Home > Uncategorized > Is there xenophobia in China? If yes, what is it like?

Is there xenophobia in China? If yes, what is it like?

Chinese people (like all people) have stereotypes about different groups. Within China, Northerners view those from the south as sneaky and lack sincerity. Southerners believe those from the north are lazy and unintelligent. Chinese stereotypes are held more strongly and more widely spread. The Chinese tend to over-generalize from a few individuals’ behaviors to the individuals’ group.

This is because the Chinese (and probably all East Asians) have an “essentialist” view on groups such as race and nationality. To the Chinese mind, there is something absolutely essential and special about being a Chinese or American or a Jewish person, something you are born with and will die with and unchangeable, almost like a biological marker that cannot be erased. There is an old saying that goes something like this “alive, a Chinese person, dead, a Chinese ghost (活是中国人,死是中国鬼)” A group’s essential features are supposed to be pervasive among all group members. As a result, when a Chinese sees one or few members of a group (foreigners) behaving in a disagreeable manner, they over-generalize disagreeableness to all the group members. Negative stereotypical views on foreigners lead to antagonism. This essentialist view on race and nationality might also make the Chinese find it hard to forego historical grudges. Today’s Japanese are held responsible for the atrocities of their ancestors, because there is something essential about being Japanese that never changes.

On the positive side, there is a more benign aspect to Chinese stereotypes of foreigners that makes it different from the racism found in white folks toward non-whites. The content of white folks’ stereotype of non-whites is inferiority in morality, intelligence and physical constitution. Bluntly put, non-whites are stereotyped as low-lifes loaded with bad genes. Chinese stereotypes of foreigners (particularly Whites) has a different content, i.e., “they are our tormenters” and “they are hostile to us” and “they want to stop us from achieving our glorious destinies” etc. In other words, Chinese antagonism to foreigners is retaliatory, a reaction to the perceived (imagined or real) slights and wrongs they have received from foreigners. It is not provocative, i.e., actively seeking out non-Chinese for harassment and belittling just because of their foreignness. Does this retaliatory characteristic of Chinese antagonism make it easier to change?

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  1. BMY
    July 17th, 2008 at 23:36 | #1

    Hi BXBQ,

    There was a similar(not exactly same) topic a month ago

    http://blog.hiddenharmonies.org/2008/06/14/chocolate-city-africans-seek-their-dreams-in-china/

  2. John Smith
    July 18th, 2008 at 00:05 | #2

    This article fails to take in to account inherent racism in Chinese people against most people who are darker, such as people from east China and even more so against Africans.

  3. Hemulen
    July 18th, 2008 at 00:05 | #3

    “Chinese racism benign, retaliatory…”

    *sigh*

  4. Netizen
    July 18th, 2008 at 00:34 | #4

    I don’t think generalization is very useful. It’s better if you’ve an example such as cross burning, lynching, or non-so-random stop by police, then we can analyze its to find out whether it’s incidental or systematic.

  5. hotshotdebut
    July 18th, 2008 at 00:46 | #5

    These maps summarize the stereotypes exist in China, though these stuff are not meant to be taken seriously. However in other countries such as Spain where I lived, there are widespread stereotypes as well. The most notorious is the rivalry between Madrid and Barcelona which is more or less like Shanghai and Beijing.

  6. hotshotdebut
    July 18th, 2008 at 00:46 | #6

    Sorry. Forgot the link.
    http://www.hecaitou.net/?p=2953

  7. vadaga
    July 18th, 2008 at 00:56 | #7

    re: “This is because the Chinese (-and probably all East Asians-) have an “essentialist” view on groups such as race and nationality.”

    Please note that Mainland China != other places in East Asia on this issue.

    The two easy counterexamples that I can think of are Taiwan and Japan.
    For Taiwan you need look no further than the identity polls that are often featured on ESWN. Or do some internet reading about the waisheng-bensheng gap in society there.
    For Japan, look up ‘nihonjinron’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nihonjinron). One thing notable about the conception of ‘Japaneseness’ in Japan is that overseas descendants of Japanese people in places such as Brazil or the USA is that they do not satisfy all the conditions of what it means to be ‘Japanese’ according to the nihonjinron.

  8. bianxiangbianqiao
    July 18th, 2008 at 01:11 | #8

    BMY,
    Thanks for the link. I read that article. Shocking but not surprising.

    John Smith
    “This article fails to take in to account inherent racism in Chinese people against most people who are darker, such as people from east China and even more so against Africans.”
    You got me on this one. The Chinese prejudice against Africans is something that I do not understand and have nothing intelligent to say about, for now.

  9. bianxiangbianqiao
    July 18th, 2008 at 01:13 | #9

    Hemullen,
    Benign is not the best work. It should be replaced with “tractable”.

  10. Wahaha
    July 18th, 2008 at 01:21 | #10

    “The Chinese tend to over-generalize from a few individuals’ behaviors to the individuals’ group.”

    I think it might be related to that Chinese are usually not used to share there views and living style with other races. Tradition is always a very important part of Chinese life style, no matter where they go. This may make themself stay away from other people, hence less contact with other people, especially black people. So their opinions about certain kind group of people depend on some individual incidents.

    For example, during the first two years in America, I was robbed twice in subway, all by black people, then I didnt like black people untiI I met two black guys in the company I worked then, these two were the smartess in the company in my opinion.

    I think that Chinese usually have very limit desire to get involoved into non-chinese groups, which make them look like racisist.

  11. bianxiangbianqiao
    July 18th, 2008 at 01:23 | #11

    vadaga,

    Taiwan’s “waisheng-bensheng gap” precisely supports the thesis that in the mind of Taiwan people group identity is absolute and essential. Your waisheng or bensheng identity cannot be transcended, not even by your birth place. Even bejing born and raised in Taiwan does not qualify a person with waisheng parents as a native.

    The Japanese hold the most essentialistic view on race in East Asia, probably in the world. People of Korean heritage who have lived in Japan for generations and speak only Japanese are still not considered Japanese. The fact that overseas Japanese are not considered fully Japanese only shows that the necessary and essential conditions for being true Japanese is extra stringent. You must be born in Japan, raised in Japan and act like a Japanese in order to be considered a pure thorough-bred Japanese. Can you have a more extreme version of essentialism?

  12. bianxiangbianqiao
    July 18th, 2008 at 01:31 | #12

    Wahaha,
    I have to think about it. Lack of contact is definitely one reason that some Chinese look down upon Black people. But I think there must be something more. In America, some whites dislike black people because they feel that black people violate their notion of ethics, such as hard work, self-sufficiency and independence. I feel there might be a little bit of that among the Chinese too. With my limited knowledge, Chinese in America have a negative view on African American males’ insufficient contribution to raising the kids they father, the single mom families etc. This unfortunate situation goes direct against Chinese notion of family value. Again perception is everything.

  13. vadaga
    July 18th, 2008 at 01:57 | #13

    @bianxiangbianqiao

    The reason that I commented above is because you used the words ‘race’ and ‘nationality’ together, and in my mind you inadvertently conflated the two into being the same thing, whereas I would maintain that they are very different. I also felt that the paragraph below could be interpreted in saying that all people in other East Asian countries have exactly the same views on race nationality as people in mainland China do:

    ‘This is because the Chinese (and probably all East Asians) have an “essentialist” view on groups such as race and nationality. To the Chinese mind, there is something absolutely essential and special about being a Chinese or American or a Jewish person, something you are born with and will die with and unchangeable, almost like a biological marker that cannot be erased. There is an old saying that goes something like this “alive, a Chinese person, dead, a Chinese ghost (活是中国人,死是中国鬼)”’

    Re: Taiwan- There are certainly people who are waisheng in Taiwan who consider themselves fully ‘Taiwanese’, regardless of the fact that their parents came from the mainland. There isn’t a perfect one-to-one correlation with bensheng people claiming to be solely ‘Taiwanese’ on one side and waisheng people claiming to be ‘Chinese’ on the other side, it’s a more complicated issue than that.

    Re: Japan- the reason that I was mentioning Japan is to contrast it with the second sentence in the paragraph above:
    ‘To the Chinese mind, there is something absolutely essential and special about being a Chinese or American or a Jewish person, something you are born with and will die with and unchangeable, almost like a biological marker that cannot be erased.’

  14. Nimrod
    July 18th, 2008 at 02:37 | #14

    John Smith Says:

    This article fails to take in to account inherent racism in Chinese people against most people who are darker, such as people from east China and even more so against Africans.

    +++++
    Prejudice against dark skin is not inherent racism per se, because as you pointed out, the same is held against Chinese of darker skin. The reason is nothing more than the association of sun-tanned skin with outdoor work — i.e. a peasant — along with the prejudice against peasants or country bumpkins.

  15. bianxiangbianqiao
    July 18th, 2008 at 03:16 | #15

    Nimrod,
    I think there is something racial to it, but not precisely racism. A puzzling thing is that Blacks and Whites are equally foreign to the Chinese, why are they perceived and treated differently? It could be a kind of snobbishness. Some snotty people use racial features as a proxy for a person’s financial situation. Or it could be a meanness induced by fear. Ordinary Chinese are easily scared by foreigners they see only on rare occasions. They view foreigners categorically and fail to consider exceptions. This is why they find Mandarin-speaking laowais so incomprehensible and hilarious. Once they see some foreigners do not speak Chinese, they infer no foreigner speaks Chinese. Once they feel threatened by one black person, they infer all black people are threatening. I read about a phenomenon called “illusory correlation”. People easily make associations between two striking objects. Being a foreigner is striking and makes a strong impact on the viewer’s mind. Acting in a threatening way is also striking and makes a strong impact on the viewer’s mind. The viewer’s mind makes an association between these two features, even though there is no inherent link between them. Last year this time I read on the blogs about two White guys sunning themselves in Beijing’s summer palace fully naked and got picked up by the police. My mind automatically linked these striking features together: summer palace + white guys in China + full nudity + my gutsy disapproval. Even today reminding me of summer palace pulls out the other striking features (nude white guys & visceral reactions) from my memory and gives me a shock. I am no racist but there are certain compulsory ways that the mind works.

  16. S.K. Cheung
    July 18th, 2008 at 03:26 | #16

    This all just goes back to MLK’s words…when you make presumptions based on the colour of skin (or any external trait, for that matter…you can probably make a similar case for persons with disabilities) rather than trying to get to know the content of an individual’s character, you have the recipe for something sinister.

  17. bianxiangbianqiao
    July 18th, 2008 at 03:43 | #17

    S. K. Cheung,

    “…when you make presumptions based on the colour of skin (or any external trait, for that matter…you can probably make a similar case for persons with disabilities) rather than trying to get to know the content of an individual’s character, you have the recipe for something sinister.”

    MLK is absolutely right. To really know a person we need to look deeper into the content of his or her character instead of making inferences based on superficial features. However, as mere humans living in a real world, most of the times we do not have the opportunity, time or mental resources to engage in detailed information processing in social encounters. Taking a stroll in the Summer Palace with all the tourists, I would not have the leisure or opportunity to gather information about each person’s character content. However, my sensory organs would still keep picking up superficial features such as skin color from the people around me. These features would still pull out the reactions previously associated with them and influence my experience with these people. Among the many people we encounter each day, most of them we know only superficially. We only get to know the content of character of those individuals who are personally significant to us. Stereotyping seems to be an inevitable part of social life. I guess the key issue is how we deal with it. We can certainly resist acting upon our stereotypes.

  18. opersai
    July 18th, 2008 at 04:52 | #18

    @BXBQ,

    This is not a minipost. …. you tricked me into a reading I expected to be short. >_<, =p

    That said. I find the first part of the article analysis interesting as I had not thought things from this perspective before. But the last part … sorry BXBQ, let’s not fall into this “we are more innocent than them” argument again, shall we?

  19. Buxi
    July 18th, 2008 at 05:40 | #19

    @BXBQ,

    A puzzling thing is that Blacks and Whites are equally foreign to the Chinese, why are they perceived and treated differently?

    I think this is based on Chinese perception of how “black countries” do versus “white countries”. When Europeans first arrived on China’s shores in numbers during the 18th-19th century, whites were also seen as barbarians. But after a century of seeing a world dominated by European (or Europe-descended) nations, obviously, the Chinese have had no choice but to reconsider.

    I think “racism” or any sort of profiling is really more cultural-based than race-based. Chinese are raised to believe in the value and supreme influence of culture, of following the right “system”.

  20. Daniel
    July 18th, 2008 at 06:57 | #20

    Is it just me or did some comments get deleted?
    I remember on some posts I read some comments but after going back it was gone.

  21. Theo
    July 18th, 2008 at 09:25 | #21

    The content of white folks’ stereotype of non-whites is inferiority in morality, intelligence and physical constitution.

    I don’t know where you live but the ‘white folks’ round here have quite healthy relations and attitudes towards ‘non-whites’ and vice versa. I think this says more about the writer’s own stereotypes of foreigners’s views.

  22. July 18th, 2008 at 11:02 | #22

    I’m with theo (21). You’re stereotyping white peoples’ stereotypical views, which basically means that you’re making stuff up off the top of your head.

  23. bianxiangbianqiao
    July 18th, 2008 at 12:18 | #23

    opersai

    “…let’s not fall into this “we are more innocent than them” argument again, shall we?”

    Good point. As a matter of fact the Chinese are more innocent in terms of their opinions about people outside of their group. Historically Chinese do not have individual personal opinions about non-Chinese, due to lack of exposure. We had collective stereotypes from the official narrative (like history books) which simply labeled foreigners as barbarians. At the individual level, this barbarian stereotype was quite empty, with the impoverished meaning of “riding on horses, trying to force their way into the great wall, taking your stuff without asking…” Over the last 20 years, the personal impressions about foreigners among Chinese people living in China were based on movies and advertising. The Olympics will be the first time individual Chinese will interact with foreigners en mass, at a very personal level. This is why many Chinese are learning English. At this point Chinese personal impressions of foreigners are fluid, immature, and open to change by further input.

  24. bianxiangbianqiao
    July 18th, 2008 at 12:24 | #24

    Theo

    “…‘white folks’ round here have quite healthy relations and attitudes towards ‘non-whites’ and vice versa. I think this says more about the writer’s own stereotypes of foreigners’s views.”

    maxiewawa
    “…you’re making stuff up off the top of your head.”

    I pride myself for having a keen eye for people’s internal processes. Ask yourself these questions.

    1. How many strong feelings and beliefs about various people and events do you regularly experience?

    2. How many of these feelings and beliefs have you openly expressed to someone else?

    3. How many of these feelings and beliefs do you struggle to conceal from your own conscious awareness?

    Attitudes toward other races can be either explicit or implicit.

  25. bianxiangbianqiao
    July 18th, 2008 at 12:32 | #25

    BUXI

    “…think “racism” or any sort of profiling is really more cultural-based than race-based.”

    You are right. Also, status is a matter of economics. Coming from a poor background is a vulnerability. Sometimes I think Chinese people do not have enough sympathy for those who “cannot make it”. They do not pay enough attention to these people’s difficult situations, but think their failure has something to do with themselves.

  26. Alec
    July 18th, 2008 at 13:36 | #26

    “The content of white folks’ stereotype of non-whites is inferiority in morality, intelligence and physical constitution.”

    SOME whites have this belief, just as SOME Chinese do. And SOME Africans, I’m sure. If your goal with this blog is to break down the communication barriers between the various peoples of the world, I’d start by tempering your language.

  27. HKonger
    July 18th, 2008 at 13:45 | #27

    “Chinese people do not have enough sympathy for those who “cannot make it”.BXBQ

    I am confused. From Dr. SunYak-Sen’s famous “朱门酒肉臭,路有冻死骨.” to the gGreat pProlateriate Rev. to what we’ve seen over the years how altruisitic Chinese people are towards our own kind. Chinese from all over the world during those horrible famine striken years would send foods and clothings to China, whenever there were natural disasters, overseas Chinese would respond. The Sichuan earthquake has shown the world the people’s governments (the CCP deserves asome credit too) unity and charity. Pewrhaps it is true that we can sahre hardship but not wealth; perhaps there are just a-holes no matter where you are, period.
    唐·杜甫《自京赴奉先咏怀五百字》诗:“

  28. Buxi
    July 18th, 2008 at 14:37 | #28

    Daniel,

    Is it just me or did some comments get deleted?
    I remember on some posts I read some comments but after going back it was gone.

    You’re right… one of my posts (which BXBQ quoted) is gone…

    Technical glitch? I’m sure LC, our admin will be on it.

  29. July 18th, 2008 at 14:43 | #29

    @Hker – I’m not trying to be facetious here, but in what way is the cultural revolution an example of kindness to fellow citizens? I’m sure you’ve met the kind of Chinese-American who bangs on about keeping out the immigrants, and on visiting China is hyper-critical and arrogant towards locals, I know I have. I’ve also met just as many expats of European extraction who had similar attitudes, but I expected westerners of Chinese decent to be more sympathetic.

  30. July 18th, 2008 at 14:51 | #30

    @ Daniel and Buxi,

    Which posts do you refer to?

  31. Buxi
    July 18th, 2008 at 15:45 | #31

    I wanted to second Alec’s (and Theo’s.. and someone else’s) comment here:

    SOME whites have this belief, just as SOME Chinese do. And SOME Africans, I’m sure. If your goal with this blog is to break down the communication barriers between the various peoples of the world, I’d start by tempering your language.

    I think we have to be careful with how we say some of the things we say. Although with our friends, the meaning of our terminology might be obvious… there are too many fault lines here for us to be too casual.

  32. July 18th, 2008 at 16:42 | #32

    Racism and xenophobia are cultural things. As cultural things, they are subject to rapid changes over time. The question of race and xenophobia a 100 years ago would have been approached very differently than what we have here today. For one, the ancestors of the commenters on this posting would never imagine this conversation.

    BXBQ’s assertion of essentialism, while it may help to understand the background of racism/xenophobia in Chinese culture, it is too easily employed as an excuse. In the lamest invocation, it becomes “he can’t help it, he’s just Chinese.” In fact, I would suggest that BXBQ’s use of essentialism could easily be embraced by various racist archetypes as justification for their views on race. But, I don’t think that is BXBQ’s intent.

    BXBQ is exploring the issue and looking for how the racism/xenophobia can change.

    Xenophobia is a bit more complex. Racism, at least to me, is a bit more simple.

    One way to define racism is “essentialism applied to arbitrary classifications of human phenotypes.” Anybody who claims to be devoid of racial expectations is not honest. Our brain works by finding patterns and making classifications. Accurately matching phenotype with expected capabilities can avoid things like asking a Japanese girl if she can speak Chinese in Chinese. The best solution to racism is more exposure (but not the white guys in the summer palace type – yuck) and education. Unless the person is intransigent, he’ll learn that his preconceived profiles about race need to be modified.

    Xenophobia can have nothing do with inflexible racial stereotypes. Outsiders can be felt as a threat in many ways. They can be perceived as taking away jobs for example. They can be feared for seeking to misreport events, such as the man who stopped a CBC reporter in Sichuan. My feeling is that xenophobia has its roots in a lack of confidence. Nationalism can also feed xenophobia if it is founded on a us vs them mentality. The fix for xenophobia is more complex. If people are afraid of jobs going to foreigners, more foreigners in the work place isn’t going to help them feel better.

  33. bianxiangbianqiao
    July 18th, 2008 at 17:02 | #33

    Alec,

    “SOME whites have this belief, just as SOME Chinese do. And SOME Africans, I’m sure. If your goal with this blog is to break down the communication barriers between the various peoples of the world, I’d start by tempering your language.”

    You are right. I need to refine not just my language, but also my taste and style in general. This is a process of educating and improving myself.

    I agree that even in a prejudiced group, not all members subscribe to the prejudice. But I am talking about a cultural stereotype, one that shared by a significant portion of the group, to various levels, and resides in the group’s collective psyche as a latent force all the time.

  34. bianxiangbianqiao
    July 18th, 2008 at 17:09 | #34

    MutantJedi,

    You are correct. I am not using essentialism as an excuse for racism. Understanding the mental processes underpinning racism is necessary for dealing with racism.

    You are also right in pointing out everyone has biases and prejudices. We cannot get a complete picture of everything. It is not hard to tell that my little mind is loaded with quite some biases and prejudice. Biases and prejudice does not automatically makes one a racist. A racist is someone who continues to hold on to his prejudices even in the face of overwhelming contradicting evidence. He does not care about facts. He knows only race.

  35. July 18th, 2008 at 18:14 | #35

    (first time commenter here…)

    Racism is an issue of the human condition, imo, as well as cultural. And political. And economical. And religiously. And geographically. And linguistically. And financially…see, it’s a human thing. I grew up a white kid in the Deep South of the US. I grew up in a racist household. When I was a kid I was told to listen to my father or he’d drop me off on the (N word) side of town where they eat white girls for dinner. Racism leaves a lasting wound on the soul, for those who receive it and those who buy into it’s lie.

    I recently heard the great activist, John Perkins, preach about equality. I was given an opportunity to ask him a question so I asked him point blank : I am a 40-something year old white woman who’s life is filled with almost entirely white people. How is someone like me supposed to curb racism in American society? He paused before he spoke and in an almost fatherly tone asked me, Do you have any kids? “Yes, a 14 year old and an 11 year old.” Then teach your kids compassion for others, for other races. That’s what you can do.”

    Racism, for whatever it’s root, is ugly and demeaning to the dignity of any human being. And community wide racism, when left unchecked and unchallenged, becomes the norm.

    I am glad to stumble along a conversation such as this one where it is being thoughtfully acknowledged. I just hope that we each do more than talk it up, but also walk it out.

    (interesting blog, I may be back……….!)

  36. oldson
    July 18th, 2008 at 18:45 | #36

    Here is my abstract 2 cents – if you entomologically break down the character 外 (wai –foreigner) it is a composite of 2 separate characters and thus separate ideas. 夕 xi – stands for evening but was anciently associated with the moon, darkness, etc. 卜 bu – has to do with fortune telling and magic. So when the ancient Chinese saw a外person the ideas of night, moon and magic were brought to mind. Of course this is only speculation but it also reminds me of 西 or West which originally was based on the idea of a hen sitting in a box facing the west. In Chinese you say a person has passed away or ‘qu xi fang le’ (gone west). When Tang Ceng, Sun Wu Kong, etc went to India they of course went West and braved all of the demons and dangers. In Chan Buddhism don’t they believe that ‘Ji Le Shi Jie’ (Nirvana) is in the West? Even look at Jin Yong and his Wu Xia novels – it was the ones from the West who could play the flutes and summon the snakes (Xiao Ao Jiang Hu?) That doesn’t sound very pleasant.

    My point is that traditionally the foreigners have always been viewed with suspicion – add to that foreign invasion and occupation, Ba Guo Lian Jun stealing precious artifacts, tons of Mao’s anti-American propaganda (打倒美国鬼子!) and Americans and other Capitalist pigs are end up nothing more than paper tigers that have antagonized China and are bent on curtailing China’s glorious return to the world spot light.

    How Chinese view different foreign ethnic groups is based on stereotypes, media and their social interactions. Some Americans in China were drunken loud mouth jerks while others were open minded and cool. Some Africans sold drugs or gave people STD’s but I also had other friends who were African and they were wonderful people. I always reminded Chinese people that the foreigners who come to China are ‘special’ because they were slightly different from people back home. They could be businessmen, entertainers, travelers, adventurous, etc but not your average “stay-at-home-obese-homophobic-Americas-Got-Talent-watching-person.” As China opens up and is able to honestly and freely re-evaluate who they are and who foreigners are, I think that things will get better.

  37. Daniel
    July 18th, 2008 at 18:46 | #37

    I heard a similar thing about that from my Math teacher in high school. He too grew up in a very White American environment with limited exposure and knowledge about other groups of people. He is also raising his kids to be compassionate and be empathetic as possible towards other groups of human beings. Is agree with him that social poisons do take generations to fully deal with and most importantly is to see each other as a person who smiles and cries like everyone else rather than seeing them as less than human.

    I get the feeling similar to what others mention that this attitude, especially of xenophobia, is one concerning of insecurity. I also think it’s going to require a lot of effort for both a community at large and on an individual level to deal with this because there is a difference. Even in a place where it’s very diverse, free information is easily accesible and daily interactions with different people can you find individuals who harbor such bigotry. I forgot which US president in the last century said regarding Civil Rights that as politicians they can change the laws but they can’t change people’s hearts. It takes time.

  38. HKonger
    July 18th, 2008 at 22:50 | #38

    AFTER more than a decade of debate, a controversial anti-racism bill has been unanimously approved by legislators in Hong Kong. This means Racism is now a crime in Hong Kong. Daniel, I agree it’ll take time, but having the law does make it sooner for most, but not all.

  39. bianxiangbianqiao
    July 18th, 2008 at 22:52 | #39

    Odson,

    “My point is that traditionally the foreigners have always been viewed with suspicion…”

    True. But traditionally Chinese used to see foreigners from a distance, both physically and psychologically. Today foreigners and their life styles are close to the Chinese both physically and psychologically. Simple and passive reactions like suspicion is not enough. They must react to the complexities in interacting with foreigners in real time, such as during the Olympics. Right now there is no playbook for this interaction. The Chinese attitude toward this interaction is ambivolent.

  40. Buxi
    July 18th, 2008 at 23:19 | #40

    @BXBQ,

    “My point is that traditionally the foreigners have always been viewed with suspicion…”

    I hate to throw a junior high reference out there… but what about Marco Polo? He was appointed an official in the Yuan court. Legally, all “semu” (色目人, people with different skin and eye color) were classified as 2nd class citizens in the Yuan dynasty… which puts them ahead of the 3rd-class Han (defined as ethnic Chinese of the north) and the 4th-class Southerners (ethnic Chinese of the south). As far back as the Tang dynasty (600-900 AD), semu foreigners had a place in China without facing any sort of oppression.

    I’m not a historian, but I suspect this perception of foreigners as “suspicious” has roots in the Ming dynasty, as it closed off to the rest of the world (~1400) trying to rebuild a more culturally pure state. The history of European colonialism in the 18th-19th century then really made foreigners seem even more “threatening”, leading to the Boxer rebellion by the beginning of the 20th century.

    In other words, any sort of xenophobia is a “relatively new” phenomenon in China (of course, only in China is 1400 AD “relatively new”).

  41. bianxiangbianqiao
    July 18th, 2008 at 23:25 | #41

    People discriminate against each other for all sorts of reasons. Discrimination based on race is so prevalent because features related to race (e.g. skin color) are salient. They tell you clearly that the person you are faced with belongs to a different group. I think people are genetically wired (not only culturally shaped) to be vigilant against members of another group. In primates and other social animals, individuals cooperate with members of their own group and compete with other groups. In the human evolution history only those pre-human primates who could readily separate in-group from out-group members and take appropriate actions (e.g. fight or flight) survived and passed their genes to us (today’s humans). A simple exposure to a person from another group (race) automatically triggers a defense response (vigilance). Besides, in many social encounters you know nothing about the person in front of you except his or her group membership and the stereotype about the group passed to you in your socialization, before you have to make a decision about the actions you must take (e.g., whether to engage or withdraw from the interaction). The only information you can work with is this person’s group and the stereotype. What can you do? I think compassion is not enough for erasing raced-based reactions.

  42. bianxiangbianqiao
    July 18th, 2008 at 23:31 | #42

    Buxi,

    “In other words, any sort of xenophobia is a “relatively new” phenomenon in China (of course, only in China is 1400 AD “relatively new”).”

    I cannot agree with you on this one. Our ancestors started building the Great Wall more than 2000 years ago to keep the foreigners out. China has always had problems with different foreigner groups.

  43. S.K. Cheung
    July 19th, 2008 at 02:33 | #43

    To BXBQ #33:
    “I agree that even in a prejudiced group, not all members subscribe to the prejudice…” – that’s why any labelling based on a “group” is fundamentally inflammatory and for lack of a better word, prejudicial. As long as you make presumptions about an individual based on the group to which they might belong by appearances alone, that’s a form of prejudice. If such assumptions are based on a person’s race, that racism. Sadly, happens everywhere. But to apologize for the “chinese” form of such, or to imply that such sentiment coming from a Chinese person is somehow less offensive than from a “foreigner”, serves no one. For starters, if you submit that such sentiment is a problem, one must own up to the problem if one has any hopes of eventually solving or abolishing it.

  44. Buxi
    July 19th, 2008 at 05:27 | #44

    @BXBQ,

    I cannot agree with you on this one. Our ancestors started building the Great Wall more than 2000 years ago to keep the foreigners out. China has always had problems with different foreigner groups.

    They built the Great Wall to keep the nomads out, not necessarily the foreigners. Don’t forget that the Tang emperor Taizong (Li Shiming) had a non-Chinese grandparent. The Tang dynasty relied heavily on central Asians.

  45. bianxiangbianqiao
    July 19th, 2008 at 12:45 | #45

    S. K. Cheung,

    You built a radical, fundamentalist and extreme view with four concepts, group, racial groups, racism and Chinese racism. You did not unpack these concepts to demonstrate that your view is viable.

    Groups are the indispensable units of human sociality. Individuals rely on groups (family, business and nation states) to function. Evaluating people and deciding how to deal with them according to their group membership is the routine of social interaction. Group membership is often the most informative and predictive feature of an individual. When you are sick you seek out a medical doctor for treatment, not a plumber, even when you know nothing about the particular doctor or plumber as individuals. You discriminate these two individuals based on their professional group membership. Groups are types or classes of individuals. Grouping, typing or classifying is the most basic way of thinking about people and objects. Group-based thinking does not yield accurate results 100% of the time. Conclusions about an individual (“he is a competent healer because he is a doctor”) always have probabilistic truth values. A few medical doctors are fakers and no more competent than a plumber in treating illnesses. Despite the exceptions, group-based conclusions often give you the highest probability of reaching a true conclusion.

    Racial groups are part of sociality. From the emotions associated with it, I think race is one of the most important of all human groups. If one’s behavior choice is based on the target’s race, then one is being racist. That is true. Racism is no good and should be eliminated, also true. But how? I think there are two separate causes of racism. One type of racism is “hate-based”, consisting of derogation of a group (Chinese or laowais) that serves the racist no apparent function. Some people just cannot resist putting others down to achieve a sense of superiority. Other races give them this opportunity. Sometimes I suspect a few foreigners take the trouble to relocate to China just to take the opportunity to loathe an out-group. Another type of racism is utilitarian, or function-based. Racial profiling is an example. The Beijing police believe (naively) that targeting members of certain groups in an ethnic enclave can help achieve their purpose of rounding up drug dealers and prostitutes. They target individuals based on race and gender (African males and Mongolian females) for a well-defined utilitarian purpose; they believe these group memberships are highly informative about criminal activities. I do not think racism with Chinese characteristics is more tolerable. However, different types of racism should be treated differently. If we want to eliminate Chinese and foreign racism we have more nuanced understanding of its different manifestations.

  46. July 19th, 2008 at 12:56 | #46

    @Buxi – I remember some theory about the Great Wall actually being to keep the nomads in, as in once it was found that the nomads had broken their way in, the wall could be manned and the enemy trapped inside it. At any rate, there are few records of it having been successfully defended – wasn’t it Lu Xun who called it “Ancient China’s greatest mistake”?

  47. bianxiangbianqiao
    July 19th, 2008 at 12:56 | #47

    Buxi,

    “They built the Great Wall to keep the nomads out, not necessarily the foreigners.”

    I have always been confused about the Chinese conceptualization of race versus nationality, like Vadaga pointed out.

    In modern usage, race has genetic basis but nationality is afflilation based on legal/political factors. If ancient Chinese nationality was race based, then building the great wall to keep out the nomadic tribes is the same thing as to keep out foreigners. Similarly, Tang’s reliance on central Asians did not make central Asians Chinese more than American reliance on some Iraqis make Iraqis American.

  48. Netizen
    July 19th, 2008 at 13:30 | #48

    BXBQ, Buxi,

    The Great Wall is a defence fortication against the nomads from the north. Nomads are foreigners but foreigners are not necessarily nomads.

    If you look at the layout of the Great Wall, from east to west, you will know the ancient Chinese didn’t intend to keep settled peoples in the west out. In fact the Silk Road had always been commerce friendly until ocean-shipping became possible and made the Silk Road inefficient.

    Chinese nationality is not race based, in fact, it arises from legal/political/cultural factors. China is the first and biggest melting point.

  49. BMY
    July 19th, 2008 at 13:35 | #49

    @BXBQ,

    “Similarly, Tang’s reliance on central Asians did not make central Asians Chinese more than American reliance on some Iraqis make Iraqis American.”

    I agree with you. But you might need another example. Then Tang’s central Asian reliance were weiuer.

  50. BMY
    July 19th, 2008 at 13:50 | #50

    @FOARP

    I guess there was no other way. The nomads moved around all the time . they had no villages,no cities. I remember one of the Han generals raided into the grass land for months but couldn’t find any Hun. The huns/moguls came from any where they wanted. The Greatwall might have served as a mobile phone few times.

    But It might be because the Greatwall, the Hun went to Europ and changed it forever. The world would be different now if the there was a Greatwall in Europe and stopped the hun . haha

  51. deltaeco
    July 19th, 2008 at 14:31 | #51

    @BMY
    “The world would be different now if the there was a Greatwall in Europe and stopped the hun”
    There were, indeed several of them, they were called Limes(border). Did work for sometime well, but could not held invaders out forever either.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Limes_Germanicus

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hadrian%27s_Wall

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antonine_Wall

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Limes_Arabicus

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Limes_Tripolitanus

  52. July 19th, 2008 at 14:56 | #52

    @BMY – I hadn’t ever thought about it like that – but you may very well be right!

  53. Buxi
    July 19th, 2008 at 15:56 | #53

    Again, the founding Tang emperor (although he’s officially 3rd in line) Li Shiming wasn’t even purely Chinese from a racial point of view. If there was a half-Iraqi president behind the founding of the United States, then you can’t realistically argue Americans are afraid of foreigners (at least at the time).

    So, when I say the Great Wall was to keep out nomads… it was to keep out a dangerous aggressive entity, not individual non-Chinese.

    I agree with the Netizen summary:

    Chinese nationality is not race based, in fact, it arises from legal/political/cultural factors. China is the first and biggest melting point.

  54. S.K. Cheung
    July 19th, 2008 at 23:13 | #54

    To BXBQ:
    that you find speaking out against racism to be an “extreme” view is much more reflective of your values than mine. I’m quite comfortable with my moral standards.
    Your first paragraph has nothing to do with the point. One chooses to be a doctor, or a Hell’s Angel, so of course “membership” in those arenas is informative. But one does not choose to be Chinese, Mongolian, or black (by DNA, not nationality of course). So presumptions based on that are nothing but racist.
    “However, different types of racism should be treated differently” – are you kidding me??? Nuances are for apologists; racism is wrong in any form, and it’s black and white (sorry, couldn’t resist 🙂 ). If you don’t think that view is viable, that’s your problem, not mine.

  55. July 19th, 2008 at 23:31 | #55

    @Buxi – But membership of that melting-pot is racial, or is a Chinese-(insert nation here) not automatically accepted as Chinese any more?

  56. Hemulen
    July 20th, 2008 at 02:36 | #56

    @Buxi

    You’re not trying to have the best of both worlds here, or have I missed something? How can you first say that…

    Again, the founding Tang emperor (although he’s officially 3rd in line) Li Shiming wasn’t even purely Chinese from a racial point of view.

    …and then claim to agree with the following statement:

    Chinese nationality is not race based, in fact, it arises from legal/political/cultural factors.

    Anyway, if you think that it is somehow revolutionary to allow foreigners to be emperors and kings, then you should take some time to study European history. For most of Europe’s history it has been the rule, rather than the exception to have foreign-born kings who sometimes did not even speak the language of the people they were ruling over. This was taken for granted by most Europeans. Consequently, when George Macartney visited China in 1793, he was surprised to find out that Han Chinese made a big deal out of the fact that the Qing emperor was not a Han Chinese and in his published diary, he made the following remark:

    It matters little whether a Bourbon or Austrian fills the throne of Naples or of Spain, because the sovereign, whoever he be, then becomes to all intents and purposed as Spaniard or Neapolitan, and his descendants continue so with accelerated velocity. (…) But a series of two hundred years in the succession of eight or ten monarchs did not change the Mogul into a Hindu, nor has a century and half made Ch’ien-lung a Chinese.

  57. Daniel
    July 20th, 2008 at 19:52 | #57

    Mind if I jump in asking if you all are back discussing what it means to be Chinese in regards to this topic?

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