In explaining his reasoning, the president said the term isn’t racist because the disease “comes from China.” That rationale has been used by prominent conservative lawmakers who are also increasingly using the phrase.
The term goes against what international public health officials recommended when naming new infectious diseases. In a May 2015 memo, the World Health Organization said disease names should avoid geographic location, people’s names, or cultural, population and industry references.
Asian-American legislators like Congresswoman Grace Meng have swiftly and strongly denounced the use of “Chinese Virus” as racist. As she and many other elected officials have pointed out, Asian-Americans have suffered attacks, harassment and targeting as a result of their perceived association to the virus.
Acting Borough President Sharon Lee also noted that the term resurrects perceptions of “yellow peril,” a stereotype of Asians as perpetual and hostile foreigners who are a threat to America.
The phrase is believed to be coined by Wilheilm II, a German emperor who reportedly commissioned a painting in 1895 that shows an archangel urging the nations of Europe to defend against Chinese conquest.
The stereotype is embodied in legislation –– the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act barred Chinese laborers from entering the country –– as well as popular culture. One such example is the early 20th century fictional villain Fu Manchu, who was featured in movies, television and comic books for decades.
In 2020, yellow peril is exemplified by broader xenophobic, anti-immigrant policies like the public charge rule and the Muslim travel ban. Trump’s use of “Chinese Virus” only adds to the inflammatory rhetoric he has used so far as president.
Trump, along with every other media figure and politician, should stop using the racist term immediately.