The recent post by DeWang about the RT short documentary on Chinese Americans going back to China has further reinforced an ugly conception I have been only somewhat familiar with: that many Chinese people in China believe that Chinese people are not as good as their western counterparts. It may not be an explicit belief but something more like a deep-rooted sensibility that only manifests itself subtly in unconscious behavior in many people. But the video definitely supports the view that perhaps the Chinese people in China lack a sense of collective self-esteem vis a vis westerners. I am saddened that many of these Chinese American expats say they experienced discrimination by Chinese Chinese. They mention that they are not seen as an equal to do many jobs which require a certain “international” image (a clear euphemism for white or western). They are seen as more likely to be less competent at the English language despite the fact that these Chinese Americans seem to be Native English speakers. They are seen by other Chinese in China as overall less good both professionally and perhaps overall.
What motivates this low self-esteem, this lack of group pride, deficiency of self-respect in Chinese people? Perhaps it is time that all Chinese people, in China and among the diaspora, to have a serious dialogue on this issue.
Of course, many people, especially those who have had a colonial history suffer this problem (often in much more severe degrees and in many more domains). A friend who lived in India has many stories of the blatant, long ingrained white worship among many Indians. Whites are seen as more competent, more intelligent, cleaner and kinder. Sometimes there’s even a holy reverence for whiteness that may have roots in ancient Vedic culture. The lighter the skin and blonder the hair, the better many Indians seem to think and feel the person is. Indian girls prefer light skinned Indian men and will even throw themselves at even lighter white men at nightclubs. The self-directed racism is often not even covered by polite euphemisms or self- conscious, prideful defense mechanisms. Of course, India has had a longer and more extensive colonial history than China. I do not believe, from the stories I have heard and read that China is anywhere near that bad on this issue but it does seem to exist in some large Chinese cities. For the Chinese, I also believe it is less a racial or ethnic inferiority rather than a cultural inferiority complex.
I believe that it stems mainly from ignorance. That is, from a false assumptions about Western culture. Many Chinese see the successes of western nations in economics, culture, military power and simply assume that the reason for this is a superior culture that enables the development of all these areas. This is a very superficial understanding of history. A more accurate view ought to disabuse this notion and set the Chinese mindset straight about their own place in the world as an equal.
Many Chinese, as Ray mentioned in the comments section to DeWang’s blog, likely are poorly educated and do not understand the modern history of the west and what led to the dominance of the west. This dominance is not a result of superior western culture but the mechanism for that preeminent course in history is a history built on the backs of other people. The development of western societies were, and to some degree still are, fueled by oppression. Colonialism, imperialism, slavery, genocide, and in the modern world, western-centric globalization has produced massive global inequality.
The industrial revolution in America, for example, could not have been built but through imported “free labor” from the massive slave trade that fueled the early US economy by providing free and efficient agricultural labor reaping the fertile soils of this abundant country, itself stolen from Native Americans who were mostly slaughtered, for the natural resources found on their land. The American industrial revolution could not have happened if the Chinese laborers had not been deceived and exploited into building the railroads that connected the country and efficiently transported goods, labor and ideas across the continent. Imperialism and colonialism boosted western industrial development by providing pilfered resources and know-how to support a social class that could afford to develop society through intellectual pursuits.
Resources, man power, and intellectual property from people all over the world have been utilized but only to the benefit a small fraction of the world’s population. That is how that wealth became so concentrated. From that unfair distribution of wealth, comes the development of other things from cultural development to military power. The gap is still getting wider in some places due to the inherently unfair globalization policies that continually benefits the wealthier western countries (see, for example, the Nobel prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz’s criticisms of globalization). The modern western world is built on and sustained by injustice. It preeminence is not accurately explained by hard work, superior values or inherent natural superiority of western people as many western people would like to believe.
But many Chinese people inside China are not aware of this history and maintain very naive viewpoints on the reasons for the historical trajectory between the west and China.
There are two ways I believe that can improve the problem, one backward-looking and one forward-looking. Granted, as China develops economically and militarily, the Chinese people will naturally have more pride and will gradually see their own people and culture as equally worthy. That will come naturally but there still things all of us can do to improve it further. One is through education of the past. The Chinese must obtain a clear-eyed understand of the history of the western history, not one the western would portrays through its movies, media and common public perceptions which is how many Chinese people come to form their naive views. That history in reality is not pretty. It is just as important to learn about other people’s history as it is to learn one’s own. I hope that the Chinese government will provide that objective, clear-eyed view of the west through better education in public schools.
I also believe that it is important for the Chinese people to develop a new sense of themselves. A new identity and culture that imports much of the aspects of traditional Chinese culture but adapted to the modern world. Only those who are competent in culture, literature and art have a chance at developing a solid cultural foundation that truly can inculcated more collective self-esteem within the Chinese people so that we view ourselves as just as good as anyone else. I believe that China needs artists, writers, movie producers, philosophers, social scientists, and so forth even more so than engineers and scientists today. China is now graduating millions of the later and that is a good thing. But now China should focus on churning out more quality people in the areas central to cultivating a more robust and secure sense of identity.