Advertisements
//
you're reading...
Human Rights & Social Issues

China humiliates itself with racist attack on outgoing US ambassador


Locke: China should not fear its people

Locke: China should not fear its people

A few days ago in Beijing, as Gary Locke wrapped up his tenure as United States ambassador to China, he was lambasted in a Chinese state media editorial. The piece called Locke a “guide dog.” It said he had stirred an “evil wind.” Worst of all, it called him a “banana.”

As in yellow on the outside and white on the inside. It’s a slur, akin to “Oreo” for African-Americans or “coconut” for Hispanics, used by people of a given ethnic group to judge another member of that group for being insufficiently, well, ethnic. The point of saying a person of colour is “white inside” is to accuse him of being a race traitor, ashamed or in denial of his true heritage.

In this case, the idea was that Locke, though of Chinese descent, wasn’t Chinese enough. Why? He couldn’t speak the language. Oh, and he apparently didn’t do the bidding of China’s leaders, choosing instead to go to Tibet, work with dissident human rights activists, point out smog levels in Beijing and generally represent the interests and values of the United States.

That’s what the editorialist meant when he called Locke a banana. Many Chinese citizens disavowed the slur, calling it an embarrassment. But what it revealed was that despite modernisation and burgeoning wealth — or perhaps because of them — China still has a fragile identity. (And America still has some advantages.)

Let’s start with the fact that the editorial was published in an organ of state media. It got attention because in a country where the government controls the press, editorials are assumed to express the views of top national leaders. They may not, in fact. It’s quite possible this particular opinion writer was just an individual. But in the absence of a free press, who can really tell?

This is the price of propaganda: No one believes what you say, but they believe you meant to say it.

A second notable aspect of the banana rant was that it completely conflated ethnicity and nationality, and in a particularly Chinese way. The Han Chinese are the overwhelmingly dominant ethnic group of China, and their ethnocentrism frames Chinese political culture. (Just ask Tibetans.) It also fuels the nationalism behind China’s territorial disputes with Japan and other Asian nations.

So the premise of the banana comment was that someone of Chinese ethnicity, wherever he may live, should be considered Chinese to the core and therefore in the end loyal to the Chinese nation.

Of course, that’s a notion white Americans have often used to justify mistreatment of “indelibly alien” Chinese immigrants, whether during the era of Chinese exclusion in the late 19th century or the persecution of Wen Ho Lee at the turn of this one.

But it’s as wrong now as then and as wrong here as there. Even if Locke could speak perfect Mandarin, even if he could read the Chinese classics and write calligraphy, this Eagle Scout, child of public housing, prosecutor, state legislator, governor, Cabinet secretary and diplomat was made in America.

Whether Locke is “Chinese enough” is for him and his family to judge, not for any other Chinese American, much less an apparatchik in China. But there can be no doubt that Locke is plenty American, and that’s really what stuck in the craw of some commentators in China.

Ultimately, the banana rant reminds us that the United States, for all its manifest failings and its continuing racial tensions, remains exceptional in its capacity to synthesise the peoples of the world into new hybrids. Which is also why the United States, for all its economic troubles and relative geopolitical decline, retains a competitive edge over rising powers like China.

To put it very simply: America makes Chinese Americans, but China does not — and does not particularly want to — make American Chinese.

It’s in America’s operating system to welcome an immigrant who becomes a houseboy and to make it possible for that immigrant’s grandson to hold high public office. This is the Locke family arc: truly American.

It’s not so much in China’s operating system to welcome an immigrant — whether ethnic Chinese or not, however steeped in Chinese civilisation — and make it possible for her family to be seen as truly Chinese.

When operatives in China call Locke a banana, they assume, wrongly, that to be American is to be white. America is not white any more. It never really was. China may be four times more populous than America. But America is many times more diverse, intermingled, open and adaptive than China.

I’m proud to be Chinese American: proficient in Chinese culture, fluent in American life. Call me what you will; I like my country’s chances.

Editor’s note: Eric Liu is the founder of Citizen University and the author of several books, including “The Gardens of Democracy” and “The Accidental Asian.” He served as a White House speech writer and policy adviser for President Bill Clinton. Follow him on Twitter @ericpliu The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
 
Click here for the original Chinese article
 
Source: CNN – China’s awkward ‘banana’ slip
 
Advertisements

About Craig Hill

General Manager at Craig Hill Training Services * Get an Australian diploma by studying in your own country * Get an Australian diploma using your overseas study and work experience * Diplomas can be used for work or study in Australia and other countries. * For more information go to www.craighill.net

Discussion

2 thoughts on “China humiliates itself with racist attack on outgoing US ambassador

  1. Very interesting article. I lived in Washington State when Gary Locke was governor, and I have a lot of respect for him.

    Like

    Posted by Naomi Baltuck | March 6, 2014, 11:41 pm
  2. The question of Chinese identity is an extremely complex issue. I believe Ambassador Locke is of Toishan descent. Toishan is one of four counties in southern China (more specifically the Pearl Delta region) that is the source of the majority of the early immigrants to North America (prior to Present Nixon’s first visit to China). According to the research of Canada’s Dr. David Lai and the late Dr. Edgar Wickberg, the Four Counties people are very different from the folks in the rest of China. That the bulk of North American’s early Chinese immigrants came from this Pearl Delta region of China demonstrates the risk taking and tenacity of the Four Counties people’s character (also called Say Yap in Cantonese or Siyi in Mandarin). The first president of Republican China was from a county in the same Pearl Delta region. My family came from the county of Hoiping, which is next door to Toishan. I can attest to the differences between Four Counties people and the other Chinese. We still use the complex, traditional characters in writing in comparison to the simplified characters in official use in the People’s Republic of China. Clan and family ties are stronger among Four Counties descendants living in Canada and in the Four Counties region than the rest of China, where economics and the state hold higher currency. Ambassador Locke probably speaks a fair Toishan dialect or standard Cantonese at home or among friends. My observation, as far as Canada is concerned and likely in America, is that the overseas Chinese tend to be more traditional (i.e., more Chinese) than the modernized Chinese from the mainland.

    Like

    Posted by setohj | March 20, 2014, 4:31 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Advertisements

Get An Australian Diploma

China Daily Mail

China Daily Mail is not affiliated in any way with The China Daily or the government of the People's Republic of China.

Enter your email address to receive an email each time an article is published, or join our RSS feed. 100% FREE.

Want to write for China Daily Mail?

Read "Contributor Guidelines" above to join our team of 68 contributors. Write news or opinion about issues in China, or post photos and video. Promote your own site.

Recent Posts

China Daily Mail Stories Have Been Featured In:

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: