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My story as a Chinese British social worker during COVID-19

In this guest blog, social worker Yixian shares a personal account of her experiences during COVID-19.

My story as a Chinese British social worker during COVID-19

7/23/2020 4:00:00 PM

In an ongoing series of guest blogs, people from a range of backgrounds share their lived and learned experiences of current social work practice. In this blog, we hear from Yixian Brown, a social worker in Lincolnshire, where she works as a care coordinator in mental health services.


There are lot of COVID-19 stories about separation and reunion; stories about loss and hope; stories about frustration and kindness and so on. My story as a frontline social worker is not about personal protective equipment nor is it caseloads related. My story is about my emotional journey as a Chinese British social worker over the period of the coronavirus outbreak from epidemic to pandemic. 

When coronavirus became a national crisis in China, I worried about my family back there. I felt helpless, incapable and unable to support my elderly parents. With the outbreaks getting worse in China, the fear of not being able to say goodbye was unbearable. I treated every online video chat as the last one.

Despite the despair and desperation, there was a lot more hope and compassion and a lot more courage and kindness. An army of workers (including my brother who is an emergency police officer in China), health care workers, medical staff and ordinary people volunteered to fight against the virus on the frontline. I was proud to be Chinese!

As the coronavirus spread globally to become an international pandemic, so did racism targeting Chinese and Asian people. Overseas, Chinese people faced a double threat, not only fear of contracting the virus itself, but also fear of growing racism in the form of verbal and physical attacks, on social media and in everyday life. The Chinese tradition and national identity were combined and conflated with the new term of pandemic in a racist, offensive way.

Hate crime cases against Chinese people or those of Chinese descent spread as quickly as the virus. According to People’s Daily (13 May 2020), there was a 21% increase in racial attacks towards Chinese and Asian people in the previous 3 months in London, 3 times higher than the last two years. A total of 375 were reported; including 14 physical assaults.

Seeing news reports of Chinese people being targeted and seeing posts and images of Chinese national dignity being damaged, broke my heart. I woke up at night, worrying my children would be targeted in school, worrying people might say something to me, worrying I would be harassed and spat/coughed at in public because of my look and ethnicity. To me, fear of contracting COVID-19 was not as scary as dealing with racist incidents.

As a community mental health practitioner, I empower people by upholding and promoting human dignity and well-being. I give advice to them to challenge discrimination and prejudice. However, I had to ask myself how I would respond if an individual made a racist attack either verbally or physically directly at me? Should I challenge them like my own advice, or put up with it like most people?

Reflecting on my personal experience of feeling stigmatised helped me to empathise with the people I work with. People with mental health issues are stigmatised and discriminated against in society. I have empathy with this.

As a Chinese person, I will always uphold my national dignity and will always be proud to be Chinese. As a British citizen, I will stand with all British people and fight against the virus.

I respect your ‘freedom of speech’ but words, like the disease, can kill too. There is an old Chinese saying, “Don’t add fuel onto the burning flame”. Please be aware that your comments might provoke and incite more hatred and racist attacks towards Chinese people. Last and the most importantly: “The virus has no nations, united we shall overcome.”