Is China racist? or new PC colonialismWritten by Julen Madariaga on March 23rd, 2009
This discussion on China Geeks caught my eye, mostly because it is one of the few that has managed to engage the real Chinese blogosphere to interact with us foreign China blogs. And no less than hecaitou, a respected blogger in both the Chinese and Western communities. Unfortunately, the results are rather discouraging.
It all started when some Chinese blogs, including hecaitou, posted this image, which was picked by Chinageeks in a post titled “racism in China”. Hecaitou responded rather energetically to the pingback, writing a new post, and then commentators from all sides joined the party.
The discussion about whether Chinese are racist or not is a never ending one, and it has been commented to exhaustion already, for example in the FM blog. It usually degenerates into a series of “you worse than me” counterexamples, as American/Chinese national pride quickly takes over any serious attempt of debate. Rather than racism, the misunderstanding comes from a different perception on the limits of the socially acceptable (ie PC). Some notes I would like to add to the debate:
1- This is one of the points where Chinese should pay attention to not mix all Westerners in the same bag. Although PC runs in all the Western countries, the degrees are different, and UK-USA PC is probably the single most extreme one that borders on paranoia.
2- This brings to mind the famous case of the olympic Basketball players, where a Spanish paper posted a picture of the Spanish basketball team doing “chinese eyes”. The UK and American press found it and they turned it into a major scandal, with serious accusations to Spain and reminders of Franco’s regime. I still remember a British girlfriend of mine in Shanghai, genuinely worried, asking me: ” Uln, you are not really racist, are you?” The whole situation was absurd, because the truth is neither Spanish nor Chinese understood this as anything more than what it was: a silly joke. The anglo-american press never succeeded in its serious efforts to turn it into a conflict.
3- On the other hand, even if I agree anglo-american PC is often exaggerated and ineffective, I cannot agree with the picture posted by hecaitou. There is a large difference between joking about some particular aspect of a nations physique (in the Spanish coast they say suntanned British look like cooked lobsters) and comparing Africans to apes. Because the message of that picture is clear: it is an inferior race that has still not become human.
Of course, I don’t suppose this was the real intention of Hecaitou, he probably didn’t think of it very much when he posted the picture. But I do think there is a reasonable middle way between Anglo-PC and the Chinese laissez-faire, and Chinese need to be more careful with these things. The fact that China was not a colonial power, or the fact that the New York Post does stupid cartoons is not an excuse to insult millions of Africans who had nothing to do with all that.
My Conclusion: It doesn’t make much sense right now to discuss whether Chinese are racist or not. The real test of tolerance is done when different races live together, anything else is just good intentions. The day when the major Chinese cities have a significant proportion of different races we will see how racist they are. In the meantime, observations from the Nigerian communities in Guangzhou seem to indicate that Chinese — like most other cultures — do have an inclination to discriminate racially. Which justifies even more the introduction by intelligent bloggers like Hecaitou of some basic principles of tolerance and tact.
H/t Peking Duck for providing the link.