Skip to main content

Why some Chinese-Americans support Trump (it has nothing to do with China)

caption: This banner flew over Seattle on Oct. 28. It reads, WA Chinese for Trump.
Enlarge Icon
This banner flew over Seattle on Oct. 28. It reads, WA Chinese for Trump.
KUOW Photo/Amy Radil

Editor’s note, 11/3/16: This story has been updated with additional reporting. KUOW failed to include the voices of Chinese-Americans in the original article. We apologize for this oversight.

You might not expect Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump to be popular in China or among Chinese-Americans in the U.S. given his many comments about China draining away American money and jobs. And yet on Friday, an airplane flew over Seattle with the banner, “Washington Chinese Americans for Trump.”

The group Chinese Americans for Trump was started by California resident David Tian Wang. He said his effort now has members in 30 states, and many have raised funds to send those airplane banners through their skies. The effort started with a Chinese-Americans for Trump member in Arizona, who is also a pilot.

Wang said many of these voters support Trump’s stances on issues like immigration and national security. The message on the banner is intended to serve two purposes: To promote their preferred presidential candidate, and to galvanize Chinese-Americans to become politically involved.

“I don’t care if they go out and vote for Hillary or Trump or some other guy,” Wang said, “as long as they’re voting. This is what counts. Obviously I’d prefer them to vote for Trump, but I’ll be really happy if those people who have never voted before can go out and vote.”

David Wang himself is in the process of becoming a U.S. citizen but said that won’t happen before Nov. 8. Still, he said he has knocked on doors and talked to voters every day this year. He said he started off supporting Democrats but drifted toward the Republican party over the last several years.

“We see that the Republican values are more in line with the Chinese-American values,” Wang said. “For example their education policy is based on meritocracy which is the same, exactly what we want: meritocracy. We want to be able to have our kids to be admitted to higher educational institutes based on how much they have sacrificed, how hard they worked, instead of their skin color.”

David Wang initially supported Jeb Bush, but finds that Trump’s emergence in this election year has led to a wider political awakening among Chinese-Americans he knows. “We just got into politics, so we’re like 15-year-olds, falling in love,” he said.

For that reason, Wang said it was disturbing to read an earlier version of a KUOW story which failed to include the voices of Chinese-Americans who support Trump, and instead conflated his political efforts in the U.S. with the views of Chinese nationals.

Diane, a Chinese-American and small business owner in Kirkland, was one of the people who gave money to help fund the WA Chinese Americans for Trump banner flying over Seattle. She asked that her last name not be used because she fears repercussions to her business. Diane came to the U.S. from China as a student in the 1990s. She said Trump is not perfect, but she supports him over Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, who she views as corrupt.

“[Trump] might not be experienced, he might not say all the right words, but he generally cares about the country and the people,” she said.

She echoed David Wang’s concerns about the impact of affirmative action or diversity initiatives on Chinese-American students and job applicants.

“Some big companies are starting to apply that to the workplace. Basically even if you study good, you get into college, now you can’t get into this company because they have a certain quota for Asia,” she said. She believes Trump would oppose these policies.

These Trump supporters and activists are not necessarily representative of Chinese-American voters as a whole. A study released last month by the National Asian-American Survey suggested that Asian-American voters including Chinese Americans are gravitating toward the Democratic party and hold unfavorable views of Republican candidate Donald Trump.

Some Chinese nationals also support Trump, but for very different reasons from Chinese-Americans.

“See there’s a huge difference between Chinese nationals and Chinese-Americans,” David Wang said. “For Chinese-Americans here, we want Trump for ourselves, we want Trump for America. And I think a lot of Chinese nationals in China, they want Trump to win because they hate Hillary.”

John Pomfret, the former Washington Post bureau chief in China, said there’s a lot of pro-Trump talk in China and on WeChat and Weibo, two popular social media platforms.

Pomfret said in China, there’s a certain nostalgia for what he terms “the big political man,” a character that Trump inhabits well. And he said, “In China, there’s no love lost for Hillary Clinton. Partially because in a way, Clinton regained her political mojo in China in 1995 during the International Women’s Conference.”

That’s where Clinton pointedly criticized China’s treatment of girls and said, "women's rights are human rights." She’s seen as a hawk on China and an experienced negotiator. Meanwhile Trump’s perceived isolationism would create more room for Chinese leadership to expand. In China, “there’s kind of this sense – almost this gleeful sense – that if the Americans elect this guy, China will really be the beneficiary," Pomfret said.

At the University of Washington campus in Seattle, canopies line Red Square with tables for various Asian student groups. One of them is the Chinese Students and Scholars Association, where international student Haoyu Wang is a member. He's majoring in political science.

Haoyu Wang said he's speaking as an individual, not for the student group. He said he feels some of that glee at the prospect of a Trump presidency. “We don’t like Trump as a person, but we like him as a tool to kind of bring America down," Wang said. But he added that he feels no hostility for the U.S. and said Trump's candidacy is seen as almost a reality show in China.

The UW senior said his views aren’t necessarily typical of his peers at the university. Many students he knows, both Asian and non-Asian, are supporting Clinton, who Haoyu Wang sees as tough and experienced. But Wang wants to make his career in China, and he thinks a Trump victory would be good for his home country, which is already on the rise.

“We turned the tables," he said. "So more and more of us, international Chinese students, would like to obtain certain knowledge in the United States and try to go back and serve our country.” He said he's not looking to enter the military or politics. Instead he hopes to attend law school in the U.S. and use his education to work in business.

But he said, "there's a huge division among Chinese students." Perhaps a third of those students he knows hope to stay on in the U.S. after college.

Wang said his support for Trump verges on being sarcastic. But his excitement about what the future holds for him in China is quite sincere.

This story originally aired 10/31/2016.

Why you can trust KUOW