Coronavirus - Chinatown
Coronavirus - Chinatown

Chinese restaurants deserve so much better from us

There's nothing Aussies love to eat more than a Chinese meal (OK, maybe a pavlova. Or a Bunnings snag).

From dumplings to fried rice to spring rolls, hot pots, Singapore noodles, roast duck pancakes, and sweet and sour pork, Chinese food is not only part of our culture, but also one of the most popular cuisines in the country.

It's our Friday night comfort food, our hangover food, the food that makes the whole family happy. Yum cha is a Sunday staple for many families. It's a universal pleaser; vegetarian? Vegan? Plain noodles with chilli oil? It's got you covered.

Chinese restaurants are rarely closed, even on Christmas Day. They're always there for us when we need a warm and familiar chicken and sweet corn soup.

Aussies love and consume Chinese food so much that most capital cities have a Chinatown. So why, in recent weeks, have we abandoned this community and threatened its continuing existence?

It seems that now anything to do with China - people who look Chinese, imported goods and even its cuisine - is enough, by its association, to warrant boycotting thanks to unfounded panic about coronavirus.

China Town restaurant owner Allan Chu says coronavirus fears have drastically slowed down business. Picture: Tim Pascoe
China Town restaurant owner Allan Chu says coronavirus fears have drastically slowed down business. Picture: Tim Pascoe

Considering Chinese restaurants aren't run by people who've just landed from Wuhan, the epicentre of the coronavirus, this is clearly ridiculous. They're owned and operated by Australians, or people who have made Australia their home. And we've literally turned our backs on them.

The community which has given so much to us is being isolated.

Chinatown in Sydney, for example, is deserted. It's usually-full restaurants are empty. Some have laid off casual staff, some have closed until customer numbers return. It's a cliche, but it looks, and feels, like a ghost town.

I saw this first-hand. My son is involved in the Chinese Youth League, and this Lunar New Year, Chinatown was a bare shell of itself. It was so sad to see; not because the team's performance didn't have an audience, but because the special occasion, which is normally fully supported, wasn't embraced as the celebration it should have been.

Usually 10-people deep, the crowd was barely a handful - and that continued for the entire weekend.

There's undoubtedly an element of racism in the boycotting. This could be seen when Twitter erupted over a Harvey Norman store in Albury that allegedly put out a sign claiming their mattresses don't have the coronavirus because they are made in Australia.

Sydney's China Town has become a ghost town. Picture: Tim Pascoe
Sydney's China Town has become a ghost town. Picture: Tim Pascoe

Yes, the speed and numbers of the coronavirus are scary. That can't be downplayed - this is a significant world health crisis.

But we also need to keep things in perspective, because the epicentre isn't in Sydney's Haymarket, Brisbane's Sunnybank or Melbourne's Box Hill.

The family of nine who all got the virus after sharing a meal? That was in Hong Kong. The KFC worker diagnosed with coronavirus after preparing fast food meals? That was in Xian, on mainland China.

The bigger risk for Aussies is businesses being forced to close their doors and losing thousands in revenue, laying off casual staff and cancelling their goods orders. If this keeps going, it will have a wider effect.

Last week, Victoria's Chief Medical officer, Dr Brett Sutton, told The Project, "We should be reaching out to the Chinese and broader Asian community at this extremely difficult time for them, and support businesses and events that are now part of the Australian fabric."

He is right. Chinese restaurants are small businesses, family businesses, run by hardworking Aussies. We can't desert them.

We created #buyfromthebush to support fire-ravaged towns. Now we need to #downadumpling to support another sector of our community.

Get take away if you're really that worried about going into Chinatown, but don't stop supporting a whole sector of Aussie businesses and hardworking people.

You wouldn't do it to the farmers, so don't do it to your favourite Chinese restaurant, who's always been there for you.

Nama Winston is a columnist for