So, I’ve got a story to tell.
In these times of violence against Asians, I don’t feel it’s “right” to speak negatively against my kind. But then again, that’s always been the problem. Taking sides means seeing the world in black and white, and while articles about harassment and saying China Virus is racist are abundant, I’ve been a witness to a problem started by our community that’s been under spoken.
Since December of last year, my roommate has been part of a systematic operation by Chinese-Americans (all first gen, if that detail matters) to sweep the East Coast of baby formula, masks, hand sanitizers and other essential items. Unlike your average American, these professional Chinese hoarders (or “daigou Chinese”) took the potential of COVID-19 spreading here to America seriously and saw a profit margin from it. I knew something was up when my roommate woke up at 4am every morning and didn’t return until 12 hours later with an army of SUVs filled to the brink of the aforementioned items. The bedrooms and a makeshift room created from our living room started looking like an Amazon warehouse. It was obvious to me what was going on, but it wasn’t until my roommate tried to involve me that I saw how systematic it was. There was a mysterious ringmaster in China, recruiting “officers” like my roommate in each state to go to Costco’s/Sam’s Club/Targets/Wal-Marts etc. throughout America to professionally horde and sell these items either to China or to the world underground markets (black markets for hand sanitizer?).
“Diagou Chinese” are making huge profits.
This is the part where I’d like to tell you that I was a hero, scolded them the moral implications of their network and made them stop; but I was Team Asian and kept silent. I rationalized that if Chinese people didn’t hoard, other groups would hoard and that was part of our strength as a people…we were survivors even at the expense of the greater good. If you’re Chinese, you’re familiar with this modern philosophy. My roommate was making $100 a box of masks and $30 a bottle of Purell. I even had to help her call FedEx to make sure shipments arrived at a specific address in Hong Kong where they were black marketed past the Chinese government through bribes. This was a serious business.
When the pandemic hit America and I saw first-hand the mayhem in early-March of people in dire need of these supplies, I juxtaposed it to the scenes I was seeing in my living room. My greedy Chinese roommate and their hoarding cohorts were celebrating their newly arrived payments, cash in hundred-dollar bills by the mysterious benefactor in China for successfully taking needed supplies from the entire East coast of megastores.
“Don’t worry,” my roommate rationalized. “They’ll restock. Americans will be fine. It’s just a temporary setback for them. We saw it as a business opportunity. Besides, everybody is doing it. Us Chinese are just at the head of the game.”
This footage is from Australia, but in America it’s similar to what I’ve seen.
She was right. American stores are somewhat back with supplies now and people of all races had been hoarding anyway. From a Chinese perspective, the practicality made sense. From a humanist moral perspective, however, to which a lot of Chinese opposing the views of my roommate and her hoarding cohorts share, it made me ashamed of this aspect of our community. I know I wasn’t the only one who was aware of these operations. People kept silent. You know, when there are threats of violence against Asians, knowing and seeing Chinese people rush to megastores in waves and hoarding baby formula doesn’t help and adds fuel to the gasoline. How can our community be 100% innocent knowing and being apologists for actions like this? Again, this wasn’t one or two Chinese people hoarding…this was a systematic operation, rife with the negative stereotype Mainland Chinese philosophy of me-first-survival/everyone else can suck it. Perhaps it’s true that every other community would have done it, but I won’t join in on the chorus that being smart in making a buck is to be applauded. I’ve been told and taught too often by the “pragmatic” members of the Chinese community that being thoughtful to strangers is a foolish, dumb thing. Whenever I went to Mainland China, a lot of people don’t stand in line, a lot of people don’t drive in the right lane, a lot of people litter en masse. It’s a very embraced philosophy in China to be selfish and I’m fully aware of the counter-argument that Western people are just the same only we pretend we’re not, but we’re really not on that level.
As a bright ending to this story, I’ve seen the family members of some of these hoarders steal back the hoarded supplies from their homes and donating them to places like local hospitals. These Robin Hoods are making right from a big wrong. I continue to have sympathy for all the Asians in diaspora being threatened and/or attacked by violence, but I also won’t condone what greedy members in our community have done to hurt a lot of innocent Americans, including Chinese-Americans, by depriving them of supplies. I would have been more forgiving about it had the hoarding been used for survival purposes and not a moneymaking one. We’ll never know the actual impact caused by these hoarders, but perhaps in the next pandemic our community can find a spine (unlike me who had none) and start whistleblowing this bullshit.