Said the Chinese woman who calls herself an American.
A white scholar’s recent op-ed suggests he might need some lessons on his own privilege.
Daniel Bell, a white dean at China’s Shandong University, recently penned a piece in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Why Anyone Can Be Chinese.” In it, he laments how he’s not considered Chinese despite his self-proclaimed dedication to the culture.
China, he argues, should look at identity as cultural rather than racial, concluding the piece with his ultimate hope:
“President Xi Jinping describes his broad agenda for the country as the ‘China dream,’” Bell writes. “My own China dream is more modest: to be viewed as a Chinese not just in my own mind but in the minds of my fellow Chinese.”
Bell claims to have respect for the Chinese. But his piece shows that he’s not looking at identity through the lens of the Chinese, John Kuo Wei Tchen, associate professor and director of Asian/Pacific/American Institute, NYU, told HuffPost.
Bell begins his piece, making comparisons between himself and a Chinese-American who “doesn’t speak Chinese or identify in any way with Chinese culture,” and “forcefully rejects” the label “Chinese.”
But the connections Bell makes are apples to oranges. Bell, a white man from Canada, ignores the real, human experiences that Chinese people live through, Tchen noted.
Bell isn’t someone whose family has been brought up in China through generations, communicating through insider references. His ancestors haven’t lived through events like the Opium Wars or the Cultural Revolution that have shaped the population’s outlook. Bell is a white man whose roots and values come from elsewhere.
Do you see, civic nationalists, what chaos and confusion inevitably must follow your incoherent madness? You denied that America was an actual nation, thinking that the nonsense would magically stop there. But it didn’t, and now we’re seeing your fellow proposition nationalists claim that England and Sweden have always been nations of immigrants, and that anyone can be Chinese as well as American.
The truth is that civic nationalism is a lie. Proposition nationalism is a lie. There is no melting pot and nations are groups of genetically related people sharing a common language, common traditions, common religion, and common experiences.
Everything else is just empire and ethnic conflict by another name. A reader who lives in China, but unlike the deranged academic, does not claim that makes him Chinese, adds his observations.
One of your daily readers here. I live in China and I’m writing to share some observations that you might find of interest. There have been some comments recently about the foundations of national identity on your site, which involve common language, blood, religion, and traditions or customs. A comparison of China and the US in light of this shows that they are moving in almost opposite directions, the former toward unification and the latter toward disintegration.
China is “diverse” in the sense that there are multiple ethnicities that reside within its borders. What’s more, every province has its own dialect of the Chinese language, many of which are unintelligible to outsiders. People from Hunan Province speak “Hunan language” which is very different from Guangdong language which is very different from Shanghai language and so on. However, the state surmounts this problem by the institution of Mandarin (Putonghua, which means “common language”) as the official language of the nation, which everyone in every province is required to learn. Even Hong Kong people are now required to learn it since the handover, whereas before there was very little Mandarin spoken there. Contrast this to America’s increasing multilingualism, bilingual education programs, and the view of many people that we “can’t have an official language.” The only multilingualism that the Chinese are interested in is having large numbers of their educated people learn English, and this is for purely pragmatic reasons.
The dominant ethnic majority is of course the Han, and most Chinese would regard them as the standard of what it means to be Chinese. Of the other ethnic groups, there don’t seem to be too many feelings of separateness, with the exceptions of the Tibetans and the Uighur people in Xinjiang. In both cases, religious differences are a key factor of why this exists. The Chinese government deals with this dissent and disagreement in their usual way – they crush it. Of the people who live within Chinese territory, they are taught that they are Chinese and that they owe their allegiance to the state and its rulers. Of those who do not reside in China, they are all “foreigners” (laowai) if not “foreign devils” (yang guizi). They particularly hate the Japanese because multiple generations have been raised on propaganda about the Sino-Japanese war i.e. WW2.
Contrast this Han standardization to the extreme denigration of America’s former core identity, White Anglo-Saxon Protestant.
Their immigration policy reflects this distinction between “us” and “them.” People that are not ethnically Chinese simply CANNOT become Chinese. In any way. Ever. You can get a visa for an extended stay, through work or marriage, but you cannot become a citizen, which means that you get zero state benefits. There are foreigners that have worked here for decades, some of whom have even made important contributions to Chinese society in one way or another, who will nonetheless only be able to retire in China on their own dime, if they are allowed to stay at all. On the other hand, ethnic Chinese in the diaspora can be granted Chinese citizenship, if they renounce whatever other citizenship they have, since China does not allow dual citizenship. Contrast this to American immigration policies and multicultural ideology.
As for common religion, this is perhaps their weakest link, since they’re officially atheist, though somewhat tolerant of religion. Christianity is growing here, and they’re worried about it, both because they see it as Western, and because it’s subversive (from their perspective of maintaining their own power). The state under Xi Jinping (by the way, his name is pronounced like the English pronoun “she”) has been promoting Confucianism again, which isn’t really a religion, but is one of the “three traditions” of China along with Buddhism and Taoism. Some Chinese are “cultural Buddhists” the way Americans are “cultural Christians,” but for the most part they seem to be an irreligious people. The state seems most comfortable promoting Chinese identity as the highest metaphysic, but they’re willing to include watered-down versions of their historic religions within that identity. The anti-religion of the Mao years was even more severe than the anti-Christianity of contemporary America, but the Chinese seem to be recovering from the worst of it.
The somewhat disparate customs and traditions of the different regions in the country are easily homogenized by television and the internet, which gives the same “culture” to everyone. What they worry about in this regard is the influence of foreign media, both cultural and academic. Foreign films are officially banned except for those that are given permission (and censored beforehand) but realistically they’re all available on the internet and pirate dvd shops, which are everywhere in every major city. However, their own film and television industry is YUGE, and increasingly it is Hollywood that kowtows to Beijing in order to have access to this market. Chinese-made films tend to be incredibly nationalistic, as opposed to Hollywood films (can we really call them “American” films?) which are often subversive and degenerate in one way or another. Where the Chinese have a weakness here is that, while they are incredibly sensitive to negative portrayals of China, and make their censorship decisions largely based on that, they are not as wise to the influence of cultural degeneracy that comes packaged in Hollywood films. You can already see the effects of it on the younger generations. Nonetheless, coming from America, it’s remarkable how much less degeneracy there is here at present.
So – one country, one people, one language. They know that this means strength, and so it’s what they’re working towards, and have been for decades now.
One last thing – their economic nationalism. Despite being in the WTO for almost twenty years, China is protectionist and aggressively privileges their own businesses over those of foreigners. Part of the reason why Facebook and Google and Twitter are blocked here (along with Vox Popoli!) is that it forces Chinese people to use the local alternatives (which are also, of course, censored and controlled by the state). So Baidu is the go-to search engine, Weibo and QQ and WeChat are the social media giants. It keeps the money in China. Zuckerberg was here last year, pleading to have Facebook unblocked. Xi met with him, and said simply, “No.” Why should they let them in, when it will mean loss of revenue for Chinese companies AND likely use by foreign agents to foment dissent and problems, as in the Arab Spring?
I’m not trying to shill for the Chinese. I live here, and I see their problems at the ground level. I could write a whole other piece on that. But I can’t help but notice that, in regards to the above, they’re doing a lot of things right, and they’re exactly the things that the West is doing wrong. What that will mean in the future remains to be seen.