French Chinese now less afraid to make voice heard

Members of the Chinese community in France lighting candles during a protest in Paris last Thursday, after a Chinese man was shot dead by police at his Paris home late last month.
Members of the Chinese community in France lighting candles during a protest in Paris last Thursday, after a Chinese man was shot dead by police at his Paris home late last month.PHOTO: REUTERS

Protests over police killing signal louder demand for accountability

PARIS • The first generation of Chinese nationals to settle in France - most of whom arrived in a wave in the 1970s - rarely, if ever, expressed themselves publicly.

Many lacked legal working papers and struggled to learn French, but still found a foothold in textile businesses and restaurants in the French capital. Now, their sons and daughters - born and educated in France - are speaking up in anger over the police killing of a Chinese national late last month.

Chinese immigrants "saw it as a bad thing to criticise the police, and they considered themselves strangers in France", according to Mr Richard Beraha, author of a book dissecting the Chinese experience in France. But this new generation of Chinese-French is not afraid to make demands, and older people, "who were reluctant, are joining the movement", he said.

Mr Liu Shaoyo, a 56-year-old father of five, was shot dead by a police team called to his apartment in north-eastern Paris over a suspected domestic dispute. The authorities say he attacked a policeman with a knife, causing injuries, and another officer opened fire in self-defence.

The dead man's family disputes the police version of events.

The incident has caused tensions between Paris and Beijing and sparked nights of protests from members of the city's Chinese community of up to 300,000 people.

  • 45 Approximate number of people who have been arrested in the series of protests in Paris over the Chinese man's killing.

    50k Nearly this number of signatures has been gathered for a petition calling for "justice and truth" over the killing.

A 20-year-old student surnamed Zhou, who came to protest in Paris, drew parallels with the case of Theo, a young black man who sustained severe anal and rectal injuries during a police stop-and-search in early February. The case prompted such an uproar that President Francois Hollande visited Theo in hospital, appealing for calm following a week of sustained riots.

"When a Chinese person is killed by police, there is no official response," said the student.

About 45 people have been arrested in the series of protests in Paris over the Chinese man's killing, with many waving banners bearing slogans such as "colonialist police" and "Wake up, French Asians! You are still oppressed in this country".

The anger has also spread online, where a petition calling for "justice and truth" for Mr Liu has gathered nearly 50,000 signatures.

In a rare move reflecting the shock in China over the shooting, Beijing said it has filed an official complaint with France. Beijing called on Paris to "guarantee the safety and legal rights and interests of Chinese citizens in France and to treat the reaction of Chinese people to this incident in a rational way", a foreign ministry spokesman said.

Last Saturday, the Paris police stressed that security for the city's Asian community is a priority, outlining new measures for dealing with complaints, including an improved translation system.

In the course of a meeting with Chinese Ambassador to France Zhai Jun and members from various Chinese immigrant groups, Paris police chief Michel Cadot "expressed his condolences to the Chinese community and his sympathy to the family".

In August last year, similar street protests erupted, calling for greater security after the fatal mugging of 49-year-old tailor Zhang Chaolin in the Aubervilliers suburb north of Paris. Violent robberies tripled last year in the suburb, targeting ethnic Chinese who were seen as lucrative prey because they were thought to carry large sums of cash.

At the time of Mr Zhang's death, tens of thousands of ethnic Chinese flooded the streets of Paris, protesting against "anti-Asian racism".

On Mr Liu's death, 49-year-old Yehman Chen, who attended one of the protests, said: "Chinese people were asking for nothing more than to be safe, but were scorned by the government.

"Today, it's the straw that broke the camel's back."

Ethnic Chinese have routinely complained about frequent attacks in the community but say little has been done to help, according to accountant Zhang Weirong.

"The first time was in 2003, I had been here a few months and my luggage was stolen, everything I had," said Ms Zhang. "I went to the police. They asked me if I had papers, a credit card. No? So, they discouraged me from filing a complaint."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 03, 2017, with the headline 'French Chinese now less afraid to make voice heard'. Print Edition | Subscribe