Monday, December 21, 2009

Difficult choice

I have a difficult time choosing my next topic. Why? Because both topics are dark and subtle and I would so much like to write about the fun and straightforward things that China and America share! Anyway, spending so much time choosing the next topic, resulted in no writing at all, which is a pity.

One of the topics that interests me is the fine line of interpretation between endorsement/sponsorship of political candidates in the US (be it a township mayor, a state senator or the president), Chinese Guanxi (关系) and Corruption. That will be my next article then!

The other topic I was thinking about was currently raised in a blog on and is about Racism. Four expert commentators on the blog react to recent commotion in China on police harassment charges by African immigrants in Guangzhou and online discussions about the finalist of the Chinese Idols competition Lou Jing who is the daughter of a Chinese woman and African man. In the blog the questions are raised how and if increased immigration by foreigners to China is influencing the Chinese perception of race and how from a historical perspective the Chinese community has dealt with ethnic differences.

Unfortunately, all four expert commentators give a very analytical and similar interpretation on race and ethnicity in China. The following 8 pages of comments by readers are far more interesting to read. At least, the readers speak out and really contribute to a debate that has generated more than 190 comments so far!

Reader comment number 78 summarizes the discussion nicely and comment 77 just before holds up a mirror for all of us Westerners who feel that being stared at is the worst that can happen to you!

What I miss in the NY Times blog and reader comments is a summary and basic analysis of the historical perspective of ethnicity in China. It feel it is too easy to say: China was and is a melting pot of different ethnic groups, was ruled for several dynasties by so-called 'Barbarians', etc. etc. In my opinion the ethnic groups and leaders always had to adapt to Chinese society - to the Han culture - and not the other way round. This is what makes Chinese history, culture and society carry a 2.500 year legacy (I am not going with the popular 5000 year history that Chinese government proclaims; I prefer to start a few hundred years before the first Emperor, when a substantial amount of writing was already collected on philosophy, culture, society and literature).

In the People's Republic of China I feel that ethnic minorities are more like circus attractions than regular citizens. They are mainly generating income for domestic and international tourism. The ethnic minorities are only allowed into certain positions to fulfil the Star Trek Quota [Just make sure there is an African, an Asian, a Russian, an Alien, a handicapped person and a Woman on the bridge and no one will complain]. So far the Communist Party of China has convinced many ethnic minorities in China that they have their best interest in mind, but with recent unrests in Tibet and Xinjiang, we know that not everybody agrees with the Chinese approach.

It is a fact that if you are born into a regular family of a Chinese ethnic minorities your outlook in life will be different from a Middle Class family in the Beijing region or the Yangzi and Pearl River Deltas. Economic opportunities differ according to region, also in China and inequality can be seen frequently even in this (so-called) Communist state. However, are Chinese Racist?

I will never be able to answer that question, however, I can only mirror it on my experience here in the US. A large country with unequal opportunities and equal rights (at least on paper). Of course, the background of the US and China is completely different on the immigrant chapter! Early immigrants came here in their pilgrimage from Europe, massacred the indigenous population, established slavery - leading to a huge immigration increase (although slaves were probably NOT considered immigrants then) and then, in the early 20th century many more immigrants came to live the American Dream fleeing war and economic downturn.

I can only speak from experience. I live in a small township in New Jersey. Most foreigners here are Chinese or Indian and they live in regular houses or in apartments, most of them working in the pharmaceutical industry, IT industry or retail. Of course, there are also the all American neighbors with Christmas lights and four cars. In our township I don't see many African Americans, if I want to see more of them I need to go to the State Capital Trenton. To be honest, people don't get the chance to be openly racist here, I feel as if society is segregated. However, the segregation is not only racial, but also economic. Of course, racial background & regional opportunity are related. Americans have many things to worry about: job loss, debt, war against terror, Tiger Woods...

I feel totally inadequate writing about racism. Raised in a stable family in Germany we did stand out a little bit by being Dutch, returning to Holland, we stood out because of our German stay, but never ever have I been discriminated on race (or on being a woman either!).

There is a very adequate Dutch proverb to describe what I would like to say "Ons kent ons" . We are all most comfortable in our own area, we don't want to step out of our comfort zone be it economic or ethnic. Of course, it is impossible to judge a whole nation (America or China) on racism, on history and on regional differences.

It would be nice if one could be more open to others (myself including) and step out the "ons kent ons" zone now and again.

I think that is a very nice New Year Resolution, I hope you join me!

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