You’ll never be Chinese
August 10, 2012 11:12 AM   Subscribe

UK expatriate in China, Mark Kitto, who previously ran a publishing business in China that the state took over and wrote a book about that experience, is leaving China where he has lived for 16 years.
Modern day mainland Chinese society is focused on one object: money and the acquisition thereof. The politically correct term in China is “economic benefit.” The country and its people, on average, are far wealthier than they were 25 years ago. Traditional family culture, thanks to 60 years of self-serving socialism followed by another 30 of the “one child policy,” has become a “me” culture. Except where there is economic benefit to be had, communities do not act together, and when they do it is only to ensure equal financial compensation for the pollution, or the government-sponsored illegal land grab, or the poisoned children. Social status, so important in Chinese culture and more so thanks to those 60 years of communism, is defined by the display of wealth.
posted by gen (61 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
As someone who spent only 3 months in China and arrived at a similar insight, I feel bad that it took this guy 16 years to do the same.
posted by anewnadir at 11:19 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


What began as a relatively reasonable critique of modern Chinese society quickly descended into the usual territory of stereotypes and platitudes that reflected more about the author than whatever it was that he thought he was critiquing.

Moreover, the fates of the Mongols, who became the Yuan, and Manchu, who became the Qing, provide the ultimate deterrent: “Invade us and be consumed from the inside,” rather like the movie Alien.

Are you fucking kidding me?
posted by fatehunter at 11:24 AM on August 10, 2012 [12 favorites]


Kitto has been publishing his China Diary in Prospect Magazine for a number of years.
posted by gen at 11:27 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


So is materialism a mind virus or is there a conscious, concerted effort to undermine any other way of living?
posted by Space Coyote at 11:31 AM on August 10, 2012


I think it's more about the dissonance between the stated Communism of China vs. the actual Capitalism of China.
posted by gen at 11:33 AM on August 10, 2012


a very good piece with flaws overall, agree that the Alien remark was particularly misjudged (and doesn't even make sense on its own terms - are the Chinese or the non-Chinese foreigners the aliens?)
posted by Bwithh at 11:35 AM on August 10, 2012


His criticism of the education system leaves a bad taste in my mouth for some reason. He seems to be saying in this part, "I'm leaving China because my children won't be educated the way I'm used to." Um, when you purport to love a place and culture, don't you embrace all of it, warts and all? Criticizing a place for not liking foreigners and yet being disdainful of the way they do things doesn't seem right.

The Communist Party of China has, from its very inception, encouraged strong anti-foreign sentiment

I remember reading Kennedy's "The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers", and one of the premises was that China lost its world-power status in the 19th century (or before, I can't remember now) because of its xenophobia. This has nothing to do with the Communist party, it goes back waaay further than that.
posted by Melismata at 11:39 AM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yes, because if Kennedy said it about China, it must be true. Thank goodness the United States has never suffered from xenophobia, and thus has its world power status ensured.
posted by Catchfire at 11:44 AM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


[O]wning a home has become unaffordable for the young urban workers; and vast residential developments continue to be built across the country whose units are primarily sold as investments, not homes. If you own a property you are more than likely to own at least three. Many of our friends do. If you don’t own a property, you are stuck.

When the bubble pops, or in the remote chance that it deflates gradually, the wealth the Party gave the people will deflate too. The promise will have been broken. And there’ll still be the medical bills, pensions and school fees. The people will want their money back, or a say in their future, which amounts to a political voice. If they are denied, they will cease to be harmonious.
That place sounds terrible! I could never live in such a country.
posted by Catchfire at 11:48 AM on August 10, 2012 [19 favorites]


This interview with Dongpin Han, a historian who grew up in rural China during the cultural revolution, discussing his book, The Unknown Cultural Revolution: Life and Change in a Chinese Village was interesting, and there's a transcript of an interview. He is very positive on the educational reforms and other aspects of the cultural revolution, and very negative on how these have been rolled back with the transition to state-capitalism in China.

The community was no longer there. Your friends and your neighbours became competitors and strangers to you. The security network had been taken away. For Americans you’re used to this kind of competition. But for Chinese farmers who lived under the socialist system before, the change was too dramatic for many people.


He also appears to be a dedicated communist/socialist and certainly not unbiased.
posted by Golden Eternity at 12:04 PM on August 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


Yes, because if Kennedy said it about China, it must be true.

Counter-point?
posted by Atreides at 12:04 PM on August 10, 2012


Yes, because if Kennedy said it about China, it must be true. Thank goodness the United States has never suffered from xenophobia, and thus has its world power status ensured.
posted by Catchfire at 11:44 AM on August 10 [+] [!]


The US's relative openness to immigration historically has been a big advantage. The EU economically will need much more incoming immigration in future but culturally isn't prepared for that higher level, and broadly pretty resistant to more immigration. Japan's situation is even worse, because the need is even greater but the culture is highly resistant to immigration (more than China's) even at low levels.
posted by Bwithh at 12:07 PM on August 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


As someone who spent only 3 months in China and arrived at a similar insight, I feel bad that it took this guy 16 years to do the same.

It took me ten years to figure out Japan. It can take a long time.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:07 PM on August 10, 2012


I read Burmese Days. It would surprise me that Mr. Kitto has not and I find his woe-is-me attitude to be somewhat naive for an educated man.
posted by jsavimbi at 12:08 PM on August 10, 2012


Catchfire: "Yes, because if Kennedy said it about China, it must be true. Thank goodness the United States has never suffered from xenophobia, and thus has its world power status ensured."

It's fun to make points you undermine while you're making them.
posted by boo_radley at 12:13 PM on August 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


Death and taxes. You know how the saying goes. I’d like to add a third certainty: you’ll never become Chinese, no matter how hard you try, or want to, or think you ought to. I wanted to be Chinese, once. I don’t mean I wanted to wear a silk jacket and cotton slippers, or a Mao suit and cap and dye my hair black and proclaim that blowing your nose in a handkerchief is disgusting. I wanted China to be the place where I made a career and lived my life. For the past 16 years it has been precisely that. But now I will be leaving.

The funny thing is, returning "home" doesn't automatically mean you'll fit in again. Obviously, there is rule of law in Litto's home country, which is a definite plus given his experiences in China. On the other hand, will his children be accepted back in the UK?

Long-term expats who live outside of the traditional expat life of working overseas for a multinational for a few years before returning home are definitely out of the loop in terms of career. Perhaps Litto is the exception, given his profession and his international network, but for many people (or in my case) living overseas for an extended period time means effectively divorcing oneself from one's "home" culture.

Live overseas, and you'll never develop the imporant social networks in your twenties that will help you advance according to a normal career track.

Experiences and outlook are different. I live in a very white, very bourgeois city in Canada. We as a family often don't fit in for a variety of reasons.

Sometimes there is no "home" to go to, and one will never be accepted anywhere. Not a big deal, but the concept of "home" is sometimes idealized over overrated by expats.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:17 PM on August 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


The US's relative openness to immigration historically has been a big advantage. The EU economically will need much more incoming immigration in future but culturally isn't prepared for that higher level, and broadly pretty resistant to more immigration. Japan's situation is even worse, because the need is even greater but the culture is highly resistant to immigration (more than China's) even at low levels.

What people generally mean when they say that Japan or China are xenophobic is that they are perceived to be apathetic, curious or even hostile to white people. I have only encountered this through the anecdotes of others, and in my experience, it more often speaks to the sudden loss of privilege of the white person than to some emphatic cultural difference between China and the West.

In point of fact, there are 56 ethnic groups native to China and numerous other south, southeast and northeast Asian people living and working in China. I would argue that what we in the West want to label as China's "xenophobia" is actually rooted in longstanding orientalist assumptions and tropes.
posted by Catchfire at 12:19 PM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh, but back to a comment that doesn't irritate me:

Bwithh: "a very good piece with flaws overall, agree that the Alien remark was particularly misjudged (and doesn't even make sense on its own terms - are the Chinese or the non-Chinese foreigners the aliens?)"

The Greek poet Horace said, "Captive Greece took her captor captive". Idea being that foreign people would invade Greece over and over -- it had culture and learning and was therefore a notable target for peoples who wanted to acquire these things. Each time, however, the strength of Greece culture overwhelmed that of its invaders and wound up neatly assimilating the foreigners. I'm not exactly sure how the simile plays out vis-a-vis chestbursters, but the meaning is clear.
posted by boo_radley at 12:23 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Last Word vid: In 1998, an eccentric British ex-army officer called Mark Kitto set up an illegal English-language magazine in China. Despite strict media censorship, he kept going though thick and thin, encouraged by a readership that came to refer to the publication as Shanghai’s Time Out or sometimes simply “The Bible”.

Fascinating story. I can relate to some aspects of his story, having been an expat in India for a decade and for four years worked for a clothing export company that ran illegally, during a very difficult time politically (during the Punjab Crisis, when Mrs. Gandhi was assassinated) in New Delhi, the country's capital.

The cuckoo part of the story is interesting. He lived in a small village, Moganshan, where the Chinese residents were brought up under British colonials. Then he's a modern Brit living in that village having tried to set up a biz in China. The New York Times article about his living in Moganshan, which looks really lovely from the Google Images.

Moganshan sounds like an extraordinary little place on the planet. It reminds me of many of the former colonial British hill stations in India, like Mussoorie.

Wishing Mr. Kitto the best of luck in the next leg of his life journey.
posted by nickyskye at 12:25 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is it all to do with being a foreigner, though? Chinese citizens do not enjoy freedom of movement, so why should he be any different? Because he's a foreigner?
posted by KokuRyu at 12:31 PM on August 10, 2012


Sometimes there is no "home" to go to, and one will never be accepted anywhere. Not a big deal, but the concept of "home" is sometimes idealized over overrated by expats.

My mother has been hankering for "home" since 1971. The children, on the other hand, deal with the pros and cons of being global nomads/third culture kids.
posted by infini at 12:34 PM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Um, when you purport to love a place and culture, don't you embrace all of it, warts and all?

Um, no?
posted by adamdschneider at 12:36 PM on August 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


>Um, when you purport to love a place and culture, don't you embrace all of it, warts and all?

Um, no?


You do have to choose what battles to fight, or what issues to let bother you. Otherwise you go crazy and turn into Arudo Debito.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:38 PM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


The Greek poet Horace said, "Captive Greece took her captor captive". Idea being that foreign people would invade Greece over and over -- it had culture and learning and was therefore a notable target for peoples who wanted to acquire these things. Each time, however, the strength of Greece culture overwhelmed that of its invaders and wound up neatly assimilating the foreigners. I'm not exactly sure how the simile plays out vis-a-vis chestbursters, but the meaning is clear.

Yeah, the analogy was dumb (maybe the guy hasn't seen Alien in a while) but the underlying idea is sound. Kublai Khan adopted Chinese customs pretty much immediately upon creating the Yuan dynasty. The Qing dynasty was a bit more successful at anti-assimilation, mostly because they were very wary of it, but the Qing administration became more and more Han as the centuries went on as well.

In point of fact, there are 56 ethnic groups native to China and numerous other south, southeast and northeast Asian people living and working in China.

And being Han still affords you incredible privilege over all other ethnicities.
posted by kmz at 12:38 PM on August 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


An interesting article, although I don't know enough to judge its rightness. It sometimes seems "expatriates" judge both their old home and their new one in comparison, as thought "one is like this, but the other is like that". But he doesn't goo too far into saying "China is bad because it's not England which is good", rather judging the country on its own terms. That is, it gives neither the leadership nor the stability that it pretends to.

However, if he hasn't lived in England since 1996...he's got some catching up to do. After 16 years away, he's half a foreigner here too.
posted by Jehan at 12:43 PM on August 10, 2012


And being Han still affords you incredible privilege over all other ethnicities.


Yes, of course. The point is that to paint China as particularly xenophobic -- so much so that a (Western) man who claims to "love China" is forced to return to the West -- is actually an exercise in strategic blindness.

It's actually typical of the approach of the whole essay. The article frames the writer's conflict with China as a fundamentally cultural one, almost an ethnic one (since he paints China as monocultural). It's difficult to get over the fact that the ideological bedrock of this essay seems to scream 1980s America Red Scare handbook. All the issues causing the conflict seem to be some variation of "ex-communist country can't handle capitalism!" rather than, er, no one can.
posted by Catchfire at 12:50 PM on August 10, 2012



He is right in many things and has a deep insight into China, but I could say this also about the US:

Death and taxes. You know how the saying goes. I’d like to add a third certainty: you’ll never become Chinese, no matter how hard you try, or want to, or think you ought to. I wanted to be Chinese, once. I don’t mean I wanted to wear a silk jacket and cotton slippers, or a Mao suit and cap and dye my hair black and proclaim that blowing your nose in a handkerchief is disgusting. I wanted China to be the place where I made a career and lived my life. For the past 16 years it has been precisely that. But now I will be leaving.

And if I could chose I would live now in China. I would not think a second. And by the way, it is the curse of every immigrant to not feel at home in his new country, nor in his former home. My home country in Europe does not accept me as 100% one of theirs anymore too. I guess you can't have it all. The real question would be: Would his children, even if 100% Caucasian, born and raised in China accept as being Chinese? And while the answer for a Chinese in the US would be yes in my opinion, it would be no for a Caucasian in China. Yet, don't forget that cultures can change. China was hostile to foreigners in 1996. Now they like them and are curious. Who knows what in 10 or 20 years will be?
posted by yoyo_nyc at 12:59 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


And being Han still affords you incredible privilege over all other ethnicities.

Being white still affords you incredible privilege over all other ethnicities in America. Yet I persist in believing that I'm American. Though I suppose I'm Han.

You'll never be Chinese... as long as your Chinese identity is dependent on what anyone else thinks.
posted by halonine at 1:02 PM on August 10, 2012


I wanted China to be the place where I made a career and lived my life. For the past 16 years it has been precisely that. But now I will be leaving.

So he writes a book about it and gets an FPP while many of the rest of us just slink "back home" after a decade or more with our foreign born tale between our legs. I have an American green card lying around somewhere, it says its valid till 2015.
posted by infini at 1:07 PM on August 10, 2012


So he writes a book about it and gets an FPP while many of the rest of us just slink "back home" after a decade or more with our foreign born tale between our legs.

Hey, no-one's stopping you from writing a book about your experiences if you want to!
posted by modernnomad at 1:10 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


infini: "with our foreign born tale between our legs"

ಠ_ಠ
posted by boo_radley at 1:12 PM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


This interview with Dongpin Han, a historian who grew up in rural China during the cultural revolution, discussing his book, The Unknown Cultural Revolution: Life and Change in a Chinese Village was interesting, and there's a transcript of an interview. He is very positive on the educational reforms and other aspects of the cultural revolution, and very negative on how these have been rolled back with the transition to state-capitalism in China.

Foreigner who lived in China for a couple of years in the nineties/early 2000s here! This is my take, as much as I dislike the CCP. It was also a view I encountered among a number of people - however they felt about the actual Cultural Revolution, many people talked about how medical care was less and less available, how education was once again becoming unavailable to working people/country people and how much inequality was rising. And this was before the rubber really met the road over the past decade. I felt incredibly lucky to have lived in mainland China and was treated very kindly by many people - it absolutely horrifies me to see that the country is pretty much as authoritarian and corrupt as it was under communism plus now you're pretty much fucked if you need emergency medical treatment and can't pay for it, or if you're a bright kid from the countryside.
posted by Frowner at 1:20 PM on August 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Hey, no-one's stopping you from writing a book about your experiences if you want to!

Foreigner living in exotic inscrutable land, writes book vs foreigner living in good ol' USA = meh ;p
posted by infini at 1:34 PM on August 10, 2012


I don't know about that, infini, de Tocqueville seems to have done OK.
posted by enn at 1:37 PM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't think you can really "leave China" any more.
posted by telstar at 1:41 PM on August 10, 2012


de Tocqueville seems to have done OK. before the internet, blogs and the MetaFilter, where all can be discussed and everything is already known.
posted by infini at 2:04 PM on August 10, 2012


Not to derail too much but, y'know, if you're looking for a home... Canada. We'll leave the light on for ya.
posted by seanmpuckett at 2:26 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Catchfire, ethnic minorities are a small drop in China's population sea. More than 90% of the population is outright declared as Han, but if we're going to be realistic many, many of the remaining 8% or so declare minority status for social benefits even though they are entirely assimilated. Many of the rest have only the barest residual minority identities, like the entire remnant Manchu population, for instance. Quite literally none of them can speak Manchu any more. Or the Hui, who are basically ethnic Han people who happen to also be Muslims.

Hell, during the 2008 Olympics even the children meant to represent the notional 55 other ethnic groups were all Han, with the "best" part being that Chinese commentators didn't seem to understand why this was a problem. Students I meet from the PRC are quick to tell me that cultural minorities are part of their treasured national heritage. None of the students I meet seem to personally know or be friends with any of those treasures, though.

Yes, every country has problems with xenophobia, my own included. And while you can certainly find racist pricks all over the radio in the USA, you won't find someone talking about "foreign trash" on a major TV network without being fired in short order. But Mr. Yang? He doesn't even seem to understand what the problem is. His excuse is that it's OK for him to call foreigners trash because the power of the West is in decline.
posted by 1adam12 at 2:26 PM on August 10, 2012 [12 favorites]


> He seems to be saying in this part, "I'm leaving China because my children won't be educated the way I'm used to." Um, when you purport to love a place and culture, don't you embrace all of it, warts and all? Criticizing a place for not liking foreigners and yet being disdainful of the way they do things doesn't seem right.

No, letting your kids' lives be seriously diminished because you're too stubborn to change your mind doesn't seem right. Did you even think about what you were writing? "Warts and all" sounds like the bad old "My country, right or wrong." (And there's no point arguing about whether China's educational system is as bad as he says it is; he clearly knows the situation pretty well, but more importantly, his understanding of it is determinative for his situation—you don't get to tell somebody else "Hey, I think your kids will be fine, so suck it up.")
posted by languagehat at 3:10 PM on August 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Did you even think about what you were writing? "Warts and all" sounds like the bad old "My country, right or wrong."

Ha, this is exactly what I thought when I read that.
posted by adamdschneider at 3:15 PM on August 10, 2012


And while you can certainly find racist pricks all over the radio in the USA, you won't find someone talking about "foreign trash" on a major TV network without being fired in short order.

I find it astonishing that you don't consider Fox News a major TV network. Either that or you need to have a critical think about what is substantively different between calling Westerners "foreign trash" and the current discourse on undocumented workers in the United States -- especially since the former is working within the geopolitical context of some two centuries of foreign exploitation and occupation by Western nation states and the latter is a settler nation who considers its "friendliness" to immigrants a foundational ethos.

In case it's not clear, I am not arguing that China is some kind of model nation -- far from it. But I think it is worth pointing out the logic the linked article in the OP is working with is tired, Orientalist nonsense which holds up Western systems as natural and essentially good while ignoring the same genre, if different type of problems plaguing the West for which it condemns China as fundamentally unliveable.
posted by Catchfire at 3:35 PM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


>As someone who spent only 3 months in China and arrived at a similar insight, I feel bad that it took this guy 16 years to do the same.

>It took me ten years to figure out Japan. It can take a long time.


It's been 16 years since I came to Korea, and I'm still confused by a lot. But I have a strict policy of limited engagement to maintain my sanity. The strategy has succeeded with mixed results.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:48 PM on August 10, 2012


Not to derail too much but, y'know, if you're looking for a home... Canada

I'm Canadian. Been living abroad most of the last 25 years. From what I've seen on my visits back, Canada is not the place it once was. I understand it's still a better place to live than many others, but the growing levels of violence, the horrifying rightwing rathole politics has fallen into, the dismantling and disintegration of institutions (like healthcare) that I personally hold dear as a Canadian -- without putting too fine a point on it, the Americanization -- in Canada deeply depresses and disappoints me, and I feel like I will never end up going back, unless it's to get involved in politics or grassroots organization to try and take the country back from the scumbags who have stolen it from the people, in which case I will die defeated, bitter and angry, which doesn't sound all that appealing a prospect.

Sigh.

But for all Canada's modern faults, it is of course true that China, or Korea for that matter, is a nightmare by comparison, I know.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:55 PM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


From the OP:"Chinese culture"

I'm the first to declare my knowledge and view of China is limited, but without getting to crazy, what is China, you know? It's a country of over 1 billion people, with one of the most strictly controlled public discourses in the world. I would be extremely circumspect in talking about what China is, and isn't - even the most avid China-watcher is incapable of seeing anything near to the heterogenous variety, especially in regards to the rural and regional experience, which imho is one of the areas where CCP most heavily guides perceptions.

I think his criticism of the CCP, and the public discourse around China are somewhat valid (and I think people defending the historical and present xenophobia of China as a whole are subscribing overmuch to the CCP line, and ignoring some pretty widely accepted history re: the denigration of imperial China at the hands of Western powers). However, I don't think he know what the new Chinese culture is, per se. I don't know that anybody knows. There are so many facets and opinions and parts to it.
posted by smoke at 5:32 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I remember reading Kennedy's "The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers", and one of the premises was that China lost its world-power status in the 19th century (or before, I can't remember now) because of its xenophobia.

I'm not sure it can be simplified down to xenophobia. My history classes are getting rustier by the day, but it's hard to believe that 19th century Chinese were more xenophobic than their contemporaries in India or America or even the Apaches. I mean, China and India contributed over half of the world's GDP, even as late as 1800. This economic activity was not limited domestically, as this history article mentions how cosmopolitan Tang China was:

"here was also a dynamic sea trade which linked China with various Southeast Asian countries, India, Persia, and the Arabs. Just as entrepreneurial talent has flocked to the United States, merchants, skilled craftsmen, and even scientists (including Indian astronomers) from all over Asia formed temporary or permanent communities in several Chinese cities. For example, perhaps two thirds of the inhabitants in the great southern port of Canton (Guangzhou), were immigrants, including many Arabs and Persians. "

The article goes on to mention subsequent dynasties were equally as global trade oriented, including the maritime journeys done during the Ming Dynasty by Muslim Eunuch Zheng He. And also let's not forget the Jesuit presence in China until the 1700s, too.

My best guess is that the Chinese had to deal with too much change in too little time. Anyone that is told that their way of living is going to vastly and irreversibly change will be resistant. They will be very resistant if the people encouraging change are smelly disrespectful strangers that peddle drugs to your people. The reason I mentioned the Apache tribe earlier is a similar and probably more traumatic forced change happened to Native Americans, yet it's never said that Native Americans are xenophobic.

I'm not sure exactly how Dynastic China considered Chinese versus non-Chinese. From my scant readings, they were more inclusive than the Communist Chinese. They considered anyone living in China and adopting Chinese customs as Chinese, which sounds reasonable as many large and successful empires throughout history were very inclusive too. So, the author was probably born about 300 years too late to have a chance to be Chinese.
posted by FJT at 5:32 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Greek poet Horace said, "Captive Greece took her captor captive". Idea being that foreign people would invade Greece over and over -- it had culture and learning and was therefore a notable target for peoples who wanted to acquire these things. Each time, however, the strength of Greece culture overwhelmed that of its invaders and wound up neatly assimilating the foreigners.

Sorry to be such a pedant but Horace was a Roman. And the quote is "her savage captor captive", and it specifically refers to Rome, which built its culture upon Grrek culture, not to other invasions of Greece. Because whatever the Persians wanted from Greece, it wasn't her culture given that they, like Rome, had already control over a number of Greek cities in Greater Greece and had been rubbing up against it for years.

*wanders off muttering something about Saturian*
posted by lesbiassparrow at 5:36 PM on August 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


I remember reading Kennedy's "The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers", and one of the premises was that China lost its world-power status in the 19th century (or before, I can't remember now) because of its xenophobia.

I think what he's getting at is more like cultural chauvinism than xenophobia. The reaction of the Qing Emperor of the time to Lord Macartney and the other foreign ambassadors was not vilification. He simply had such a strong belief in his China as the center of everything worthwhile that he didn't see what he could possibly want from some out-world barbarians. The travelers were given their feast and sent home.

Really though, the decline of the Qing had less to do with foreign influence or lack of foreign influence compared with the plain old administrative decay that typifies the pendulum-like history of Chinese dynastic change.
posted by Winnemac at 7:53 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I find it astonishing that you don't consider Fox News a major TV network.

Exactly. Like Kitto's essay, 1adam12 began with a reasonable critique of actual problems with Chinese society. Then he got to "America is much better"and I laughed.

Seriously? On MetaFilter? Do people need to link to the many Fox News "debates" and "reports" where foreign countries are discussed with derision/fear/contempt and minority groups in the US are stigmatized? How about, say, Republican campaign ads that aired on every major network? Might this hostile environment have had anything to do with American soldiers driving one of their own to suicide, possibly?

I'm not even going to touch the smear campaign that kicked into overdrive after 9-11 to launch the Iraq war, where America turned on even former allies who refused to participate* (yes, as a Canadian I still remember the xenophobic nonsense American media puked at the time, though anti-Canada sentiments never reached the operatic height of Freedom Fries). Try and tell Americans of Middle Eastern descent that xenophobia in the US is ~not as bad~.

during the 2008 Olympics even the children meant to represent the notional 55 other ethnic groups were all Han, with the "best" part being that Chinese commentators didn't seem to understand why this was a problem

Of course that's a problem. So is racebending in Hollywood. Just last month we were debating the non-Chinese, limited-Asian casting of a play set in ancient China, with several posters coming to the production's defense. Let me remind everyone again that this is MetaFilter, largely left-leaning and more sensitive to equality issues than the general population of any country. In the rest of America/Western world, casting an Asian actor for a role explicitly stated to be half-Asian in the novel outrages fans (the simple fact that the author had to insist on casting an Asian for her Asian character speaks volumes). Also, yellowface.

As Catchfire tirelessly points out, over and over, no one is claiming that China is a model nation on equality issues. In many areas (eg: LGBT rights) China is demonstrably worse than the developed countries. But xenophobia and money obsession? Compared to the two greatest imperial/capitalist countries in history? Next you'll be arguing that Christianity's respect for science compared to Taoism and Buddhism was responsible for the triumph of the West.
posted by fatehunter at 9:07 PM on August 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Having just spent two years living in China, the article rang a number of bells for me. I encountered friendly and caring locals that I'm lucky to count as friends. However, I've also seen the undercurrent of frustration in the country and suspect it will boil over sometime in the next few years. The culture is one where you try your hardest to get one over everyone else and damn the consequences; when their version of the Arab spring occurs, I fear for my friends and the country as a whole as I doubt it'll be peaceful.
posted by arcticseal at 10:53 PM on August 10, 2012


But xenophobia and money obsession? Compared to the two greatest imperial/capitalist countries in history?

Nationalism, xenophobia, and both institutional and casual racism are all facts of life for visible minorities in China. The modern-day US and UK cannot compare.

Personally, as someone who's lived in China for ten years and is planning to leave in the near future, I feel like Mark did a good job of summing up my reasons for leaving:
Fear of violent revolution or domestic upheaval, with a significant proportion of that violence sure to be directed at foreigners, is not the main reason I am leaving China, though I shan’t deny it is one of them.

Apart from what I hope is a justifiable human desire to be part of a community and no longer be treated as an outsider, to run my own business in a regulated environment and not live in fear of it being taken away from me, and not to concern myself unduly that the air my family breathes and the food we eat is doing us physical harm, there is one overriding reason I must leave China. I want to give my children a decent education.
posted by twisted mister at 11:34 PM on August 10, 2012


Nationalism, xenophobia, and both institutional and casual racism are all facts of life for visible minorities in China. The modern-day US and UK cannot compare.

Citation needed for the second statement.

I'll let the Iraq War slide, despite the whole ordeal being a shiny example of American and British nationalism, xenophobia, and racism. For the sake of discussion, let's focus on comparing the lives of visible minorities in China vs. US/UK relative to the dominant ethnic groups.

In 2010 black non-Hispanic males were incarcerated at the rate of 4,347 inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents of the same race and gender. White males were incarcerated at the rate of 678 inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents. Hispanic males were incarcerated at the rate of 1,755 inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents.

As a visible-minority resident of China, do you face a much higher rate of incarceration than the Han Chinese? Racial profiling? Worse employment prospects and/or glass ceilings at the big corporations? Is your ethnic group under-represented in mainstream media?

Do you fear the police shooting you in the back as you lay face down on the ground? Magically shooting yourself in the head while handcuffed in a police car?

China is indisputably nationalist, xenophobic, and racist. So is the US, the UK, and just about every country on earth. If you want to argue that one country is worse than another on this particular front, at least make an attempt to back it up. Frankly I'm amazed that any American would want to argue this point just a week after the massacre at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin. The British might feel more confident about race relations at home A WHOLE YEAR after the London riots, possibly.
posted by fatehunter at 1:12 AM on August 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


As a visible-minority resident of China, do you face a much higher rate of incarceration than the Han Chinese? Racial profiling? Worse employment prospects and/or glass ceilings at the big corporations? Is your ethnic group under-represented in mainstream media?

No, deportation. Yes. Yes. Yes.

My particular ethnicity is considered a sort of "model minority" in China, so we only get the low-level subtle racism. Sorry, I don't have any Chinese government stats for Uighur and Tibetan incarceration rates.

But you win. The US is the most racist country in the world. Mark Kitto is a wimp for not being able to handle his loss of white privilege, and possibly a racist for wanting his children to be educated in the West.
posted by twisted mister at 2:39 AM on August 11, 2012 [7 favorites]


God I hate how - even here - any discussion of China and the CCP turns into some kind of oppression olympics. No one is denying the Western countries are as pure as the driven snow. But pretending that the restrictions on freedoms and human rights abuses between any western country and China are at all comparable is just inane and silly. It's the kind of thing the CCP and their one-eyed boosters do.
posted by smoke at 4:47 AM on August 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


A few years ago I was working at the Voice of America's Mandarin-language branch in Beijing, and spending my days reading and translating intensely depressing news about the Chinese countryside. (I used to joke that Sunday was "Mining disaster day.") Propaganda aspect of the VOA aside, most of what we were doing was just looking at stuff that had been reported in Chinese state media -- which was already plenty awful: basically a constant stream of land-grabs, beatings, wrongful arrests, chemical spills, etc. Somewhere in the year I spent there, an acquaintance was disappeared for two months; another one was called in and threatened with imprisonment if he kept working with the foreign AIDS NGO he was translating for. I was back in the States on vacation and mentioned something about this to a well-intentioned Chinese-American friend, and she promptly said something along the lines of "Yeah, well, we have Guantanamo."
This is an endearing and probably good reaction -- it's good to be aware of the mote in one's own eye before pointing out the log in the other person's -- but after a certain point it is so untenable as to be intensely irritating to any thinking listener.

I think this piece rings a lot of bells for people who have stayed in China for a long time, put an awful lot of mental energy into looking on the bright side of every bad situation, and ultimately found themselves unable to do so. The past year and a half or so has seen this sort of thing cut a pretty wide swath through my extended gringo social circle, many of them people I would have considered lifers. Partly I suspect it's general global-level malaise, combined with increasingly strong restrictions here on media, publishing, and the public sphere and a resulting sense that the rationalization many people have been repeating to themselves for years -- "it is getting better, it is getting better" -- may not actually be the case.

I've been living in China for ten years, nine of them in Beijing, and most days I like it here just fine. But I wouldn't even consider a pregnancy here, let alone raising kids.
posted by bokane at 6:12 AM on August 11, 2012 [10 favorites]


> *wanders off muttering something about Saturian*

To quote Google, "Did you mean: Saturnian?"

(Just givin' you the business—I loved your comment! And it's yet another illustration of Muphry's law.)
posted by languagehat at 12:22 PM on August 11, 2012


As a Chinese boy who came to America when I was three, I'm not sure I have much to add that is better than the first-hand experiences that others have pointed out, especially those who have spent years in China when I have only spent occasional summers across the last decade.

Nevertheless, I felt that it was a quite 'occidental' (if I may use that word) reading of the state of China. It seems like the sort of things that Western TV would use to promote a jingoistic view; the same sort of 'China only produces drones!' argument and the 'Chinese government is corrupt!' tired statements. No, China is not the sort of shining beacon on a hill that America has been in the past, but I suspect that we've started to learn that there are really no countries in the world where the streets are paved with gold — capitalism has lost a bit of its lustre recently, one suspects.

On the topic of fitting in, though — there's a fairly well documented glass (or bamboo, if you will) ceiling for Asian-Americans in the United States, where we've learned or realized, painfully, that we just don't get to leadership positions (even ones educated here, where we're not taught to be mindless test-takers)! Does the reverse in China make for a xenophobic society? No more so than the West, I suspect.

Truth be told, as a few others have said in this thread, I think that a large part of the 'not feeling like they can ever be Chinese' is a simple reflection that the author has finally gone somewhere that there isn't a predominantly white population. I wonder if the author would feel the same way in India, or an African or Middle Eastern country.
posted by Han Tzu at 4:06 AM on August 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think that a large part of the 'not feeling like they can ever be Chinese' is a simple reflection that the author has finally gone somewhere that there isn't a predominantly white population

I think it means he can literally never be Chinese.

The US gives ethnically Chinese people, such as yourself, the opportunity to become citizens with a guarantee of equal treatment under the law. You can call yourself an American, an Asian-American, or a Chinese-American. Some people may very occasionally ask "where are you really from?" or make other vaguely racist comments, but for the most part you are considered an American by other people who see you. People don't generally point and laugh, stare, or yell "NIHAO!" It may be more difficult for Asian-Americans to attain leadership positions, but it is actually illegal for employers to discriminate based on race, and there is at least the theoretical possibility of an Asian-American suing a US company in a US court and winning. You can serve in the military and hold government office. You can operate a business -- any business you want, with no restrictions because of your race. Your children will be US citizens, just because they were born on US soil.

None of those things are true for people of European descent in China.
posted by twisted mister at 4:37 AM on August 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Otoh, China doesn't claim any of the above either.
posted by infini at 8:04 AM on August 12, 2012


Concerning the words 'Chinese' and 'xenophobia': as has often been remarked, 'Chinese' actually means 'Han'. If you are from a small, unscary ethnic group, you are treated like a pet - indulged and ignored. If you are big, scary and rebellious (Mongol, Uighur, Tibetan etc) - well, after the last Uighur uprising (last serious one, not the last unrest) they just executed in prisons a generation of people they thought might be the leaders. I like Han culture, i like Han people and i have no interest in any Chinese politics, but no foreigner could delude themselves that there's a Chinese concept like 'multicultural'. Chinese person's comment on Uighur/Tibet/any situation: 'we have given them loads of money and they have shown no gratitude'. Attempt to say, they don't want your money, they want some freedom and to not be culturally annihilated: incomprehension. People are brought up to obey and believe, there are huge party slogans everywhere (Work hard and be harmonious! etc), they're treated like kids. The result is they are like kids, simple in some way that i can't explain, kind, trusting, naive, open, just lovely, but also somehow childlike. Not childish... not sure how to explain it. But when you see some small child surrounded by two parents and four grandparents, you realize, they have no partner in crime and they're outnumbered - they'll never learn to be naughty or rebellious! (Yes, i literally think single child policy has a lot to do with it.)
posted by maiamaia at 11:27 AM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I mean, they believe everything the state tells them as if it was their parents. Also, when there you here the worst stories of things that happen to the black Africans that go there (some from oil-producing countries are allowed in as a sweetener to oil deals). Policemen beating people up in the streets, deaths etc. They are skin-colour racist - white is better. Especially if you are a man (white women aren't sexually attractive to them) you aren't excluded in any way more than in any other country (eg you'll never fit in perfectly unless you have preternatural language and social skills).
posted by maiamaia at 11:31 AM on August 12, 2012


(white women aren't sexually attractive to them)

What's all this "us and them" stuff? There ain't no such thing.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:54 PM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


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