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'The response in Sweden is just incredibly racist and it proves my point'

Richard Orange
Richard Orange - [email protected]
'The response in Sweden is just incredibly racist and it proves my point'
Kat Zhou has been accused of being a Chinese agent since going public with her account of racist abuse in Sweden. Photo: private

Since speaking out about receiving racist abuse in Sweden, the tech worker Kat Zhou has been accused of being a Chinese spy and of taking part in a Chinese smear campaign. She tells The Local that this proves her point.

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The 25-tweet thread Zhou posted on Friday, detailing the racist abuse she says she has received in Sweden has had a massive impact. In the thread, she posted photos of two men she says made slitty-eye gestures at her and used racist terms, and a very short video of a woman who says "I don't care about you Asian trash". 

At the time of writing, her thread has has had nearly 25,000 retweets, nearly 5,000 quote tweets and 150,000 likes.

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The overwhelming majority of the commentary on Swedish Twitter, however, has questioned and dismissed her account, with some influential figures accusing her of being part of a Chinese government influence campaign.  

Hanif Bali, the former Moderate MP and Expressen newspaper columnist, came very close to calling her an agent, saying her tweet had been part of "a Chinese strategy to accused Sweden of racism". 

"The Chinese strategy of accusing Sweden of racism is proven, that trust-fund babies planted in the West can do it in woke clothing is even better," he wrote on Twitter. 

Ivar Arpi, the former editor of the far-right Bulletin newspaper and a prominent right-wing commentator, also wrote on Twitter that she was a "woke activist whose business idea is to accuse the West of systemic racism", and said that "her credibility is low".  

He did not, however, suggest that she was a Chinese agent, and in a linked tweet acknowledged that East Asians did face racism in Sweden. 

Others queued up on Twitter to say that the two young men she had accused of racially harassing her "looked Bosnian" and were "definitely not Swedish".

READ ALSO: US tech worker’s account of racist abuse in Sweden goes viral

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When The Local contacted Zhou, who is currently in America, she said that the reaction in Sweden had been "absolutely absurd". 

"They are full of bullshit. And I think that their rhetoric is dangerous," she said of Arpi and Bali. "They're saying that I'm destabilising Sweden. I think they are destabilising Sweden with their misleading and factually false, antagonistic rhetoric.'

"I think how much reach they have is a very dangerous thing, and I don't doubt for a second that this contributed to the rise of fascism in Sweden." 

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Zhou said that she was astounded by how little evidence commentators had for their accusations that she was working for the Chinese state. 

"These folks are constructing these arguments out of nowhere, saying that because I have an aunt by marriage who works for the government, that I'm an agent," she said. "It's a diversion to distract us from the main point, which is that there's a problem in Sweden, and they really need to reckon with that." 

What's more, the claim that the young men whose photos she posted do not 'look Swedish' only goes to underline her point.

"It's ironic, because to deflect from the fact that these were Swedish people, they say, 'oh, they look Bosnian, or they were Kurdish'. That is actually an incredibly racist thing to say." 

As for her own background, she claims she was born in Minnesota to two Chinese academics who were in no way regime supporters, and who had come to the US in the early 1990s and then started doctoral and masters' studies. 

"My dad was attending Tsinghua University, one of the most prestigious schools in Beijing, at the time of Tiananmen Square massacre and he almost went to the protests with a bunch of his friends. It was lucky that he didn't, because he could have been killed. Several of his classmates were," she said. "And my mom was an active protester against the government at her university campus."

Both of her parents' families suffered as a result at the hands of the Communist party. 

"My paternal grandfather was a student activist during the Hundred Flowers Campaign, where a bunch of intellectuals, the intelligentsia class, spoke out against Chairman Mao and the government's horrible policies, and he was sent to a labour camp for decades," she says. Her mother's family faced discrimination due to their Japanese heritage. 

"So for them to spin this is just hilarious to me. Because I know my family background, and my Mom's been kicked off a bunch of WeChat channels, because she actively talks about this stuff and about how the government is corrupt." 

The  evidence Twitter critics have that Zhou is a Chinese agent is a section of her LinkedIn profile where she talks of interviewing the Division Director of China's Department of Finance on stage while at Duke University, adding that the official "also happens to be my aunt". 

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Zhou tells The Local that she had never met the woman before the event, and had not met her before the interview or spoken to her since. 

"I didn't invite her to speak at my university. It was an aunt that I've never met before until that instance," he says. "She and a couple of other officials were at my university for a policy event. I didn't know her until that point, and I haven't seen her since that point." 

Since Zhou posted the photos, several respondents on Twitter have named the two men whose photos she posted. When The Local checked the Facebook account of one of them, the photos clearly matched. The Local then spoke to the man on his phone and texted him the photos Zhou had posted. He has since removed the profile picture from his Facebook account. 

Zhou has also shared screenshots with The Local of the official document she received from the police in March telling her they were dropping her case against the two young men, together with screenshots of emails she had sent in February asking for updates while it was going on. 

Zhou told The Local that she didn't think that Sweden was in any way a uniquely racist country, but she said that in her opinion the debate over racism and the awareness of it among Swedes was far less advanced than in larger countries like the US and the UK. 

"The discourse here is, like, five decades behind, and that's not surprising, because they didn't have people of colour here until, like, the 60s or 70s," she says. "They don't have the vocabulary to talk about it. I don't think they have the awareness to talk about it, which is, in some ways understandable because immigration is a new phenomenon." 

But it is not an excuse, the continues, saying Sweden "really does need these wake-up calls".

"They need to reckon with the fact that they have a problem. Those young kids growing up here whose parents have moved here, they deserve better. They deserve to be treated with respect." 

 

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steveh-77 2022/10/25 10:09
It too am sorry if Zhou had a few bad experiences. But in my view - Sweden is one of the most opena nd welcoming nations on Earth. And even if she did have bad experiences with a few individuals - labelling an entire national and society as racist is no way win friends or succeed, and is far from reasonable or fair in many respects. It might even be said that Zhou's accusations, which are comprised of broad and sweeping statements about a larger population based on a few limited experiences are - dare I say the word - "racist". She is assigning stereotypes to a broader group based on a few specific experiences. Is Zhou throwing stones while living in a glass house? You tell me. Thank you. Jack.
daniloagutoli 2022/10/23 08:00
I´m sorry Zhou has had bad experiences, I´m also an immigrant, I have immigrant friends, and in our community/circle/bubble (call it what you prefere) I´ve never encountered anything as described in the article. Sure, the occasional jerk exists, they exist everywere, but I don´t think it´s fair to label an entire country as racist based on your own bad experiences, especially if most of them have happened on twitter, which as we know, attracts jerks by nature.
linusseb 2022/10/23 06:22
Well done, Kat. Sadly this is something that we speak about in my family a lot. Coming from the UK and the US, it can feel a lot like there is no room for critical discussions of the ways that Swedish society fails to reckon with its unexamined racism. As she stated above, it's not that Sweden is a more racist country than any other, but it is infuriating sometimes to be witness to that racism and for there to be zero acknowledgement that there is a problem that needs to be addressed. There are still an overwhelming belief here, something that was more common 30 years ago in the English speaking world, that racism is a problem of particular racist people. Not systems of power which advantage some groups over others and consider some people as a default and everyone else as other. I do worry about our son growing up in this country whether this attitude will change and people will begin to mature in there discourse around the issue. I sincerely hope so.

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