Talking Race with Chinese Parents

No. 26


My name is Isabelle Niu. I’m a video producer based in New York City. 

In 2016, I spent day after day watching, analyzing, and editing news videos of police brutality against Black men. I was sad and angry but didn’t even think to turn to my parents in mainland China. I thought they wouldn’t understand. I thought they wouldn’t care. 

This time around, things are different. Protests erupted across the U.S. after George Floyd’s death. The fire burned so bright that it inspired international protests. My parents brought up the topic on their own. To my surprise, I didn’t have to convince them at all that the cause for the protests justifies the chaos. People had legitimate anger and it had been building up for a long time, they said, and every society has its root problems. Racism is the one for the country I now call home. 

My parents’ perspective comes from when they lived through turmoil themselves. A few days after June 4th, I called my mother. She was sitting in a hair salon getting her hair permed. We got into an argument about whether I should join the protest in New York. “So why can’t I go cover the protests? They were mostly peaceful,” I said. Sitting with ceramic wrap all over her head, she replied, “June 4th was peaceful until it wasn’t.” I swallowed my rebuke, suddenly remembering Senator Tom Cotton’s call to “send in the troops.”

I have since had a few more talks with my parents about the protests, about the kind of racism I encounter in the U.S., and the kind I don’t. I went in with passion and fire and came out with self-reflection and humility. Even though they couldn’t understand a lot of the specific context of racism in the U.S., they found ways to reflect and relate to their own experience in China — how the country lumps its “55 minorities ethnic groups” and how authorities mistreated Black expats in China during Covid-19. 

Talking, listening, and feeling discomfort is just the beginning of a process I should have started long ago. Here’s a list of resources I aggregated in Mandarin Chinese about Black Lives Matter. For this week’s Rock the Boat, I want to ask our members: What is it like talking to Chinese parents about Black Lives Matter? How do you make the topic relevant to loved ones who don't live in the U.S.?


Isabelle Niu

P.S.: On June 25 (8:30 p.m. EST), we will host a panel discussion on China’s Narrowing Information Flow at the digital summit “China, the World, and the COVID Story: How We Got Here and What Lies Ahead.” Make sure to RSVP!


Best work from our members. 

✊ Asian Americans for Black Lives Matter
Asian Americans joined Black Lives Matter protests in New York City, as demonstrations hit dozens of cities in the U.S. following the death of George Floyd, Joy Chang 張友慈 documents for South China Morning Post

📜 The History Of Sino-Black Relations 
NüVoices’s Cindy Gao talks to Keisha Brown, a fellow at the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, about the history of Sino-Black relations and the changing perception of race and identity in China.

🎥 China and Black Representation in Hollywood 
Behind the subtle mistranslations and dog-whistling is China’s soaring hostility towards Black people and ethnic minorities, writes Tony Lin for IndieWire.

📻 Black Lives Matter in the Eyes of Chinese
Ang Li
speaks to Isabelle Niu about how racism and Black Lives Matter dialogues are being discussed on the Chinese Internet in the latest episode of the Loud Slurp podcast.

(Photo by Lianzhe Zheng / Chinese for Black Lives Initiative)

😕 "I am Asian, so I can never be American"
Zhaoyin Feng 冯兆音
co-writes a BBC News report about how attacks on East Asian people living in the U.S. during the pandemic revealed an uncomfortable truth about American identity.

🕯️ Keeping Tiananmen Memories Alive
Mimi Lau
writes for South China Morning Post about Chinese activists fighting to keep Tiananmen Square memories alive, and why 31 years after the crackdown, the events from June 4, 1989 are still relevant today. 

🔒 The Loss of Internet Freedom?
Yuan Yang 杨缘
writes for the Financial Times about why Hongkongers are worried about losing their internet freedoms over the new National Security Law, and what this would mean for those in the mainland. 

💔 Tiananmen Can Happen in the U.S. 
“Tiananmen in the American imagination is something fantastic and distant, deliberately placed far away and long ago. It is otherized in a collection of stories of crushed overseas rebellions that can’t happen at home,” Zhong Rui 钟瑞 explains for Foreign Policy why Tiananmen could happen in the U.S., too. 

💊 Hydroxychloroquine Shortage 
Hydroxychloroquine, a medicine that President Trump touted as a shield from coronavirus, has been in shortage. For USA TODAY, Dian Zhang 张典 writes about how 1.5 million lupus patients in the U.S. are facing the consequences.

🏔️ A New Height for Mount Everest 
Wufei Yu 余物非
co-writes a story for Outside Online about a group of eight Chinese researchers summiting the mountain with the sole mission of getting the most accurate measurement to date of the world's tallest peak. 

📱 Ringfencing TikTok’s Data 
ByteDance, TikTok’s Chinese parent company, set up an internal firewall between its China and overseas operations, blocking Chinese domestic staff’s access to TikTok’s data, Chen Du 杜晨 reports for PingWest. 

🍳 Revising Recipes for Home
Feeling lost in time and space during COVID-19, Shen Lu 沈璐 writes for ChinaFile about how she found a new recipe for home in her Boston kitchen, using culinary endeavors as a way to explore and express her complex identities. 

🍜 Awaiting the Return of China’s Street Vendors
A government push to bring hawkers back to the streets has reminded people of the deadly clashes between street vendors and “Chengguan” officers. For Inkstone News, Viola Zhou 周易 speaks to the widow of Xia Junfeng, an executed hawker.

👋 Submit your published work in three ways: 1. DM us on Twitter; 2. Post it on the Slack channel #shamelessplugs; 3. Email


Thoughts from our members and beyond on topics about the media industry, diversity and more.

How do you approach the topic of race with your Chinese family? Why is the conversation essential?

Rui Zhong 钟瑞, an analyst at the Wilson Center, says media consumption fuels anti-Black racism in the Chinese diaspora

Wechat, Whatsapp, Line, and other messaging apps could easily breed groupthink and a political bubble of formation in the relative privacy of these smaller media consumption communities. Within my family, my dad’s peers will send him videos of crime perpetrated by Black people or misleading statistics on crime in the United States, which he will not check or follow up on. My mom, on the other hand, will try to run a search through mainstream newspapers or academic research and has a habit of fact-checking messages. But she’s in the minority: people consume the news they want to believe.

While this is certainly a very clinical way of looking at racial conversations that are very personal, I think that understanding the technical problems of how misinformation and disinformation spread within our communities is going to be a big part of imagining solutions and ways out of anti-Black feedback loops. People familiar with how these messaging platforms work will have a big part to play in responding, figuring out language, and engineering rebuttals of bad-faith news products currently in circulation.

Dolly Li, a filmmaker based in New York City, argues that although violence doesn’t yield direct change, it creates important conversations:

What a rollercoaster year it’s been for Chinese parents, from watching Chinese New Year’s get canceled to being confronted about the violence Black Americans have endured for hundreds of years in the U.S. I can imagine how, from our parents’ perspective, whether Black lives matter or not is none of their business. Perhaps that’s why so many have zeroed in on violence and looting — if this doesn’t have to do with Asians, then why are we being punished? Violence doesn’t bring about change or allyship.

Maybe violence doesn’t always yield direct change. But change also never comes if you do not even see the problem. Would our community talk about Black struggle if the protests sauntered peacefully past our storefronts and restaurants, like a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade with no lootings, no threats to our wealth and stability? After exhausting every ethos, logos, and pathos argument tactic in multiple languages, I’ve made peace with the fact that whether or not our families stand on our side of history is less important than the fact that conversations about Black struggle are happening all around them. Now, it’s a matter of keeping the momentum alive while they’re still aghast with eyes wide open.  

Mengyu Dong, reporter for VOA News in Washington D.C., says it’s important to put a human face to the movement:

I tried to refute the right-wing articles in my family WeChat group with rants and “mini essays.” But I quickly realized right-wing articles appeal to people’s instincts and emotions, whereas my messages tend to use reason and logic. It’s much easier for the former to gain ground.

“A picture is worth a thousand words.” As cliche as this may sound, photos prove to be a surprisingly effective tool when I talk to my family about Black Lives Matter. 

One day, I met a young protester, a first-generation Chinese American named Jackie, in front of the White House. He held a sign with giant Chinese characters: “黑人的命是我们的命 (Black Lives are Our Lives).” I shared the photo with my family and friends. For many of them, it was the first actual Chinese person they saw who supported the movement. Friends began to ask: “Why are Chinese people supporting Black Lives Matter?” It gave me an opportunity to say: “Look, it was never a black and white issue.”

Hangda Zhang 张航达, video journalist at AJ+, says “speaking their language” is key to helping parents understand why Black lives matter: 

Born in the 70s, my mom had very little passion for equality and social movements. Societal instability gave her a vague memory of deprivation when she was little. She was one of those who left poverty and the countryside and finally made it in a big city. She made a comment to me that some Black people just really don’t work hard and don’t have the aspiration to break out of poverty.  

Understanding her background and how she thought about Black people in the U.S. was important for me before I started correcting her. I pointed out how capitalism is failing people, and trapping Black Americans in a cycle of poverty that keeps them politically powerless. I jokingly compared socialist movements asking for equal rights in the U.S. to the Communist Party’s early goal to protect and unite workers and proletarians. I told her people who don’t have political power can only make noise with a massive crowd, so the people in power can feel the pressure. Suddenly, protests in the U.S. didn’t seem like something “others” are doing, but familiar to what she knows. 

🤔Tag @CNstorytellers on Twitter to keep the conversation going.


We recognize our members’ professional achievements (and flatter them).

🏆 Yuan Yang 杨缘 was promoted to be the Financial Times’ Deputy Bureau Chief in Beijing.

🎉 Shako Liu’s short documentary “Living With The Rarest of Rare Diseases” was selected for the 2020 New York World Film Festival.

🖊️ Zeyi Yang 杨泽毅 was named a 2020 Rest of World Reporting Fellow.

📒 Gufeng Ren will start a fall news internship at Bloomberg News

🖥️ Joanna Lin Su 苏琳 kicked off her Computational Journalism Fellowship at Newlab’s AppliedXL.

📸 Yam G Jun won the 17th annual Smithsonian Magazine photo contest.

🥂 Tell us what makes you proud via email, Slack or Twitter.


Jobs, gigs, grants, fellowships, etc. 

NPR is looking for full-time interns to work remotely from anywhere in the U.S. Fall internships are from September 8 - December 11. APPLY

Al Jazeera English’s show “The Stream” is looking for freelance researchers to work out of Washington DC. Start date ASAP. EMAIL Snr. Producer Maya Garg with your cover letter and resume.

FT Chinese is hiring a native Chinese speaker for a 6-month contract position for a social media editor in Beijing. EMAIL with CV and work samples. 

The Knight-Wallace Reporting Fellowship will select a cohort of ten accomplished journalists with different backgrounds and experience for a working fellowship. APPLY by July 7. 

Polling organization YouGov is hiring 4-5 social media coordinators and entry-level data journalists on contract to help with the 2020 election coverage. Slack our member Dian Zhang to get connected. APPLY

is looking for pitches with a science and social science element from BIPOC journalists. EMAIL

👀 Find more on the #opportunities channel on Slack.

Writer: Isabelle Niu; Editor: Xinyan Yu; Copy Editor: Daniel Mejia.

Chinese Storytellers is a community that empowers Chinese non-fiction content creators. Follow us @CNStorytellers. Questions? Suggestions? Comments? Tell us.