“Kung Flu” in (Recent) Historical Perspective

On the 38th anniversary of Vincent Chin’s murder. From Politico:

President Donald Trump’s top spokesperson on Monday defended his use of the term “kung flu” to describe the novel coronavirus has sickened millions across the globe, asserting that the president was merely trying to emphasize the virus’ place of origin in China.

“The president does not believe that it is offensive to note that this virus came from China,” McEnany said Monday when asked about Conway’s condemnation of the term.

It is predictable that an increasingly desperate Trump campaign would resort to xenophobic and racist rhetoric. However, now when anti-Asian American harassment is at a recent all time high as blame for the Covid19 crisis is apportioned to China, we should remember how stoking hatred can lead to unfortunate consequences [1] (even abuse against the doctors helping treat Covid19 victims)

As an example, I’ll reprint part of an earlier post:

On June 23, 1982, Vincent Chin (no relation) died from injuries suffered after he was beaten outside the bar where his bachelor party was taking place, in Highland Park, Michigan, by Chrysler plant superintendent Ronald Ebens, with the help of his stepson, Michael Nitz. Ebens’ quote: “It’s because of you little motherfuckers that we’re out of work!” referring to the impact of Japanese imports on Michigan employment (Chin was a U.S. citizen of Chinese extraction). After a plea bargain, neither served any jail time, and were given three years probation, fined $3,000 and ordered to pay $780 in court costs. The judge said, “These weren’t the kind of men you send to jail… You don’t make the punishment fit the crime; you make the punishment fit the criminal.”[2]

My conclusion: The more stress Mr. Trump is under, the more prepared we should be.


53 thoughts on ““Kung Flu” in (Recent) Historical Perspective

  1. Baffling

    The old and decrepit peter navarro does not help the situation. He has developed an anti-china infatuation. Its the sign of a frail and irrational mind.

    1. macroduck

      Ah, but Mr. Navarro has been a practicing Sinophobe since 2006 at the latest. He was in his mid-50s when “The Coming China Wars” was published. Old age doesn’t account for his fear of China, though he does seem to become increasingly strident with the years.

      1. baffling

        he seems to have a fetish with the word “communist”. he is still living in the 1980’s along with long lost comrade peak trader. both of them are still reliving the cold war. i just do not understand where their deep rooted anger comes from, as it makes them behave irrationally.

  2. Willie

    Yes, exactly. A cornered rat will lash out unpredictably and violently. The next four and a half months will be excruciating.

  3. Willie

    And, I should add that now is the time we need to be looking out for each other and protecting our fellow Americans and fellow humans in a whole lot of ways. And for a whole lot of reasons, not tearing at each other.

  4. Anonymous

    I like to think if I was there that sad night in Highland Park I would have [physically] defended Vincent Chin or stood ground by his side with whatever weapon I could grab. But, I can’t say with 100% certainty and one only knows what kind of man they themselves are when presented with the situation.

  5. pgl

    McEnany comes across as a bimbo. People are giving credit to Kelly Anne Conway for calling out this vile term. But watch the clip where she does in front of the press. She keeps demanding that Weija Jang identify who in the White House said this. Now why on earth is this Weija’s responsibility? Oh yea – she is Chinese. Kelly Anne is a witch with a B.

    In other news, some MAGA hat wearing clown put a noose in the garage of Bubba Watson.

      1. pgl

        A door pull? It was clearly a noose. Of course Mr. Sammy Magoo cannot use his own eyes as he has been directed by Trump’s friends in the Justice Department to believe whatever they claim.

        I got some other news that will make Sammy the Trump sycophant very elated. Trump’s appointment to the Appeals Court just gave Flynn the break Bill Barr had hoped for.

        A nation of laws we are not. Friends of Donald Trump can do whatever they want and get away with it.

        BTW the FBI answered no questions when they white washed that NASCAR garage incident. I think they have to. But of course Sammy the sycophant is not interested in the least as long as he can spin this Trumpian style.

        1. Bob

          You are 100% wrong. Where are you getting your info? If it’s just from mainstream media, e.g. CNN, CBS, NBC, you are missing a lot. This pull down has been there for all race car drivers for years.

      2. pgl


        But some people are also arguing that the noose found was not, in fact, a noose — despite the FBI and NASCAR labeling it as such several times — and was actually a common garage pull for the door. The FBI and Justice Department’s brief joint statement Tuesday called it a noose four times. When Lemon asked if Wallace has seen ropes tied like that in the garage before, the No. 43 driver said, “Never.”

        Sammy told us this was not a noose? It seems the investigators called it a noose many time. Come on Sammy – your lies are getting old.

    1. pgl

      “We appreciate the FBI’s quick and thorough investigation and are thankful to learn that this was not an intentional, racist act against Bubba,” NASCAR said in a statement.

      Thorough? Quick yes – thorough not. Who the hell decided to fashion a garage door rope as a noose. It clearly was designed as a noose. No honest person would dispute that. Yea – Sammy says it was not a noose but Sammy routinely lies for Team Trump. So I could care WTF this sycophant has to say.

      1. pgl

        The FBI statement in full (but shhh – let Sammy pretend it was not a noose):


        Joint Statement from U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town and FBI Special Agent in Charge Johnnie Sharp, Jr. Regarding the Noose Found in NASCAR’s Bubba Wallace’s Garage at Talladega Superspeedway

        “On Monday, fifteen FBI special agents conducted numerous interviews regarding the situation at Talladega Superspeedway. After a thorough review of the facts and evidence surrounding this event, we have concluded that no federal crime was committed.

        The FBI learned that garage number 4, where the noose was found, was assigned to Bubba Wallace last week. The investigation also revealed evidence, including authentic video confirmed by NASCAR, that the noose found in garage number 4 was in that garage as early as October 2019. Although the noose is now known to have been in garage number 4 in 2019, nobody could have known Mr. Wallace would be assigned to garage number 4 last week.

        The decision not to pursue federal charges is proper after reviewing all available facts and all applicable federal laws. We offer our thanks to NASCAR, Mr. Wallace, and everyone who cooperated with this investigation.”

          1. pgl

            Sammy – I bet you are leading the charge to trash Bubba Watson. Of course racists like you always pull this crap. The FBI concluded it was a noose not a door pull. So you lied. BTW that noose was there not for a day but for at least 6 months. If you thought about it – that fact is even more disturbing. But of course we all know you do not think.

  6. ltr

    There is not a day that passes in which a wildly prejudiced article or column about China is not printed in the New York Times. The problem of American racism against the Chinese extends back to the time of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and this president is merely amplifying this. The problem is pervasive enough that I am always “careful” now in any utterance. The problem is Republican and Democratic, liberal and conservative. Simply read the Times, along with the ever inflammatory comments. Read the Washington Post. Understand what it means that this country is recreating the Cold War, with Russia as a mere side-topic.

    Yes, I always “careful” now.

    1. Menzie Chinn Post author

      ltr: Without supporting all criticisms of Chinese foreign, economic, and military policies, let me just say there is a valid distinction between China (what I personally take as encompassing the mainland, but not Taiwan), and American citizens of Chinese extraction.

  7. ltr

    The now ceaseless vilification of China by American political leaders and media, means vilification of Chinese people. This was the case historically and allowed for the ravaging of China by Western countries and Japan, and allowed for the disdain for the people of China. The disdain for the people of China is being cultivated now. I am always aware of this and I know how careful I have had to be to make my way academically. When Chinese students at Duke are told by a department head not to speak Chinese in a campus dining area, I understand what this means for them and for me. Just as Blacks know what racism is, so I know; and I know how psychologically and culturally fierce the demeaning of Chinese people can be.


    I even know that if I find the New York Times to be wildly prejudiced about China and about 1.4 billion Chinese, there will be a person who write and tells me I do not know how to read and am reading a paper I have never in my life read. Prejudice is discounting my lived experience, no matter any accomplishments.

  8. ltr

    About being Black, I do not distinguish my students by whether they were born in New York or South Africa. Similarly, my Hispanic students may well be from New York or Mexico. I am not about to have my experience dismissed by being taken for coming from the “mainland” or New York. To be successful I know just how to smile away the disdain for China that is being cultivated and fostered, and that is all about, but I really can recognize a cat for a cat.

  9. The Rage

    Lol, Trump took a a 600 million dollar loan from China. Navarro likewise has been financed by China his whole career. It’s much like Trumps anti immigration con. He is exactly the opposite. He pumped immigrants in like 2005.

    Disease starting in mainland China is nothing new. 1957 and 1889 way high at the minimum.

  10. ltr

    Again, another day, I read the New York Times and the China coverage and comments are terrible and terrifying. The disdain for China is continually being reinforced and strengthened and that means “I” am at risk. What names are not used for China that do not reflect on the 1.4 billion and, forgive my self-concern, on “me”?

  11. ltr


    Darrick Hamilton @DarrickHamilton *

    An enlightened society is one that would condemn in no uncertain terms, a vulgar and inadequate president’s racist rhetoric that refers to the deadly coronavirus virus, which has already killed more than 120k Americans, as “Kung Flu.”

    7:32 PM · Jun 23, 2020

    * Professor of Policy, Economics, Sociology and Afam, and Executive Director of @KirwanInstitute @OhioState

    1. Bob

      You are a good example of how America has lost its soul and its sense of humor. Much ado about nothing.

      1. Menzie Chinn Post author

        Bob: And I thought America lost its soul when the messages of immigrants as animals, neo-Nazi’s and white supremacists as “good people”, etc., resonated with a substantial portion of the American electorate, and the government put kids in cages. Your view that “Kung Flu” is just an example of humor is redolent of – not “humor” – but something else.

        1. Moses Herzog

          @ Menzie
          I think it might have started farther back during Reaganism. Or maybe perhaps when Nixon got on “Marine One” and “Marine One” was not headed directly to a federal prison. That may have been when America lost its soul…..

          BUT……..You have mentioned one of many things that makes me ashamed to be an American right now. Some people will think when I use the word shame it’s just a kind of rhetoric. If I could “magically” or “supernaturally” make you feel my emotions when I think of these things, I think you will believe me. And then if I simultaneously think of how kind/generous/empathetic my better Chinese friends were to me (and some even strangers) I will feel some multiple times more the guilt than just thinking solely of the American electorate’s behavior. Because that is indeed what makes it so shameful and undeniable~~~because we can’t just point to donald trump and say “He is the devil ruining this land”. YES, trump IS the devil ruining this land, But a huge portion of American voted for the bastard. That is a HUGE incrimination of the “average/typical” American.

          No, as a white male maybe I can’t “feel” it or be a “victim” of it like an Asian-American can. Or a Black man can…… or a Native American man can…….But I can recognize it and be more empathetic to it than people might imagine. I can also start my self-pity party on some experiences I had in China, with my metaphorical mini-violin of self-pity sadness I always have handy, but I’ll spare you for today.

  12. ottnott

    “let me just say there is a valid distinction between China (what I personally take as encompassing the mainland, but not Taiwan), and American citizens of Chinese extraction.”

    You tried, Menzie. Somebody has their input filter dialed up to “Do Not Disturb.”

    Personally, I thought you had a good point and that one can very easily criticize the actions of a national government without simultaneously helping to enable massive killing and rape of the people in or from that country.

  13. ltr

    Personally, I thought you had a good point and that one can very easily criticize the actions of a national government without simultaneously helping to enable massive…

    [ This is perniciously false.

    Simply maliciously horridly false.

    Definitive prejudice, and why I am always afraid. ]

  14. ltr

    Personally, I thought you had a good point and that one can very easily criticize the actions of a national government without simultaneously helping to enable massive…

    [ What contemptible falseness and prejudice. ]

    1. macroduck

      Anger is a natural response to discriminatory treatment. In general, though, diatribe is not a useful way of educating thoughtful people. If you are looking for a flame war with China-bashers, then diatribe may be your weapon of choice, I suppose, but think about the original post here, and (pardon me) who posted it. A flame war seems out of place, don’t you think?

      If your goal is to win better treatment for immigrants of Asian origin, that is admirable and, speaking as a mere commenter here, I wouldn’t mind a bit of that. You, however, have flooded the comments with diatribe. That seems more likely to irritate those who sympathize with your views than win over those who don’t.

      Please, come back when you’re ready for a conversation.

      1. Barkley Rosser


        I am weighing in here to reinforce the completely reasonable remarks of macroduck.

        It is completely reasonable to complain about inaccurate reporting in the media, and it is also completely reasonable to complain about how criticisms of a foreign nation lead to prejudice and discrimination against people from that nation, or even just perceived as being from that nation (the case of poor Mr. Chen that Menzie initially posted about here, an ethnically Chinese man assaulted because of anger over auto imports from Japan). All this is reasonable, and indeed there are widespread reports of increased hostile actions against not just ethnically Chinese people but against many Asian Americans. This is all despicable.

        But you have now posted 8 times by my count, several of these posts essentially repeats. To the extent you have personally experienced discrimination or hostility, I am sorry, and you have a right to complain. But you have gone further than that, much further. You have now essentially asserted that there should not be any criticism of China in particular, even if the reporting is accurate and the criticisms are justified, because it might lead to this sort of discrimination, with you emphasizing your own supposed personal experience rather than the broader negative impact on all Asian Americans. In doing this I think you have lost credibility.

        Indeed, I am now suspicious that you are not what or who you claim to be, but a China bot. This looks increasingly like third rate Chinese government propaganda. The hard fact is that the Chinese government has done a lot of highly unacceptable things for which it fully deserves criticism. For the record, I agree that the criticisms are now getting out of hand and exaggerated, as both Trump and Biden seek to accuse each other of “being soft on China,” so this situation is getting worse. But, unfortunately, the Chinese government has been doing little to offset these foreign criticisms, indeed, if anything has been doubling down on even more unacceptable conduct, such as starting the recent border incident with India that resulted in 20 Indian soldiers dead, the first time something like that has happened since 1975.

        I would suggest that if you want to post further on this without completely shredding your already damaged credibility, you will admit that maybe there are grounds for criticizing the Chinese government, even if some recent criticisms have been overedone, before you start whining again about your own claimed experiences, which, frankly, as of now I do not believe. Sorry. You need to prove you are not a bot, if you want anybody here to remotely take you seriously.

  15. ltr

    Understood just how wide and deep the disdain for the Chinese is. I am unable even to explain, for what explanation can be offered for blinding prejudice?

    I really do understand.

    1. Barkley Rosser

      Sorry,, “ltr,” there are plenty of us here who have no prejudice against Chinese people., but nevertheless find reason to criticize the policies of the Chinese government. I also think you will find very few here (certainly not I) who will defend the racist and unacceptable comments coming from President Trump, such as this awful comment that Menzie used for the title of this thread.

  16. Uigher

    Is this where we come to shame the evil racists who criticize our beneficent rulers in Beijing?

  17. ltr

    “Personally, I thought you had a good point and that one can very easily criticize the actions of a national government without simultaneously helping to enable massive…”

    This statement is a pernicious lie, but evidently pointing out a lie about China or the people of China is impermissible. Such is racism. Such is racism directed against Chinese people. The “bot” cry and what accompanied the cry is just an excuse for being unable to tolerate a Chinese comment that is not scripted to be impossibly critical of the people of China. Racism is being told you are a “bot” when you fail to express an approved American stereotype.

    Just how close is being a “bot”, to whatever other demeaning names could be used?

    “Bot, bot”; what a sad self-revealing expression, when the need was to explain how pervasive anti-Chinese prejudice is in America.

    1. baffling

      ltr, you would agree with me in condemning the chinese government for its atrocious killing of chinese students during tiananmen square?

  18. ltr

    President Trump, along with other members of the administration and a number of members of Congress, has repeatedly used racially-charged terms to characterize the coronavirus. The President and other officials has repeatedly characterized the Chinese as thieves, cheats, liars and even rapists. Such accusations appear in the media regularly. Such characterizations and accusations are generally inflaming. These sorts of characterizations and accusations reflect on Chinese-Americans as well as “mainland” Chinese. There is a legacy of prejudice against Chinese people in America that extends far in the past and has always been linked to the mainland.

    The problem is that I am unable to even explain what prejudice against Chinese is.

    As for this entire sentence:

    “Personally, I thought you had a good point and that one can very easily criticize the actions of a national government without simultaneously helping to enable massive…”

    the accusations made in the rest of the sentence are false and pernicious and inflammatory.

    Can I be permitted even to point out what severe prejudice amounts to?

    “…helping to enable massive killing and rape of the people in or from that country.”

    Read this false and terrible libel against a people and understand what prejudice is.

  19. ltr

    ‘You tried, M—–. Somebody has their input filter dialed up to “Do Not Disturb.”

    Personally, I thought you had a good point and that one can very easily criticize the actions of a national government without simultaneously helping to enable massive killing and rape of the people in or from that country.’

    Likely I did not understand any of the comments, especially this comment, but I did try. The words are too fraught. This was, however, a highly worthwhile exercise for me. I appreciate being able to try to learn, and to express myself.

    1. Barkley Rosser


      Maybe you are just some super nationalistic Chinese person who has had bad experiences here in the US who is not a bot. But the fact that you keep repeating the same stupid lines and provide zero recognition that many reasonable people around the world have reasons to be highly critical of the Chinese government while not being prejudiced against Chinese people supports the idea that either you are a bot, or just a hypocritical moron.

      Just to repeat, aside from a few of our local Trumpanzees, nobody here is defending the racist comments that Trump has been making about China and Chinese.

      But there is a very long list of bad things the Chinese government has done and is doing now that you simply ignore or appear to claim are “lies.” Sorry, they are not lies. That is bot talk. So, a millioin Uighurs in concentration camps? How about ongoing aggression in the South China Sea where the International Court of Justice has dismissed Chinese claims of sovereignty? How about thousands in prison for criticizing the government? I could go on, but decided to just stick with ongoing current offenses.

      Note, a lot of us are also willing to agree that there is much that the US government is doing, well beyond Trump making racist comments about Chinese and false accusations against China that is bad. Indeed, if you actually read this blog at all regularly, you will see many of us making such comments about many things.

      You have no credibility, “ltr,” not a shred. Nobody here is supporting you. You may not be a bot, but you are so overtly acting like one, nobody is taking you seriously. You are wasting your time and just making a hypocritical fool out of yourself.

  20. ltr

    “Maybe you are just some super nationalistic Chinese person who has had bad experiences here in the US who is not a bot…”

    That this person evidently needs to be personally insulting is unfortunate, but there we have it. I suppose I may no longer have a “shred of credibility”, though, for how could any person after all those insults? The insults are designed to shred credibility.

    Anyhow, I do so appreciate China and understand the charges against China, or really against the Chinese as a people, are ridiculous. Worrying about China sailing the South China Sea is ridiculous until we understand that America would like to everywhere “contain” China and that is just not ever going to happen. We are after all thinking about the South China Sea and not about the Mediterranean Sea or Gulf of Mexico. Try to understand what China has experienced, and there may come an inkling of appreciation for what China has become, a thoroughly benign country of 1.4 billion that will finish 2020 having ended severe poverty.

  21. ltr

    “Maybe you are just some super nationalistic Chinese person…”

    What I realize is that what you in some way want is to return to 170 years of Chinese subjugation by the “West.” So you gobble up and recite Western untruths as a rationale. However, the years of subjugation are gone forever and living with China as an equal partner is necessary. We are never returning to the times of the Opium Wars. The West has an equal now. The equality should be thoroughly benign, so make it so.

    Writing about imagined aggression in the South China Sea, from the perspective of a country that defines international aggression should call for a change in perspective. Surely this should be clear.

    Do try reading about China from a Chinese perspective. After all, I read the American and British perspectives about China all the time.

    1. Menzie Chinn Post author

      ltr: I read articles written from the perspective of the Chinese government, as well as from the Chinese perspective. I still think the South China Sea should be considered international waters.

  22. baffling

    ltr, your avoidance of my comment on tiananmen would indicate either you are a bot or a troll unwilling to negatively comment on the unfortunate episode.

  23. ltr

    “I read articles written from the perspective of the Chinese government, as well as from the Chinese perspective. I still think the South China Sea should be considered international waters.”

    There are Chinese territories in the South China Sea and these and the waters around these territories will always be secured. The waters in the South China Sea that are not extensions of the Chinese territories are international. Particular disputes about South China Sea territories and territorial waters among surrounding countries will be settled between those countries.

    I see no problem other than America trying to interfere in Chinese affairs in order to “contain” China. China will not be contained, however. Really, American “imperial” or “colonial” intentions towards China are effectively done. America needs to consider China as the United Kingdom.

    China is a peace-loving country, and America should cultivate close and respectful relations with China.

  24. ltr

    “…your avoidance of my comment on…”

    Yes, I do avoid what is meant to be hostile. I do not know how to effectively respond to such prejudice, so I choose avoidance.

    1. Baffling

      Ltr, please explain the “prejudice” of my comment. It was a litmus test which you failed. There is no prejudice in commenting on tiananmen , unless you want to deny the event occurred. You cannot claim bias while simultaneously denying inconvenient truths.

  25. ltr

    Dear Menzie Chinn,

    Thank you so much for allowing my comments.

    American “opinion makers” have unfortunately evidently determined that there must be a return to Cold War conditions with China. This in turn is a special problem for Chinese-Americans. The problem extends far beyond the inflaming remarks of President Trump, as readings of the New York Times or Washington Post repeatedly show.

    I appreciate the safe-space, since I would indeed be afraid to argue as I have in public. My friends and family understand.

  26. ltr

    “I read articles written from the perspective of the Chinese government, as well as from the Chinese perspective. I still think the South China Sea should be considered international waters.”

    Thinking further about this sentence; China should protect itself against any possible American effort to control or limit access in the South China Sea and that is just what China has done. China will not be “contained.” China has protected itself in the South China Sea, and secured Chinese territorial and water rights, just as necessary.

    1. Moses Herzog

      @ ltr
      Do you ever stop to ask yourself, when America had atomic bomb capability a full 20 years before China, and has used the South China Sea all these years up to 2020 WHY China territory has not a single time been threatened by America?? Is/Was it because Dear and Great Leader Mao’s ability at playing 围棋 ?? Or just because no leaders in America were EVER really interested in such ambitions?? Do you ever stop to think why America didn’t use the nuclear bomb in Vietnam?? Because they were afraid Russia would come to Vietnam’s rescue?? Think REAL hard now ltr. In fact have you ever stopped to think how much more success Japan would have had slaughtering Chinese at near random from the air in the early 1940s if not for American pilots in Kunming city?? With your great knowledge of history ltr would you like to share with our little Econbrowser class here what did China’s military air power consist of back in 1941?? We’re all dying to know about that era of China’s “unrivaled” air power of the early 1940s that would have “utterly destroyed” Japanese pilots had America “kept its big fat nose out of it”. Don’t think too long ltr, or it might shatter your psychologically fragile “world view”—if it encompasses a broad enough parameter to call your thoughts a “world view”.

  27. Barkley Rosser


    You identify any criticism of Chines government policies as criticism of “the Chinese people.” Sorry, but that is pure propaganda, more bot-like talk. The Peoples’ Republic of China is not remotely a democracy. Its government does not reflect the will of “the Chinese people.” That can be said about the Republic of China located mostly on Taiwan, which recently reelected a government opposed to closer relations with the PRC because of the unacceptable conduct by the PRC authorities in Hong Kong. Your every single line and argument simply repeats PRC government propaganda, pure and simple.

    You may be what you claim to be, but there are simply too many well-informed people here, most of them highly critical of much conduct by the US government, who view you as simply lacking in any credibility. If you were to exhibit a single shred of distance between your views and those of the PRC government, your credibiility would suddenly escalate dramatically. But there is none, not a smidgen. You appear to be just a bot unworthy of respect, , even if you are not one.

  28. Baffling

    Ltr has shown himself to be a pawn of the prc rather than somebody trying to promote true and honest discourse. A bot.

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