With racism on the rise, June is taking Kung Fu classes to protect herself

A reported increase in racially fueled attacks has left Chinese Australian woman June Anderson so fearful that she’s resorting to self-defence classes.

Highlights
  • Chinese Australians have experienced an uptick in racial attacks since 2019, according to a recent anti-racism survey
  • Racism victim June Anderson says she found the reporting and psychological support system inadequate
  • More Chinese Australians are enquiring about self-defence classes to protect themselves and other vulnerable community members
February 15 was meant to be a memorable day for June Anderson.

It was the end of the Lunar New Year and the 60-year-old Chinese Australian had caught the train into the city to watch Moulin Rouge the musical, the first time she had gone to see a live performance in the two years since the pandemic hit. 

On her way home at Flinders Street Station, Ms Anderson said a young woman stood in front of her and yelled: “You motherf***er. You’re Asian. Why are you still here? You should not be here. F*** off.”

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Ms Anderson stood frozen as her mobile was snatched out of her hand before two bystanders intervened and retrieved the device for her.

Still shaken, she says she noticed another person following her on and off the carriage and as she walked towards the carpark where her husband was waiting.

June Anderson says she now wants to learn Kung Fu after being racially attacked.
June Anderson says she now wants to learn Kung Fu after being racially attacked. Source: Tania Lee/SBS Chinese


“As I quickened my steps, so did he. Luckily, my husband’s head popped out of the car. He must have seen him because then they disappeared,” Ms Anderson said, fearful of what might have eventuated had her husband not been there.

Two months later, frustrated at not being able to successfully understand the system for reporting racial attacks and seeking specialised psychological help for her trauma, Ms Anderson says she is on the verge of signing up for Kung Fu classes to deal with her heightened sense of insecurity.

“I don’t have any [self-defence skills]. This is why I’m going to join. I realise it’s important to protect myself,” she said.

Chinese community members fight back

Ms Anderson is part of a throng of Chinese community members who have experienced racism or have seen it impact others and have enquired about martial arts classes such as Anne Pang’s in Melbourne.

“A lot of the students in my group are parents. There has definitely been an increase in incidents within just my group and friends of theirs as well,” she said.

The Taiwanese-born instructor from Barry Pang Kung Fu School says her classes help community members develop confidence and spatial awareness in public spaces. 

Sessions are also focused on teaching skills to deliver kicks and a “single punch along the centreline” as well as the ability to sidestep to avoid an attack.
Kung Fu instructor Anne Pang says increased experiences of racism against Chinese community members have prompted some to express interest in martial arts.
Kung Fu instructor Anne Pang says increased experiences of racism against Chinese community members have prompted some to express interest in martial arts. Source: Tania Lee/SBS Chinese


A recent led by Wesa Chau and that Ms Pang helped establish revealed racism has significantly risen in Australia after 2019.

Almost half of the 457 survey participants reported high feelings of anxiety about racism post 2019 (49.5%) compared to prior to 2019 (12.9%).
Anti-Racism Survey Report 2022 findings.
Anti-Racism Survey Report 2022 findings. Source: Wesa Chau


This comes following the release of a Lowy Institute that states one in three Chinese-Australian suffer discrimination due to their heritage.

“Racism has worsened in the last three years. And it’s a bit of surprise to people that it’s not just due to COVID-19 but before COVID-19 as well,” Ms Pang says.

Findings for the recent Anti-Racism Survey Report 2022.
Findings for the recent Anti-Racism Survey Report 2022. Source: Wesa Chau


She says increased experiences of racism, both personal and witnessing others experiencing racism, have prompted some Chinese people to express an interest in martial arts classes.   

“I think I need to learn skills so that I can protect myself and protect others as well,” said a Kung Fu student who did not want to be named over safety fears.

She says violent attacks, captured on video, against international Chinese students have left her fearful that something may happen to her or somebody close to her.

“I feel over the last two years, since COVID, people think we bought the disease over. Why do we have to be associated with this?” she told SBS Chinese.

Now, she says she’s more equipped with spacial awareness and self-defence moves to face an attacker than prior to learning Kung Fu.

“I feel more confident when I walk down the street because I know I can use the techniques I learned in [Kung Fu] to protect me better than before. I can do something rather than do nothing,” she said.

Why is there more racism?

Ms Anderson said the Chinese community had felt the anti-Chinese sentiment due to coronavirus-fuelled racism and the “China threat” rhetoric being highlighted at national level.

Anne Pang (front) has been advising Chinese community members of the various ways to deal with racist slurs and attacks.
Anne Pang (front) has been advising Chinese community members of the various ways to deal with racist slurs and attacks. Source: Tania Lee/SBS Chinese


“We are in the middle of an election campaign. Each side is playing off and seeing who can be tougher on China. Politics aside, this kind of rhetoric is having a major impact on the lives of Chinese Australians,” she said.

A recent of 16 policy positions by the Australia-China Relations Institute at the University of Technology Sydney, including responses to Beijing's trade sanctions and defence spending, found both parties in agreement on every issue.

Defence Minister Peter Dutton has been doubling down on warnings of a possible military conflict with China because of Beijing’s efforts to reunify Taiwan with the mainland.

He says he is spending more money on defence than they ever have because China’s growing presence in the Indo-Pacific poses concerns for Canberra.

Last week, Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said the timing of Beijing’s security deal with Solomon Islands was designed to hurt the Coalition’s chances at the federal election and therefore an act of “”.

The Australian government keeps reiterating that Chinese people are a threat. This gives people an excuse to hurl racial slurs at someone [of Chinese appearance].
Ms Pang says another example is the federal government’s decision to block Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei from Australia’s 5G roll-out, which the company said was “”.

Anti-China political rhetoric is reverberated throughout the Chinese community, says Anne Pang.
Anti-China political rhetoric is reverberated throughout the Chinese community, says Anne Pang. Source: AAP


The Turnbull-led federal government at the time said the involvement of Huawei would present national security concerns and presented too much of a risk.

“That had a huge effect. That really reverberated throughout the Chinese community. That perhaps we’re not welcome here. That perhaps it’s harder to do business now, which was one of the responses from the survey,” Ms Pang said.

Chinese community leader’s message

In a webinar for Chinese community members concerned about anti-Asian hate crimes last year, Ms Pang was among the speakers advising them of the various ways to deal with racist slurs and attacks.

Education expert Claire Wang and thought leader in cultural diversity Wesa Chau also spoke, advising community members who experienced racism to report the incident to police and to seek psychological support.

This achieves dual outcomes, says Ms Pang, victims can receive help and the government can collect data and ensure the effective allocation of resources.
Kung Fu instructor Anne Pang with her student.
Kung Fu instructor Anne Pang with her student. Source: Tania Lee/SBS Chinese


The Australian government is funding the Embrace Multicultural Mental Health Program, delivered by Mental Health Australia, which provides a focus on mental health and suicide prevention for people of Australia’s culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds until 2025.

As part of obtaining registration with the Psychology Board of Australia, all psychologists must demonstrate they meet eight competency-based standards, including the ability to work with people from diverse groups.

But Ms Anderson says services are not specialised enough, particularly when the trauma is racism related.

I am still seeking help and I haven’t really had somebody to really run through my trauma. If we don’t have the system in places, we’ll continue to suffer.
She adds that Chinese racial attack victims tend to not air or report their incidents because they believe nothing will come out of it and they’ll only re-traumatise themselves.

“They become silent victims,” Ms Anderson said.

Defense Minister Peter Dutton says there is evidence that the Chinese Communist Party wants Australia’s government to change.
Defense Minister Peter Dutton says there is evidence that the Chinese Communist Party wants Australia’s government to change. Source: AAP


Ms Pang says that political parties also need to be aware of how their political weaponisation of China is playing out at the community level in Australia.

She says she believes Australia has a sense of justice, “Australians are very compassionate and they are so kind,” she said.”

“I would like all Australians return to their true colours rather than being affected by a lot of the political election campaign that has divided us quite a lot,” she said.

“Australian Chinese do love Australia. We do want to contribute to the building of Australia. And we will continue to contribute.”




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7 min read
Published 10 May 2022 at 12:22pm
By Tania Lee