had encountered instances of Chinese students trying to prevent academic staff or fellow students “from expressing critical opinions” on China.
“It is restricting both the freedom of lecturers and fellow students to say what they want,” he said.
Where there is some truth in this in terms of Mainland Chinese students feeling offended when academics speak critically about China, one must remember, that these students come from a nation which preaches the importance of patriotism and love for country. Also, in China there are certain restrictions in the freedom of expression, so of course there will be some Mainland Chinese students reacting negatively to certain theories and ideas on China presented by academics. But again, let me emphasise that this is a minority of students who are vocal in this way, with the majority being more interested in integrating and learning about the Australian way of life. These instances of Mainland Chinese students getting annoyed at academics who present critical views on China which have been reported on Chinese social media and in Chinese Australian media are again isolated cases and incidences – it does not reflect on how the majority of the 144,000 Mainland Chinese students in Australia are. Again, the general Australian court of public opinion will take this and use it for fear mongering purposes. Let me put it this way, it is Australia fearing the “yellow peril” all over again.
It is this fear mongering about China which have prompted Australian white supremacist groups to stick up racially charged posters and messages across University campuses in Australia. In Melbourne posters stating Attention! No Chinese are allowed within this area. If intrusion occurs, deportation will likely happen were found at both the University of Melbourne and Monash University, and at the University of Sydney the message: Kill Chinese! Was found scrawled with the swastika in above a toilet cubicle. All this is an indication of the racism and hate towards Mainland Chinese international students, and it is reflective of how the Australian mainstream society has not really embraced the growth and rise of China. The reasons are pretty much what I have explained above, that the Australian media and the court of public opinion have painted Mainland Chinese international students with the brush of suspicion and disharmony. And sadly, it is these type of negative incidences that jeopardises the studying experience of Mainland Chinese international students in Australia.