Home > culture > "You are quite Americanized."

"You are quite Americanized."

I am thinking about writing a piece on “searching for a Chinese identity”, not just at the individual level, but also at a collective cultural level. The heart of the controversies surrounding the Beijing Olympics is the building of a collective Chinese identity, who we are, what we stand for, how we present ourselves to the outside. There are a lot of confusions in this aspect.

Here is a case of individual experience with cultural identity for Chinese living in the West. After years living and working in the environment, you acquire the language, behavior structures and subtle mannerism of the people you work with, simply out of necessity. In my line of work, you can’t survive a week if the students do not understand what you are talking about; they tear you apart limb by limb. Many Chinese individuals in America have encountered this type of situation. Your acquaintance looks at you and gives you a compliment: “you are quite Americanized.” My reaction depends on the way he or she puts it. Most of my acquaintances deliver this compliment out of innocence. I just have a vacant feeling of irrelevance and let it pass. Once in a while someone gives me this compliment in a patronizing and condescending manner, awarding me an alien identity that is supposed to be better than my original. Then I am quite pissy about it. As a Chinese, how would you react if an American tells you that you are “quite Americanized”?

I hope I am not offending anyone again. The internet is too civilized for me.

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  1. Theo
    July 16th, 2008 at 13:38 | #1

    The writers of this blog all seem Americanised to me, from ‘old’ Europe. Using phrases like ‘pissy’ for example – what’s that all about?

  2. Hemulen
    July 16th, 2008 at 13:56 | #2

    So what so American about that? If you’re a laowai in China and speak Chinese you will hear “Ni Zhongguohua shuo de ting bu CUO-O-O” every day uttered with different intonations ranging from condescension to approval. (I absolutely love the way Beijing people can stretch out the fourth tone to make it sound extra bombastic.)

  3. bianxiangbianqiao
    July 16th, 2008 at 14:01 | #3

    Theo,
    I thought “pissy” was pure British.

  4. July 16th, 2008 at 14:08 | #4

    An academic has a problem with perceived slights received from other academics? Yawn!

    What you have described (foreigner is praised on assimilation of local culture and feels implied slight on his/her native culture) happens in offices, workplaces and everywhere else everyday in every country in the whole world.

    Is their racism against Chinese immigrants in western countries? Undoubtedly. But this is not a real example of serious racism – why don’t you talk about the kind of discrimination in jobs and otherwise which Chinese face in the west, rather just examples of your pet peeves.

  5. July 16th, 2008 at 14:15 | #5

    BXBQ – The only online listing for the word ‘pissy’ is in the American Random House dictionary, for a US slang word.

  6. Chops
    July 16th, 2008 at 14:54 | #6

    Come on, patronizing? Not likely.

    Did’nt Australian Premier Rudd quote the Chinese saying
    “Tian bu pa, Di bu pa, Zhi pa laowai jiang Zhong guo hua”?

  7. Buxi
    July 16th, 2008 at 15:02 | #7

    BXBQ,

    I think it’s a topic that strikes a chord with a lot of people. We actually had a popular thread not long ago here, that started off with the translation of a post slightly similar to your meaning:

    http://blog.hiddenharmonies.org/2008/07/03/what-does-it-mean-to-be-chinese/

  8. bianxiangbianqiao
    July 16th, 2008 at 15:02 | #8

    Foarp,

    Thanks for pointing out my thin skin and other weaknesses. However, the culural and psychological processes underpinning this phenomenon desrves analysis. There is a difference between the praise of assimilation I mentioned and Chinese folks’ complement for Madrin speaking non-Chinese that Hemulen mentioned. Chinese folks’ remarks seem to be directed at the individual’s language skills, pure and simple. While some (far from all) Americans’ comments on successful assimilation are more complex in connotation, and focus more on elevating the relative position of their assimilating culture (and subtly devaluing the other culture, which needs to be abandoned). My free-associating mind cannot resist linking this issue to the Western perspective on rest of the world, with its various groups. Do Westerners consciously or unconsciously want to Westernize all individuals and groups (my values are “universal”)? I do not have conclusions, just questions.

  9. bianxiangbianqiao
    July 16th, 2008 at 15:04 | #9

    Buxi,
    That threat is really interesting. I have to look at it closely.

  10. bianxiangbianqiao
    July 16th, 2008 at 15:06 | #10

    Chops,

    You forgot that Premier Rudd is a politician and have very utilitarian views on this sort of things.

  11. July 16th, 2008 at 15:14 | #11

    I would say that Americans are as proud of their country as most people in this world, and are as happy to see a foreign immigrant get into baseball or NASCAR as a Chinese person is to see foreigners who are into Peking opera and Chinese calligraphy. I think there is nothing wrong with anyone being proud of their country. Beyond that, this is surely turning into the kind of conversation that you and I have seen a good number of times.

  12. yo
    July 16th, 2008 at 15:48 | #12

    My 2 cents:
    It depends on the situations, sometimes it’s a compliment:
    “hey, he’s like us, he’s in the club”. This is a comradery angle.

    Or it can be condescending and inappropriate:
    “Hey, your English is good, you are quite Americanized”. Despite the fact you could be an American Born Chinese or a Chinese expat living in the country for decades. This is the alienation angle that you were supposed to fit in a particular mold but don’t. Sort of like saying, “Man that black guy is pretty eloquent”. *cough* Joe Biden *cough*

    I don’t think saying Americanize is by itself a good or bad thing because it depends on the context.

  13. oldson
    July 16th, 2008 at 16:37 | #13

    I think we need to keep in mind that culturally speaking, to a Chinese their sense of culture comes from maintaining traditions while American culture comes from shedding traditions in lieu of your own individual identity. I think some Americans like going to China because it’s a chance to see a mutually shared culture with set traditions while some Chinese like coming to America because they can finally be themselves and be more individualized.

    If an American nicely says “you’re Americanized” I think they are saying that they respect the time and effort you have put into learning the language, culture, etc. In China people rarely use the same idea (Sino-ized?) with foreigners. Hemulen is 100% right with how Beijingers and NE Chinese will say something to the effect of ‘ni de zhongwen shuo de taaaiiiii hao le” where as the foreigner will grin and brown nose while showing off their Chinese with a ‘bu gan dang, nali, nali’ and the Chinese will cluck and coo and drown the grinning foreigner in lots of superficial complements and smiles.

    I saw a lot of foreigners addicted to showing off because Chinese are so overboard and lavishing praise (fake?) on simple acts of cultural conformity. For example “that lao wai can use chop sticks! Amazing! That lao wai said ‘ni hao’ – he must be a highly educated and morally good person!” I highly doubt that any American (except the horribly racist and ignorant) would run up to a Chinese in America and shout out ‘oh my God, it can use a fork! Wow! Good boy, now can you speak English? You can say ‘hello’? My god, you must have a PhD in comparative linguistics!”

    While the example above is ridiculous, any foreigner who has lived in China can understand. Chinese are very egocentric about how supposedly superior the Chinese culture is – while past Chinese culture is certainly one of the treasures of the world, Chinese are usually very condescending to foreigners. Chinese food is better, the Chinese language is complexly superior, Chinese history is the longest, Americans are savage warmongers, etc. I have to hear enough of this kind of fei hua from my Chinese in laws and friends every day.

    Foreigners will always be inferior lao wai. (When I say inferior, I mean that Chinese never directly say that they are better than anyone, they just say that everybody else is worse). No matter how hard you try a white person will never be truly accepted in China. Most people will be overly kind and polite but you are always an outsider. China encourages foreigners to dance, sing and behave like a ‘cultural running dog’ for their amusement while Americans don’t care about who or what you are, just as long as you are yourself and are familiar with American culture.

    On a side note, I was interviewed on TV a number of times and did some commercials (including the 2007 Asia Olympics introductory video) while I was in China because my Chinese is pretty good. However, I passed up a really good chance to be a regular on a provincial game show because I knew what was expected of me – pretend to be ignorant of certain things, laugh a lot, look confused and play around. I knew the other foreigner who ended up doing the show and yes, he was a dancing chicken. How many times did you see foreigners showing off on Chinese TV? Look at Da Shan and how much of a media whore he is – foreigners in China are valued for how well they speak Chinese, sing, dance and write calligraphy. I got in trouble when I was interviewed because I would always refuse to show off and simply want to talk about current events and politics (big no no). So in America how many TV shows do you have Chinese dancing around, singing the latest pop songs while saying how much they love China? You will never see that. Of course, the argument will be made that ‘China is a developing country’ but that crutch is used too much to make excuses. China will always be a predominately Han culture and someone unfamiliar and fascinated by foreigners.

    On to the original point – of course there will be condescending tones used by certain individuals. I always felt the easiest way to entertain or make friends with Chinese was to simply behave like they do. Say what they want to hear and do what they want you to do (a must for doing business in China). Chinese of course will say you must ‘ru xiang sui su’ but I always asked the question: why do we have China towns over the world with Chinese who refuse to learn the local language, customs and identify with the group? Why don’t we have America towns in China (well, where ever there are bars and clubs there will be Americans in China)?

    From a sociological perspective one would say that China has a collective social structure while America has an independent social structure. So there are different social structures which relate to the culture in question. Unless the tone is very condescending I don’t think it is right to say that complementing someone on their cultural grasp of the local group is wrong. There will always be people who are egocentrically ignorant and love to bash other countries. Many Chinese I meet always imply that by me being crazy about kung fu, Zhong yao, and Chinese history is that my own culture is someone lower and inferior. In China you are either one or the other – you are either yin or yang, Chinese or chou lao wai while in America you are a balance of yin and yang – an amalgamation of diversity and individuality.

  14. July 16th, 2008 at 16:46 | #14

    @BXBQ

    Just as a way of quick introduction for some of Buxi’s popular entries

    What does it mean to be Chinese?
    http://blog.hiddenharmonies.org/2008/07/03/what-does-it-mean-to-be-chinese/

    “Chocolate City” – Africans seek their dreams in China
    http://blog.hiddenharmonies.org/2008/06/14/chocolate-city-africans-seek-their-dreams-in-china/

    “True Pride” – Time magazine,
    http://blog.hiddenharmonies.org/2008/06/25/true-pride-time-magazine/

  15. Daniel
    July 16th, 2008 at 17:46 | #15

    Really depends on the context and person’s status as some have mentioned.
    I’m going to view as what would an American would say to an immigrant (or international student).
    In my interactions with the Chinese immigrants and students, if I told them they are quite Americanized, many offer reactions that they I assumed it was refering to how they behave and think like their American counterparts (whereever it is, if it’s in New York, like fellow New Yorkers, if it is in Alabama, etc).

    Some could speak very good English or enjoy the NBA and eat Soul food regularly, but I don’t recalled hearing people say that to others who do that as being Americanized. A siginificant number of Americans value both traditions and individuality and so far, I haven’ really heard of Chinese immigrants or exchange students who assert their individuality as Americanized too. Some people may have those assumptions and yes there are examples of this at the office, classroom, etc. but it really isn’t enough, not for me or my peers and many others, to start calling them Americanized for those actions.

    For example, I will use my hometown in Missouri. We have several different groups of Chinese immigrants who came there, differing on the time period, where they came from and what occupation and status. Some immigrated here as students, some were workers, some were refugees, some out of marriage, etc.
    I know this depends greatly on the individual, but typically, there is a sort of local type of cultural norms or collective thinking that is unique. Sure they have their own family traditions and diversity of opinions and lifestyles, but it is pretty obvious. To make the long story short, some Chinese immigrants do behave and express quite openly similar feelings and thoughts that reflect that local environment. Doesn’t quite matter if they speak good English, which many do, assertive individuality (which appears quite selfish in some aspects) or do whatever stereotypes you all have of American activities. At that point, many people including I will start calling them “quite Americanized”.

    Maybe to me, it’s a sense of location, being a part of the local “gang” type of ordeal.

  16. Buxi
    July 16th, 2008 at 17:57 | #16

    I think a topic that might be worth pondering is how things will look a few decades from now, and whether China’s “rise” will redefine all of these terms.

    We’re still living in an era where the United States and American culture defines the international order. There’s little doubt about that, in my mind. It goes beyond military and political power. The greatest most innovative companies come from the United States; the best universities are in the United States, and the worlds best/brightest flock to them for their education; the most popular music/movies/celebrities are American… If we could conduct a global poll, there isn’t a doubt in my mind that the great majority of the worlds’ people would emigrate to the United States, if given the option. And when these immigrants arrive, almost all try to assimilate and “fit into the mainstream” as quickly as possible.

    With that background, Americans have every right to be proud, have every right to view being “Americanized” as something desirable.

    But could that change, at least for those who are ethnic Chinese? If we get to the point when Chinese movies become blockbusters in the United States, when degrees from select Chinese universities are considered desirable, when half of the Forbes 500 are Chinese companies… could that affect how Americans and Chinese and Chinese-Americans perceive being “Americanized”? Or will it not be a factor?

    It’s a bit of a leading question, but I think the scenario is realistic. I don’t have a single firm answer in mind; I’d be interested in the thoughts of others.

  17. bianxiangbianqiao
    July 16th, 2008 at 19:05 | #17

    Oldson,

    Your observation is thorough. However, your conclusion about Chinese egocentrism is based on incorrect interpretation of the data. Chinese people’s amazement and disbelief about a non-Chinese’s Mandarin proficiency are not a result of being egocentric. Just the opposite, it shows that they are automatically stepping out their shoes to take the other person’s perspective and consider that person’s unique situation. The Chinese you have encountered analyze your Mandarin skills within the context of your situation (a non-Mandarin linguistic environment to grow up in), instead of using their own abilities as a standard. Their amazement is a sign that they are trying to take the other person’s perspective in the dark, without complete information about that person’s situation. In their mind, New York is a non-Mandarin linguistic environment, therefore Oldson from New York must not speak Mandarin. They have no idea that New York also has resources that allow Oldson to acquire Mandarin as a second language.

    Far from being egocentric, the tendency to automatically take other people’s perspective is a virtue and a curse to the Chinese at the same time. On the virtuous side, since we take others’ perspectives, we have no inclination to impose our ideology and development model on Africans or North Koreans. On the curse side, we care too much about how outsiders view us and show off too much. This is why so many Chinese are obsessed with hosting the Olympics and showing off the best faces (e.g. “getting to host the Olympics made my day”). Sometimes the Chinese leave the final judgment on them to outsiders. If you do not win the Oscars you are a loser of a movie maker, no matter how many Chinese like your movies. If you fail to win the Nobel Prize you are a loser of a scientist or writer etc.

  18. July 16th, 2008 at 19:10 | #18

    @Buxi – As the citizen of a country who’s nominal GDP per capita exceeded that of the US this year (if only briefly) I feel no great envy of Americans, nor do I think people in Western Europe dream of emigrating to the US. I find the Chinese view of the States to be rather schizophrenic, on the one hand, you have the mainly positive self-image found in American film and TV, and on the other the mainly negative view propagated by the Chinese state media. On the one hand you have people who loath America and all it stands for, and on the other you have people who would like China to become its Asian twin – and some of these people think both!

    I myself think that the US is going to be the top dog for a long time to come, but I also think that I’m going to live to see the end of the era. My hope is that the democratic powers of this earth – those of Europe, the Americas, Africa, and Asia-Pacific, will by then have found a better way of doing things.

  19. Wahaha
    July 16th, 2008 at 19:21 | #19

    “on the other the mainly negative view propagated by the Chinese state media…..”

    Frankly speaking , I havent seen much negative view against west on Chinese state media…

  20. bianxiangbianqiao
    July 16th, 2008 at 19:29 | #20

    There is no question that the intention behind the complement on assimilation is benign. The commenter is not insulting a Chinese trying to fit in the American society. However, sometimes the comment is implicitly judgmental and evaluative based on an egocentric perspective disguised as universal. The same theme plays out in social/cultural exchanges all the time. An example is the recent “positive” or “approving” [aren’t these adjectives patronizing?] report on China’s openness about the earth quake. The concepts used for evaluating the Chinese, such as “transparency”, “openness”, “press freedom” etc., are all egocentrically Western. More disturbingly, the judgment/evaluation is not purely for the enlightenment of Westerners (“It’s good to know they are transparent like us. Good for them.”) Instead, this judgment is used for formulating policies aimed at shaping China’s political and social systems, imposing foreign values on the Chinese (“Those commie goons and thugs must be made more transparent or we will kick their ass.”). To the Chinese, Western “approval” is as insensitive as its bashing, as long as it is framed within its own ideology. Western approval is a vehicle for imposing its ideology on China just like its bashing, to Westernize or Americanize.

    Complementing a non-Chinese for his or her Mandarin skills does not imply that it sucks to be a Native English Speaker. “You are Americanized” is slightly different.

  21. pug_ster
    July 16th, 2008 at 19:50 | #21

    I don’t think that comment is offensive either. When I first met some Americans they would try to make some lingos, signs, gestures or whatever as if I don’t know English. However, after speaking to them for a while, they realized that they don’t need to make those lingo, signs, gestures as if they are speaking to a person to his/her own level. I actually thought it is a complement.

    “Being Americanized’ however does not mean that you have to throw away you Chinese customs. For me, it is to understand Western and Chinese culture and respect it.

  22. Jane
    July 16th, 2008 at 20:31 | #22

    Which definition of “Chinese” are you referring to in this post? I am Chinese American and consider myself 100% Chinese and 100% American. I do not see these two terms as being mutually exclusive (though of course I am not speaking in the political/legal sense). If a fellow American tells me that I am very
    “Americanized”, I would probably give him the look: what is wrong with you, didn’t you know there are millions of Americans who are of Chinese descent, how provincial! Haha. Actually, depending on the situation, if it’s an innocent question, I’ll be nice, but if it’s out of ignorance, I would not hesitate to point it out. I would not let anyone make me feel less of an American.

    It’s true currently the term “American” still has more of an European connotion. The image of an American, to most people in the world (including Americans), is still probably white and American culture is still more closely associated with European culture. But “American” is hardly a fixed concept. With each wave of immigration, the essence of what is “American” changes a little. I know I will help inject Chinese culture into American culture (as we know it today) so that in 10, 20, 30 years, people would not automatically assume that if a person is non-White (or culturally non-European), they are less likely to be American.

  23. oldson
    July 16th, 2008 at 20:32 | #23

    @ bianxiangbianqiao

    “Chinese people’s amazement and disbelief about a non-Chinese’s Mandarin proficiency are not a result of being egocentric. Just the opposite, it shows that they are automatically stepping out their shoes to take the other person’s perspective and consider that person’s unique situation”

    A lot of what you said made logical sense so I should expound more on the idea of ‘egocentric’ – perhaps we can split Chinese into having 2 kinds of reactions here.

    1) Some Chinese will be amazed that foreigners can fluently speak such a beautifully complex, vocabulary bloated language. They are genuinely respectful and empathetic with the foreigner.

    2) Some Chinese will superficially praise the foreigner while always considering themselves linguistically superior. This is based on my observations and interactions with Chinese people. I noticed that with some Chinese no matter how good the foreigners Chinese was, there was always another saying, word or entymologically signifigant piece of information that the foreigner didn’t know and therefore would always be a lowly student. This is what I mean with being ‘egotistical’.

    For example, vocabulary strengths are focused on Chinese medicine/religion and politics. Whenever I go into great depth with Chinese doctors or Buddhists other Chinese seem to feel a little upset and always have to interect other difficult words with a disdainful smugness. I remember many times meeting and getting to know Chinese people through every day interaction and some would inevitably pull out a bizarre proverb or word that I didn’t know to justify themselves.

    This goes much more beyond language. According to some Sinologists and expats there is a simulatanous superior/inferior complex that many Chinese have – so proud and yet ashamed of past and current events. Foreigners might upset these sensitive feelings – foreigners can easily travel to China, pick up the language and enjoy a envious lifestyle. I think another reason is because it takes Chinese children 10-15 years to learn Chinese. Many children and adults cannot write common Chinese characters (from either poor education or over use of a wu bi on a computer).

    When I was teaching in China I ran into this problem – you would have a class full of university students and one by one they would go up to write the character on the board and get screamed down and critisized by everyone else (who also couldn’t write the character). Then if I attempted to write it out it would cause pandemonium because while I can write it correctly, I do not follow the correct order (na, shu, left, right, whatever). I would get loads of geniune laughter and occasional sneers because I couldn’t write it in the correct way. When I could write it in the correct way and the students couldn’t they would get quite upset.

    The same goes for pronunciation – I taught myself Chinese and therefore do not use the 4 sheng diao very well. Still, Chinese understand 100% of what I say – so why would Chinese people laugh and laugh if myself, or another foreigner, made a simple ‘sheng diao’ mistake while they could barely speak English?
    Foreigners simply speak confidently and don’t care about mistakes while Chinese are fearful of losing face and often refuse to communicate in English. So I think Chinese are quite egocentric about their own percieved linguistic skills (superior complex) yet self concious about their foreign language skills (inferior complex)

    I actually used this as an activity with kids and adults – I would pit myself against the class to see who could answer first in Chinese. Because I am quick I always won and this would result in many classrooms (of either screaming children or disgruntled businessmen) being really upset and refusing to go home because a ‘lao wai’ beat them in a Chinese vocabulary game. Anybody can learn English and be Americanized and who is to say who is the expert? American is full of diverse individuals with different ethnical backgrounds yet you would never disqualify someone based on the color of their skin. So why in China are lao wai always considered a secondary linguistic citizen? Foreigners who study in the big univeristies or do business will often speak better Chinese than many locals.

    On a last note, I totally agree with you on how many Chinese are obsessed with how foreigners view them. That might be why many Chinese are so upset when one discusses certain topics, such as overpopulation, pollution, crime, corruption, etc. It upsets me because the times when China needs to stand up to foreigners and put their cultural foot down is usually when they give in. Like in the Olympics in Beijing – I have read that they are forbidden dog meat to be served because this will upset Western animal activitists. I don’t eat dog meat but how can you restrict other people (especially the Chao Xian Zu) from enjoying their cultural delicacy? At times like this China needs to tell the activitivists to go to their mother. That makes about as much sense as America forbidden pork to be served in resteraunts because of Muslim or Jewish visitors.

  24. Opersai
    July 16th, 2008 at 21:44 | #24

    @oldson,

    I have always have had trouble understand why expats are so annoyed when local Chinese are amused you can a) speak Chinese, b) use chopstick. From my personal experience, and of experience from people I know, Chinese are really impressed when a foreigner can do either or both of above. So… is it a crime to be impressed now? You, or somebody else (sorry can’t remember), said that you felt the Chinese was insincere when they praise not so good Chinese, but argue otherwise.

    There had been very, very few people, beside Chinese/ Asian, especially in the West, that can speak Chinese, not fluent Chinese, but any Chinese. The number have increased, but it’s still very, very rare when you compare to that of people able to speak English. So, if you can still a little Chinese, we’d really impressed, just that you can speak it. It’s not that “oh our culture is superior than yours” such. It’s just not expected. And we are pleased that someone else, beside ourselves are interested enough in our culture to learn about it.

    Last month, I was at a relief concert for the earthquake victims, so the majority of the audience were Chinese. One of the host, blond, blue eyes, after spoke a while in English, suddenly started to speak Chinese! The crowd was VERY impressed and applauded loudly. Wow! He can speak Chinese!

    and… the moral of that story? none! People were just impressed, cause it doesn’t happen a lot, cause it’s against stereotype blond, blue(green) eyed foreigners can’t speak Chinese.

  25. bianxiangbianqiao
    July 16th, 2008 at 22:08 | #25

    Oldson,

    “2) Some Chinese will superficially praise the foreigner while always considering themselves linguistically superior.”

    I can empathize with you about this type of people and the way they try to put you down when you demonstrate your linguistic skills. I think the key ingredient in their reaction is not a Chinese/foreign distinction. What’s driving their antagonistic reactions may be over-competitiveness. These individuals are competitive. The notion “this is a competition” is active in their minds all the time (consciously or unconsciously). When they encounter a person (like you) behaving in a way that could be interpreted as competitive (like your demonstrating Chinese writing and speaking), they take it as a challenge that they have to engage. The competitiveness in your gestures was not even subtle or ambiguous. From their perspective you cornered them, and were embarrassing them, which is mean. In all cultures, if you want to be popular, “don’t do to well to make others feel bad” must be taken as a truism. American high-school students know that to be popular one thing one needs to do is to “fail a couple of exams.” The challenge in your behavior was especially brazen in that you were competing with them on something they were supposed to be good at, their native language; you were beating them at their own game and making them look really bad. Maybe this type of people with fragile ego are over-represented in China, because its primary and secondary education is modeled after a long and intense competition, with the college entrance exam as the last battle. You may say the Chinese are plighted with superiority and inferiority complexes, but the source of these complexes is viewing social interactions as competitions. If you have been to a Chinese dinner party with drinking of “white liquor” involved, you have a better understanding of the elaborate Chinese social dance, with confrontation, retaliation, backing down, compromising and reconciliation, and other strategies, all for the purpose of “testing the water”, building trust and strengthening bonding.

    Another complicating factor in your teaching situation might be the way you manage the perceived power differential between you and the students. The classroom is for the students to learn. If I were you I would make them practice more and step aside a little, and act as the coach. If you assume the authority figure and impose yourself on the students as their competitor at the same time, they probably would get threatened, and feel unfairly so. They would perceive you as putting them down from an unequal position of authority and expert. My strategy of reducing the pressure of power differential and making the students’ less intimidated is to selectively show off a weakness (nothing hi-tech, high school popularity strategy). Pick a subject or skill that the students are enthusiastic about, demonstrate you are also enthusiastic but really ignorant about it. The guys will laugh and the women will smile with great satisfaction. At the end of the semester your teaching evaluation will shoot through the roof. However, don’t pick the subject or skill you are teaching.

  26. July 16th, 2008 at 22:13 | #26

    So much to read… 🙂
    BXBQ, while I can’t answer your question as a Chinese, as a Canadian, I would understand that the American is giving a complement but that he doesn’t understand a thing about being a Canadian. If it is anything to be a Canadian, it is that we are not Americans. Another tired identity of Canadians is the question of identity. That and bringing up constitution reforms will cause most Canadians to roll their eyes with “omg, I thought this was left behind with Mulroney.”

    I actually find the statement “you are quite Americanized” is even very American.

    What about the Chinese identity? I think BXBQ is touching on an issue that is/will be important as China defines herself on the world stage. From urban to rural, from north to south, from west to east, … this is a question without an easy answer. But, take it from a Canadian, it isn’t really productive to define yourself relative to America.

  27. Opersai
    July 16th, 2008 at 22:35 | #27

    @MutantJedi,

    If it is anything to be a Canadian, it is that we are not Americans.
    Boy I find a lot common language with you. I’ve never got the comment/compliment “you are quiet Americanized (Canadianized)” saying. Probably because I make effort to not to assimilate, and probably cause I’m not living in America.

  28. Netizen
    July 16th, 2008 at 22:37 | #28

    Q: How would you react if an American tells you that you are “quite Americanized”?

    A: I’M American.

  29. oldson
    July 16th, 2008 at 22:45 | #29

    @ bianxiangbianqiao

    You really understand how indirectly competitive Chinese are – the idea of other people being better at what you do gives them a insecure uncomfortableness which can translate to certain socially detrimental behaviors. The majority of Chinese children grow up in an academic dominated life – the source of friends, confidence, self esteem and future potential depends on how successfully competitive they are in school. I, like many foreigners, was always disturbed that Chinese schools rank classes according to exam grades. It always ends up the children with rich parents with a lot of guanxi enjoy a high quality education while the poorer students and treated badly and give a mediocre education. Children are taught that through dishonest/unethical behavior they can succeed in society and life.

    Then comes adulthood which is dominated by work – one’s success at work depends on the ability to out compete and out smart those around you. Even amongst teachers it was really competitive – most foreigner teachers I knew were extremely hostile towards sharing their knowledge and activities with other teachers. As so many of my Chinese business associates point out – in China you succeed by outdoing other people (screwing them over sometimes) and making yourself look good. We must keep in mind that this phenomenon is mainly due to over population and corruption (poor social control, no ‘su zhi jiao yu’, etc). Chinese are not inherently competitive but the rough social/physical environment creates these traits. It is also a tragedy that traditional Chinese values (ru jia, dao jia, fo jia, etc) are forgotten and trampled as people struggle to get an education, job and feed their families. In America people are so ignorant of the miserable condition that many Chinese people face every day. American’s tend to avoid overt social competition because it is a sign of politeness or good morals.

    On a personal note, even though we live in America my Chinese wife still warns me about my coworkers taking over my job due to me being on vacation. I think it’s a bit funny but also containers a grain of truth: Americans are trained to be complacent and open which is a great weakness (especially during business negotiations)

    Also, this statement is totally true and is the reason why I would often end up avoiding going out to eat: “If you have been to a Chinese dinner party with drinking of “white liquor” involved, you have a better understanding of the elaborate Chinese social dance, with confrontation, retaliation, backing down, compromising and reconciliation, and other strategies, all for the purpose of “testing the water”, building trust and strengthening bonding”
    Almost every dinner ends up with the boss and other higher people trying to make other people drink bai jiu – I don’t drink so this would generally upset people.

    Lastly, I do agree that if a teacher tries to impose their will then students will naturally resist this. The game I mentioned was many of the activities which students could choose to relax and enjoy themselves. Besides that I always only discussed topics which students enjoyed and had chose themselves. This was also a key for me to learn about Chinese culture, language, etc because I always encouraged the students to teach me about things which they were interested. I think that Kong ZI’s “san ren xing, bi wo shi yan” idea can be implied here.

    The mutual respect mentioned above goes beyond the classroom and into the original topic: becoming acculturated to the local language and habits are essential for getting along in a foreign country. I think it’s easier for foreigners to become acculturated in China because the Chinese are so enthusiastic about encouraging and complimenting foreigner. In America (due to diversity) people tend to not care and simply take you as you are.

  30. bianxiangbianqiao
    July 16th, 2008 at 23:10 | #30

    Oldson,
    Most points well taken, except the following:

    1. “It always ends up the children with rich parents with a lot of guanxi enjoy a high quality education while the poorer students and treated badly and give a mediocre education.”

    This is totally true about the United States, not China. Compare an expensive, highly academically selective university that admits preppy students with an open admission discount state college, what’s the difference between their freshmen classes, besides GPA, SAT, study habits, psychological adjustment, worldliness, ambition, and motivation? It is SES, social economic status. What is the best predictor of an American’s income? His or her parents’ income. American social classes are more rigid than Chinese. The American education system is a far more effective instrument for reproduction of social classes than Chinese schools.

    2. Americans may be polite. America is a hell of a competitive place.

  31. Hemulen
    July 16th, 2008 at 23:33 | #31

    Interesting conversation here and kudos to Oldson for talking about the “foreign” perspective at some length.

    @BXBQ

    Somewhere up there you talked about “the tendency to automatically take other people’s perspective” and think you are confusing things here. It is true that Chinese are brought up to anticipate other people’s thoughts and actions, but I don’t think that this means that Chinese are more empathetic or that they actually try to see things from other people’s perspective. If we accept the idea that Chinese people tend to “take other people’s perspective,” then a lot of things in China become utterly incomprehensible, not the least the very crude attitude many Chinese people have to strangers, be they foreign or just from a different village.

    @Opersai

    I realize that some of the examples that Oldson gives about the condescending attitudes Chinese-speaking foreigners may sound incredible to you or conflict with your personal experience, but I can assure you that I and many other foreigners in China have identical experiences. Theses things happen almost everyday and sometimes I am reluctant to speak Chinese in China because I become excessively self-conscious when people always comment on my proficiency in Chinese.

    You may have to accept the fact that as a foreigner you get exposed to people and attitude many Chinese never see.

  32. oldson
    July 16th, 2008 at 23:41 | #32

    bianxiangbianqiao, on second thought you are correct about the American education system. No matter where you go those with a high socio-economic status will enjoy quality education, which opens the door for quality employment. In China at least more people have a fighting chance because as long as they have good exam grades and money they can make it. Is there a difference between Chinese primary, middle, high school and universities? Most students I saw were put into different classes based on the parents guanxi and the students abilitity. Does this gradually fade when they reach the university level?

    Also, would it be correct to say that America is overtly competitive while Chinese is covertly competetive? Or is it the other way around?

  33. bianxiangbianqiao
    July 17th, 2008 at 00:21 | #33

    Odson,

    “Is there a difference between Chinese primary, middle, high school and universities?”

    Yes. For many(but not all), by the time you are in college, you are wasted and too tired to fight, and you feel you deserve a break. The Chinese students are externally motivated, by parental expectations, rather than intrinsic interest in the subject they study. In grad school I had quite a few Chinese classmates and quite a few quitters among them. They could not motivate themselves out of the country, no parental pressure. There are few Americans crazy about science. But if you get one of them, he is the real deal. He is really nutty and crazy about science, not out of anybody’s expectations, but out of his genuine interest. Therefore, America will lead science for the next 20 years. If it fixes its pathetic public secondary education system and improves the students’ basic academic skills, it will lead the next 100 years. My personal opinion, I am no expert on education.

    “would it be correct to say that America is overtly competitive while Chinese is covertly competetive? Or is it the other way around?”
    My personal feeling is that it is the other way around. In my high school class after every exam we had a big red poster on the wall, with everyone’s name on it, and his/her grade beside, ranked from the highest to the lowest. I never had to worry how my friends did in the exam. One good thing the Chinese education system prepared me well for was taking exams. GRE general, GRE subject, Tofel, you name it. Bring them on.

  34. Li Qiang
    July 17th, 2008 at 00:53 | #34

    Nothing is ashamed of integration to the hosting society. The compliment on that, patronising maybe, is also an acceptance. Personaly I would be glad to hear such a remark – we all want to fit in a new community, be it a team, a school, a city, a company or a country so that we feel welcomed rather than isolated.

    I think a sensitivity to this recognition is partly due to the past memory of the juniority of being Chinese. That has been changed. For me I speak received accent – thanks to the BBC – and this even gives me an edge over my colleagues who have a broad provincial accent. In the UK accent is such a big thing that reveals your family, class, education and social standing. When people gives a nod on that I take it nicely -it’s more a recognition of my linguistic ability without having too much to do with your national identity.

    And aren’t we shaped by the environment, socially and physically? Living here for 7 years, my manner, gait, facial expression, even to some extent skin colour have been more or less changed, all restulted from interaction with local people, local nutrition and sunshine. It’s just a natural thing. Yet when being asked where I’m from, I say I’m Chinese.

  35. bianxiangbianqiao
    July 17th, 2008 at 01:02 | #35

    Li Qiang,

    “….my manner, gait, facial expression, even to some extent skin colour have been more or less changed, all restulted from interaction with local people, local nutrition and sunshine. It’s just a natural thing.”

    You get a round of applause from me. But I am sticking with my Haidian accent, Hutong gait and Peking opera faicial expression.

  36. bianxiangbianqiao
    July 17th, 2008 at 01:08 | #36

    Hemulen,

    “…..not the least the very crude attitude many Chinese people have to strangers, be they foreign or just from a different village.”

    Is a crude attitude toward strangers more representative of the Chinese than Americans? I would pause to answer this question. You have factual grounds criticize the way American treat strangers, like the Iraqis, and praise the Chinese altruism to strangers, like in the Sichuan earthquake. The jury is still out as far as scientific data are concerned. Your personal impression may be tainted by your bias.

  37. Hemulen
    July 17th, 2008 at 01:58 | #37

    @BXBQ

    Is a crude attitude toward strangers more representative of the Chinese than Americans?

    Yikes! Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, I’m not talking about foreign wars or national catastrophes here, but quite everyday behaviors that I think most people here have encountered.

  38. HKonger
    July 17th, 2008 at 03:26 | #38

    I gotta say, these are really very very good and interesting comments and discussions. There are almost no trolls on this blog it seems. Amazing.

    Oldson wrote: “It upsets me because the times when China needs to stand up to foreigners and put their cultural foot down is usually when they give in. Like in the Olympics in Beijing – I have read that they are forbidden dog meat to be served because this will upset Western animal activitists. I don’t eat dog meat but how can you restrict other people (especially the Chao Xian Zu) from enjoying their cultural delicacy? At times like this China needs to tell the activitivists to go to their mother. That makes about as much sense as America forbidden pork to be served in resteraunts because of Muslim or Jewish visitors.”

    Right on, Oldson. Now that was something I didn’t expect from an American. (Am I Stereotyping here or 99% of the time correct? I mean about eating dogs, cats,snakes, tripes, chicken feet and so on?)

    Just a question here. If I went on here to write something like this, ” Oldson, you seem to genuinely want to understand the Chinese, and although some of your analysis are flawed some of your observsations are pretty accurate. As someone who’d never lived outside of Asia I can only say this. I hear ya, but I’m afraid I feel you are not yet there. So, hopefully you will persist to reach better understanding graciously over time on this journey in the East of yours. You show great promises with the open-minded attitude that you possess.” Now, would you read that as condescending, encouraging or offensive?
    My guess is, if I were an American born Chinese/Asian, and my fellow White (or colored) Americans “complimented” about my American language skill and cultural understandings, I’d probably not be too pleased especailly (again I am assuming having never lived in the West) considering that the reverse never happens to a White American.

  39. HKonger
    July 17th, 2008 at 03:36 | #39

    Sorry, correction: considering that the SAME almost never happens to a White American.

  40. HKonger
    July 17th, 2008 at 04:07 | #40

    Oldson: “foreigners can fluently speak such a beautifully complex, vocabulary bloated language.”
    Not so compared to English, which boasts of having 2million vocabulary and expending.

    Oldson wrote “Chinese are very egocentric about how supposedly superior the Chinese culture is”

    I’ve see bumper stickers while traveling across America (even in Canada) that read: “Proud to be an American.” I thought nothing of that at the time until now. So, what’s wrong with that? Unless I’ve misread you there.

    As for the common complain that,” A foreigner is never a part of the Chinese family no matter how well they speak Chinese…” the same is true with Chinese in the West. My brother said to me just yesterday after telling me how wonderful his life is in Canada has been for the past 30 years, added, “Yeah, it’s true that my daughter is an ace student who speaks of course perfect English, French, Chinese and Spanish, being a Canadian born, yet she remains a Chinese having to constantly struggle against the dominant local White system in her own country.” I dunno if this is true but I assure this ain’t the first time I’ve heard colored folks say the same to me.

  41. Hemulen
    July 17th, 2008 at 04:39 | #41

    @HKonger

    As for the common complain that,” A foreigner is never a part of the Chinese family no matter how well they speak Chinese…” the same is true with Chinese in the West.

    Well, it may be true, but to what degree? Just to take one example, quite a few Asian-Americans have been able to achieve very high political offices in both the US and Canada. Washington state had a very popular Chinese-American governor and I think Canada’s governor-general is Asian currently. To my knowledge, China has failed to come up with any minority leader of any stature or durability for almost 60 years. (The only exception possibly being Ulanhu.)

  42. oldson
    July 17th, 2008 at 15:50 | #42

    (Sorry for the long rant!)

    @ Hemulen & Opersai

    “You may have to accept the fact that as a foreigner you get exposed to people and attitude many Chinese never see.”

    I think this is one of the most accurate and important points which has been raised so far. When you are a foreigner in a foreign country you will always be exposed to different experiences which the locals will never experience.

    This is very hard for both Chinese and Americans to accept. For example, living here in America my friends can’t believe that people scream out obscenities and racist epitaphs to my Chinese wife. They can’t believe that an American would disdainful throw away a brand new item which had fallen to the ground that my wife had so kindly picked up for them. They wouldn’t believe that customers waiting in line give her dirty looks and say rude things under their breath. I know because 1) I am there half the time 2) I experienced the same things in Asia.

    So, there are many attitudes and behavior which foreigners are exposed to in China (and any other country). If you mention it to an average “normal” Chinese (educated, polite and friendly) they will certainly be shocked and not believe. When you mention these experiences Chinese will often think that you have a lot of experience but you are still ignorant about China.

    To make my point, here is what HKonger said about the accuracy of my posts “So, hopefully you will persist to reach better understanding graciously over time on this journey in the East of yours. You show great promises with the open-minded attitude that you possess.” Now, would you read that as condescending, encouraging or offensive?” I don’t find this comment offensive at all because I totally understand where HKonger is coming from: they see a lot of accurate information but it is different from their world experience so they think it is not quite mature yet. This is exactly the same kind of response I usually received when I talked about my experiences in China. We must remember that China isn’t just another country, but almost an entire world, with each province almost a different country (with different dialect, customs, et). Therefore foreigners (and Chinese) experiences of China will always be different yet the share certain values.

    This reminds me of LaoZi’s “dao ke dao, fei chang dao” (道可道非常道)– I think we could say here “Zhong ke Zhong, fei chang Zhong” (中可中, 非常中)which can be translated as “the China that people say is the China isn’t the China”. China is like the Dao because everybody will experience it simultaneously and come to different conclusions but in the end the answer is all the same. Everybody tries to describe China as they see it but it is always limited to their experiential knowledge and therefore will always be incomplete. The Chinese also believe in 整体观念 ‘zheng ti guan nian’ (holisticism?) or the idea that reality or life is a comprehensive complete package. Only by understanding all perspectives (the Chinese, Chinese-Foreign, and Foreigner) can you completely understand China.

    So, onto some examples: after I had lived in China for a few years I decided to take a long trip with my good friend. His grandfather had been imprisoned in a lao gai for 20 years for being a Jehovah’s Witness. His family was somewhat well to do and he was highly educated and cultured. We always had a great time traveling but our first trip totally blew him away. As we traveled he started noticing the small things at first. People were starring at us, people talked about us behind their backs, people laughed and pointed at us but he ignored it at first. Then we couldn’t get good service in some hotels and especially certain restaurants. Some restaurants wouldn’t serve us food or even kicked us out while all of the other Chinese were busily being served. He was so shocked and appalled. He made many fine speeches but they fell on deaf ears. After weeks of being cheated, pointed at, ignored and made to feel unwelcome in certain situations he totally changed his world view. He couldn’t believe that some Chinese would act this way but he couldn’t be like everybody else and deny it. He suffered the momentary cognitive dissonance that so many Chinese go through but he woke up to “the reality of the Matrix.”

    This does not imply that all Chinese were rude – we met many interesting and kind people during our trip but there were plenty of impolite Chinese at the same time. This experience was repeated many times when I traveled with friends, business associates and even my wife. I think it is a normal experience for a foreigner in a foreign country. You have to have patience and work with different people and places until you find the right one. You must go into a place to get service and get laughed out but the next door place will have nice people which treat you like a king. One therefore cannot say that Chinese people are either rude or not rude – it really depends on who you run into. Foreigners have a chance to see a different side to China. Whenever I explained about the woes that many of my friends were experiencing most Chinese never believed me. I personally saw foreigners get fired due to demanding their overdue salary, taking sick leave, being black and because they were not 100% obedient to the boss. I knew foreigners that were evicted, threatened and even beaten up. One of my good Korean friends was openly beaten up by the boss of the biggest adult education institute over a salary argument. Does that mean that all of the experiences were bad? Of course not because I gradually had more positive experiences because I listened to the advice of my Chinese friends, worked hard at understanding Chinese ways of thinking and attitudes and was very patient. It ended up that the worst experiences told to me by foreigners friends simply could have been avoided at the beginning by understanding the Chinese way. Instead of arguing and demanding your own sense of justice (like so many stubbornly arrogant Americans do) it is better to be patient and go with the flow. So while foreigners will be exposed to these attitudes they should be able to understand them, respect them and adapt like the locals do. Americans also tend to refuse to accept a different way of doing this and insist on their own way (“I did it….my way”)

    To finish up, this does not imply that Chinese are cruel and savage because it sometimes Chinese people do this. It just means that “shi” happens and what matters is how you react to it.
    Also, the problem is that most Chinese aren’t aware of the dualistic reality which they live in (China is a wonderful Communist paradise vs. struggling Wild West like developing country)
    Negative experiences happen every day all of the world. It happens every day in America with illegal immigrants being abused, blatant racism, hidden prejudices, sexism, corrupt govt., unethical corporate behavior and crime. Most people chose to ignore these facts and live in their own little world. So America, China, there is no difference because there will always be 2 realities: the commonly accepted official reality (life is ok, govt is great, our country is the best, etc) and then the ‘Matrix reality’ which only those who choose to see can experience.

  43. July 17th, 2008 at 16:10 | #43

    My sister lived in the states for a while, she said that the locals seemed find it very strange that she didn’t want to become an American citizen and did not intend to live her whole life there. My guess is that some people in the US are brought up on the idea of immigrants coming to the US to live the American dream, and they do not understand when foreigners show that they do not actually fit into that, especially given that the vast majority of foreigners arrive in the US with exactly that idea.

  44. July 17th, 2008 at 16:11 | #44

    @Oldson – Why didn’t you write something like you last comment instead of giving us War and Peace by Leo Oldstoy?

  45. bianxiangbianqiao
    July 17th, 2008 at 16:34 | #45

    FOARP,

    “…some people in the US are brought up on the idea of immigrants coming to the US to live the American dream, and they do not understand when foreigners show that they do not actually fit into that…”

    This is what I sometimes face. But it depends on whom you are dealing with, a lot better among the more educated. Americans are segragated according to social classes.

  46. bianxiangbianqiao
    July 17th, 2008 at 16:39 | #46

    oldson,

    “…people scream out obscenities and racist epitaphs to my Chinese wife. They can’t believe that an American would disdainful throw away a brand new item which had fallen to the ground that my wife had so kindly picked up for them. They wouldn’t believe that customers waiting in line give her dirty looks and say rude things under their breath. I know because 1) I am there half the time 2) I experienced the same things in Asia.”

    I agree with your feelings about prejudice and discrimination. But the above seems a bit extreme from my personal experiences. I guess I am just more self-protective in where I live, whom I associate with, and what sort of situations I get myself into. I guess choosing your neighbors is the key thing (location, location, location). I don’t try to make friends with everyone or save every soul.

  47. Buxi
    July 17th, 2008 at 16:49 | #47

    @Oldson,

    Very insightful comments, thanks.

  48. oldson
    July 17th, 2008 at 17:05 | #48

    bianxiangbianqiao

    The example of a screaming redneck happened once or twice and we were in a pretty rural place. Any other minor rude behavior has only been an occasional stranger met during the daily grind. We have never experienced any of these problems with our neighbors.

    Here is a good question for you about your “I don’t try to make friends with everyone” comment. Do you tend to make friends more the Chinese or American community? Which one is easier? The original post was about Chinese being Americanized and I have found that it is difficult to make friends within the Chinese community sometimes. I do not imply that any person is unfriendly but rather want to look at different communities and subcultures.

    1) Some Chinese are partial Americanized but proud of their great culture. They can make friends with anyone and are open minded and outgoing.

    2) Some Chinese are so Americanized that they play down their Chinese heritage. With them I have common ground based on American culture but feel at a loss when it comes to Chinese culture. I am fascinated with the beauty, mystery and wisdom of traditional Chinese culture but I cannot convey this excitement when I talk with them.

    3) Some Chinese prefer to maintain connections primarily with Chinese people. It is difficult to meet these people.

    Most of the Chinese in N. America are from Southern China. We cannot communicate in Chinese and have totally different “Chinese backgrounds”. For example, my wife and I only eat NE Chinese food but there are no restaurants that serve this sub-cuisine. My wife and I feel sometimes like an outsider with so many of the Chinese in America because we don’t know the dialect, we can’t understand the sub-culture and their ways of life are quite different from NE China. At my employment the majority of the Chinese I work with here and overseas are Taiwanese and S. Chinese. We have a mutually respectful relationship but we both have very different views about China.

    So my question is how to you identify yourself with the 3 categories above? Which one should be added, changed or deleted? How does being Americanized (or Canadianized) changed this identity?

    FOARP

    I should really change my name from Oldson to Oldstoy. I should break my rambling posts into 2 versions (short and long)

  49. Hemulen
    July 17th, 2008 at 17:31 | #49

    @Oldson

    I think you have hit the mark with your post, thanks for doing such a good conveying these experiences and reflection that I believe most foreigners in China can relate to. A decade ago or so, you could dismiss many of these stories because of the relative poverty of China and the small number of foreigners, but all that has changed in recent years. When I first heard that Beijing would organize the 2008 Olympics, I have to admit that my first thought was that this will absolutely ruin China’s reputation as many foreigners will experience these negative aspects. Perhaps I’m too pessimistic and the Chinese government might be able to manage xenophobia for the duration of the Games, but an open and honest discussion about popular Chinese xenophobia and the government’s partial complicity is long overdue.

  50. zuiweng
    July 17th, 2008 at 18:47 | #50

    Very nice thread. Never mind the length, just feel the quality…

  51. bianxiangbianqiao
    July 17th, 2008 at 19:21 | #51

    Oldson,
    I agree with your categorization of the Chinese in America according to their level of acculturation. A person’s social circle is determined by many factors. One’s nationality, ethnicity and language are not the most important. You associate with people who have similar interest and compatible knowledge with you, not random individuals from you hometown. In America I have almost none Chinese close friend. I have close to zero opportunity to cross path with Chinese people. I do not go out of my way to seek out Chinese acquaintances, no need or time. My social circle in the United States is 99.9 percent American. Being Chinese is an identity thing, purely psychological and abstract. Reading Chinese books and news are far better ways of satisfying identity needs than meeting random Chinese individuals.

    You are right about the diversity of Chinese in the United States. Regional and dialectic differences could be one barrier to communication. But I feel life style and education are more formidable barriers. I am not a snobbish SOB who looks down upon the less educated Chinese (or American or anybody). It is an objective feature of human sociality.

  52. bianxiangbianqiao
    July 17th, 2008 at 19:29 | #52

    Hemulen,
    “….but an open and honest discussion about popular Chinese xenophobia and the government’s partial complicity is long overdue.”

    I have to admit that Chinese have problems with some non-Chinese but a little perspective is needed. There is abhorrent (although not wide-spread) racism directed to Africans. But a broad term like xenophobia, which refers to indiscriminate fear/hatred of all foreigners, does not seem to fit the Chinese situation. For one thing, Chinese people’s person-to-person contact with non-Chinese is still limited to the foreign enclaves in Beijing and Shanghai. For 99 percent of Chinese people, xenophobia is red herring and a moot point.

  53. bianxiangbianqiao
    July 17th, 2008 at 19:34 | #53

    Oldson,
    I think the best way to deal with racist punks (or punks of any variety) any where in the world is to follow Chairman Mao’s teaching “打得过就打,打不过就跑.” If you think you can beat him (not literally, but legally, etc.), beat the crap out of him. If you cannot beat him, run.

  54. pug_ster
    July 17th, 2008 at 19:42 | #54

    @Oldson 13,

    Unfortunately, like the first Chinese who have arrived to the US, you are one of the few Americans who arrived to China, and they have already perceived a certain perception of you. I don’t think they think you are inferior otherwise Chinese would not flock to come to the US (legally or illegally.) Many foreigners who live in China doesn’t want or doesn’t care to know about Chinese culture and the fact that you try to assimilate into Chinese culture is what amazes them.

    I’ve met alot of Americans for the first time and they would make gestures, signs, or point arrows as if I don’t know English. After speaking to them for a while, they would treat me like any other American.

  55. bianxiangbianqiao
    July 17th, 2008 at 19:57 | #55

    pub_ster,
    I do not think assimilation is the ideal way of dealing with migrants (like you and me in America and oldson & hemulen in China). Instead, the hosting society should promote pluralism, within the boundary that its cultural values would allow. It is a process of constant negotiation between the migrants and the host. Conflicts are unavoidable in the process. The easiest and cheapest ways of dealing with the conflict in pluralistic societies is segregation, like Chinatowns and other ethnic ghettos in America and foreign enclaves in Beijing/Shanghai. Other approaches need to be experimented with.

  56. Buxi
    July 17th, 2008 at 20:21 | #56

    @Hemulen,

    A decade ago or so, you could dismiss many of these stories because of the relative poverty of China and the small number of foreigners, but all that has changed in recent years.

    If you are willing to concede that these stories should be dismissed a decade ago… well, how much has really changed?

    In 10 years, the Chinese economy has about tripled. Even so, that average GDP/capita is $3000. Doesn’t that still quality as “relative poverty”? In 10 years, the number of foreigners arriving in China has probably gone up by a factor of.. what, 10? 100? … even so, the percentage of Chinese who’ve actually spoken with a foreigner is probably in the single digits nationally.

    If you’re kind enough to “dismiss” these stories 10 years ago, why are you unwilling to be generous today?

  57. oldson
    July 17th, 2008 at 20:22 | #57

    Bianxiangbianqiao,
    “life style and education are more formidable barriers” – I think that this can be applied to any nationality or people. In China most of my friends and I share a similar education and life style. This really influences attitudes, hobbies, interests and even values and beliefs.

    “Being Chinese is an identity thing, purely psychological and abstract” – I think this is true because there are far too few authentically accurate representations of China (both tangible and non-tangible). Therefore most Chinese seem to pick and choose how they identify with past and present parts of Chinese culture.

    “Chinese people’s person-to-person contact with non-Chinese is still limited to the foreign enclaves in Beijing and Shanghai” Most major cities have a growing expat population, especially Chongqing, Nanjing, etc. I have heard that the expat population in Beijing is 5% + of the total population; Shanghai is less than 10%. When I arrived at the capital of the province I lived in I never saw another foreigner for the first year and by the time I left I was bumping into one every day on the street.

    Chinese people in most major cities are limited to seeing foreigners but I think the social interaction is what is really limited. Chinese are racist towards Africans and African Americans but these are simply based on old stereotypes and they naively don’t know any better. Some Chinese people usually think that every white person must be an American. I can’t tell you how many European friends of mine were offended when people would criticize them about America’s foreign policy. The point is that I think that Chinese face limited social interaction and when you couple this with the traditional ‘closed door policy’ (feng bi she hui) you get slight xenophobia.

    Also, great Chairman Mao quote, as he said, “power comes from the gun barrel” (I am surprised that the NRA doesn’t use this as their theme).

    pug_ster,
    I think both Americans and Chinese have a mindset that the foreigner is usually ignorant. To illustrate this point: when I lived in China I once went to buy an MP3 player in the mall and had a long talk with the salesgirl about the one I wanted. I came back the next day with my wife to buy it and suddenly the girl refused to speak Chinese to me and only spoke to my wife, completely ignoring my questions and pretending to not understand. I don’t think it was unintentional but rather subconscious conditioning.

  58. pug_ster
    July 17th, 2008 at 21:17 | #58

    @Oldson,

    I don’t know about the expat population, but I was in Shanghai last Christmas and I don’t see alot of Caucasians there, definitely less than 5%. Perhaps most of the expats are from Japan, Korea, Taiwan, etc… who are more familiar with the Chinese culture.

    I don’t think the salesgirl was rude. They rather speak to someone from his/her first language rather than their second. I’m from HK and I don’t speak alot of Mandarin. When I went to Shanghai my wife has to do most of the speaking as she knows a how to speak a little Mandarin.

  59. ZT
    July 17th, 2008 at 22:01 | #59

    @Hermulen

    You are a little out of context. In Bejing we are not called laowei….we are called gui lao.

  60. July 17th, 2008 at 22:44 | #60

    @opersai 27,
    Knitted with other comments downstream of yours, I feel that one important difference between Canadian and American culture is the difference between the cultural mosaic and the melting pot. I would take the comment “You are quite Canadianized” as not a positive statement. (Heck, my spellcheck doesn’t even know the word “Canadianized”!) In a Canadian context, I would feel that that statement meant that the person has lost something (cultural roots) rather than gained something. In a sense, the question of what is a Canadian is something that we’ve embraced rather than tried to answer.

    The American context is different. As much as Americans celebrate individuality, the dream is to conform. The word “un-American” has potent meaning. So a comment from an American “You are quite Americanized” is a high complement – you are fitting in, you are an affirmation of their American Dream. By contrast, a person that doesn’t assimilate can be taken as rejecting the American ideal.

    Which is the better approach – mosaic or melting pot? Personally, I like the mosaic better… but it can have its problems. As BXBQ mentions in 55, “the easiest and cheapest ways of dealing with the conflict in pluralistic societies is segregation, like Chinatowns and other ethnic ghettos.” The problem with such segregation is that each group tends to develop suspicions about the other group. There is no cross cultural communication or understanding. Society can become fractured by that approach. The melting pot approach can avoid those problems but at a cost of a loss of cultural richness. The materials that I have for my volunteer ESL course come from the States. I feel queazy watching its characters coming from diverse cultural backgrounds being blended into a consistent American flavor.

    … just my perspective. I’m sure there are a few Canadians who wouldn’t share it.

    Opersai, if you live in the Vancouver area, fitting in to the mainstream might be to be just yourself. I was talking with a woman on a plane back from Beijing. We spoke mostly in Mandarin as she wasn’t confident with her English (better than my Mandarin though). She was telling me how in some areas like Richmond, people have a harder time finding a job if they can’t speak Chinese. In that context, what would it mean to assimilate? 🙂

  61. July 17th, 2008 at 22:58 | #61

    ZT, really? I wasn’t in Beijing long but I didn’t get called that. 老外 or very rarely 美国人 but never 鬼佬. Most people that I talked with asked where I was from first. 🙂

  62. bianxiangbianqiao
    July 17th, 2008 at 23:08 | #62

    Folks,
    This talk about Chinese antagonism toward foreigners in China is kind of shocking to me. I have never thought that this was a problem. As oldson and Hemullen said, it deserves open discussion, especially when a large number of foreigners are coming for the Olympics. I am going to write a piece to offer my feelings and opinions as a lead. You are welcome to criticize and raise your views.

  63. Buxi
    July 17th, 2008 at 23:19 | #63

    I have heard that the expat population in Beijing is 5% + of the total population;

    I find that number very hard to believe, especially if we’re talking about Western expats. (There are many Koreans in Beijing.) The population of Beijing is 17 million including non-registered residents, meaning there would be nearly a million expats. And that just doesn’t sound realistic.

    鬼佬 is a Hong Kong/Cantonese phrase. There might be some Northerners that use it just to be cute, but the vast majority of us call foreigners 老外.

  64. oldson
    July 17th, 2008 at 23:41 | #64

    @ pug_ster & Buxi

    I was wrong about the expat population. Here are some links which clarify:

    http://zhidao.baidu.com/question/47001335.html

    http://zhidao.baidu.com/question/54097882.html

    @ pug_ster
    One reason why China is so special is that when you change a province you change to a different dialect. I would feel so wierd if I traveled to a different state in the US and couldn’t understand the locals English.

    @ bianxiangbianqiao

    I look forward to your piece about Chinese antagonism towards foreigners.

  65. Buxi
    July 17th, 2008 at 23:51 | #65

    @oldson,

    That looks more accurate. According to the first link, there are 60,000 long-time expat residents in Beijing, with 1.4 million+ total expat visitors in the first half of the year. At any given time, I think it’s fair to estimate ~100k expats in Beijing. That would translate into about 1 in every 170… a really small number, even for the nation’s capital.

    And I can only guess how “rare” ZT must be in Guizhou.

    Oh… and it’s not just about changing provinces. I can’t understand half the dialects from my home province of Jiangsu. 🙂

  66. Hemulen
    July 18th, 2008 at 02:08 | #66

    @Buxi

    If you are willing to concede that these stories should be dismissed a decade ago… well, how much has really changed?

    I say “could” be dismissed, not that they “should” have been dismissed. Having lived in China in the 90s, I can tell you from my personal experience that dismissing xenophobia was the last thing on your mind when you were up against it. But among expats, there was this kind of feeling that perhaps people will wise up in ten years or so. Obviously that hasn’t happened. And if you are paying attention, racism and xenophobia is something that is very much discussed on China related blogs.

    In 10 years, the Chinese economy has about tripled. Even so, that average GDP/capita is $3000. Doesn’t that still quality as “relative poverty”?

    I don’t want to get into a discussion about GDP per capita here, that is a very crude explanation of people’s behavior. Suffice it to say that in the big cities, where most foreigners are likely to live, people are far wealthier than that. Again, my personal experience is that the worst xenophobes in China are urban professionals, usually men, and not rural people.

    I saw that a new thread has been opened, and I really do not feel like reinventing the wheel and going through this topic when so many others have done it before. Enough people have already told you about what we experience on a daily level in your country and told you that there are things about China that we see that you don’t see… If many Chinese want to continue living in the illusion that Chinese per definition cannot be racist, then there is very little I can do about it. It’s your country, your future and your reputation at stake here. If you do not discuss this among yourselves and something about it, others will, and they will do it in terms that you may not find appropriate, but then it is too late. If things go on as they have, you will have a major racist incident – or even worse, a racist movement – at some point in your country that you will have to account for somehow.

  67. oldson
    July 18th, 2008 at 16:59 | #67

    Buxi,
    I never thought about the fact that different provinces have different dialects. In the NE everybody speaks very standard Chinese (they never forget to remind you that they have the purest accent) and the only actual dialect I know of is ‘dong bei hua’. Of course there is the Shandong accent, Dalian accent, etc but everybody still understands each other.

    ZT must indeed be very ‘rare’ in Guizhou – when I stayed there 5 years ago the only foreigner I saw ran up to me, shook my hand and babbled about feeling so alone and isolated. That has probably changed by now…

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