Woke 'Hug a Chinese Person' Campaign in Italy Could End Up Costing Untold Deaths


Viruses don’t care about your feelings.

They don’t care about preconceptions. They don’t care about whether or not you’re a good person. They don’t care whether you’re a racist, or bigoted against the country where the virus began. They especially don’t care about propaganda. They infect you, they do the damage they can until they win or your immune system does.

I mention this because in February, the early days of the coronavirus panic, several Chinese individuals went viral in Italy with videos that encouraged people to “hug a Chinese person.” The videos were roughly the same. In one, a man stood with a sign in front of various landmarks in Florence, blindfolded himself and put on a surgical mask. People would come up and hug him, taking off the mask and blindfold.

“I made this video because I felt compelled to convey the meaning of the words I had written on the sign,” Massimiliano Martigli Jiang told the South China Morning Post. “I was very surprised by the reaction.”

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This Milanese video, meanwhile, dispensed with the performance art:

This is very moving stuff — and yes, they are human and not a virus, as they state.

As you can tell by watching, the videos were supposed to dissipate the fear Italians may have felt toward Chinese people during the Wuhan outbreak and subtly chastise those prejudiced against Chinese individuals. These are noble goals in theory. Viewed in hindsight, it doesn’t look so hot — and not just because you shouldn’t hug anyone random when there’s a life-threatening virus going around.

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Several things to note, however. Eagle-eyed and informed readers may have noticed the videos were distributed by CGTN and New China TV, both of which are arms of official state broadcaster Xinhua, the biggest and most pervasive of China’s newspeak media outlets.

You also may notice that these videos seem strikingly well put-together for people who decided to do them on a whim. Reading the South China Morning Post piece on Jiang, the only real clue into how this went so viral is that it “was publicised by UGIC, an Italian-Chinese youth association, of which he is a member.”

That’s the Associazione Unione Giovani Italo Cinesi — which, as James Delingpole points out at Breitbart, is funded by the Chinese government.

You don’t need to go to “Red Channels”-like levels of paranoia to sense that there might be something afoot here. However, let’s assume absolute spontaneity here. These videos are still dumb.

In the weeks since these videos were posted, the death toll in Italy has risen to well over 3,000. The country is on lockdown. A random person setting up in the street with a sign, expecting hugs to share the love and stop hate and fear or whatever is, if they don’t desist, only going to feel the embrace of handcuffs.

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The great irony is that nobody could have done “hug a Chinese person” in Wuhan, where the city was placed on lockdown in late January. According to Business Insider, however, five million Wuhanites escaped before the severe measures.

In a few short weeks, Italy has replaced China as the epicenter of the virus. Scenes like this — the mayor of Florence signing on to the “hug a Chinese person” movement — have been replaced by grim warnings that contact with strangers could be deadly. Liberals who thought this sort of thing to be a display of love are now wondering about their health.

Italian mayor Dario Nardella starts initiative to eliminate phobia of Chinese during #CoronavirusOutbreakItalian mayor Dario Nardella starts initiative to eliminate phobia of Chinese during #CoronavirusOutbreak

Florence mayor Dario Nardella on Saturday launched an anti-discrimination initiative on Twitter to eradicate phobia of Chinese who work and travel in Italy, as two Chinese tourists in Rome were tested positive for coronavirus in late January.

The mayor used the tag #AbbracciaUnCinese, meaning, “Hug a Chinese,” and he hugged a Chinese representative from a Florence’s Sino-Italian association in the video attached in the post.

“This is a fight of solidarity and unity against virus. That’s why I stand up to express my support to China and Chinese people,” Nardella said in the video, adding, “It’s also a great chance to extinguish xenophobia and tension.”

Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte also urged people not to discriminate against Chinese amid the coronavirus epidemic on Tuesday, saying, “Signs of discrimination are unacceptable.”

There are many Italian netizens following the call of the mayor to combat stereotypes. Some of them posted photos of themselves hugging a Chinese person.

Many Chinese netizens applauded the support that Italy has shown to China.

“Thank you for your understanding and support, mayor. You have taken a big step in defeating racial discrimination and prejudice,” a netizen wrote on Chinese Twitter-like Weibo. “Virus and epidemic are our common enemies,” she added.

“Please take care and remember to wear a mask to help protect you from the virus,” another Weibo user commented. (by Wang Yuan)

Posted by People’s Daily, China on Wednesday, February 5, 2020

This is peak wokeness. (It was also posted by the People’s Daily, another major Chinese state news organ.)

Wokeness, at least right now, has gone out the window.

In the end, this isn’t about Chinese people or Sinophobia. It’s about the fact that random person-to-person contact during a period where there’s a threat of a disease is never a good thing. And that means this Chinese propaganda campaign could have ended up resulting in untold deaths.

Wokeness has moved on to other venues. As positive cases of coronavirus accrue and we worry about our health care resources, we’re now having a long, serious cultural debate about whether calling it the “Chinese coronavirus” is racist, at least when the president or his allies say it. Never mind that they’re saying it to counter Chinese conspiracy theories that the United States was responsible for the virus. This is a conversation we need to have.

However, very few people are going to put themselves on the line and hug a random person of any race. There are the examples seen on beaches during spring break, an early and ominous sign that the Darwin Award this year may have to be given to a group of people as opposed to one specific individual.

Wokeness, indeed, has shifted gears. What’s making the rounds now is a video that shows quarantined Italians giving a message to themselves a few weeks ago, urging us to take things more seriously:

Note that not one of these people said they would have hugged more people in the street. Just saying.

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Morristown, New Jersey
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture