Tuesday, June 01, 2010

You're not Chinese?

I came to China to learn how Chinese I really am and have learned well I am not really Chinese.  I am American.

Everyone, foreigners and locals alike right off the bat assumes that I am Chinese.  Even though my fashion is totally not Chinese, but more of a blend of Africa and America, I am labeled Chinese.

I wonder what Japanese and Korean people do when they are automatically assumed to be Chinese. Do they automatically say, "Not Chinese.  Japanese. Korean."?  Instead of just nodding my head pretending I understand, maybe there would be a lot less confusion if I would just automatically responded with, "Not Chinese.  Chinese American."   The problem is even if I say Chinese American, there is still an expectation that I speak Chinese because well I am Chinese.  In the eyes of the people in my small city, Chinese people no matter where they grew up speak Chinese.

but i am NOT Chinese, I AM AMERICAN.  Let's just forget the Chinese part of my label for a little while.

I am American.  How so?

1.  For the obvious reasons language, mannerisms, cultural knowledge and references.

2.  The way I think, analyze, question, solve problems, organize events, is very American.  I like schedules, planning, and having answers.  I understand people taking sides about their strong opinions and defending their ideas.  America is a defensive culture.  In China there is an attitude that every coin has two sides.  Find the balance of two opinions to create harmony.

3.  My attitude towards life is influenced by the privilege I have to choose my own path.  In China, the gender roles are strongly set.  Men have the responsibility to support both their parents and their own family.  Women have the responsibility to get married before 30 and have a child.  It is rare to find anyone out of the billions of people who is not on that path.

4.  I live with a lack of pressure to conform to the majority and live with the freedom to be me because of the laws that say do not discriminate no matter how diverse this person is (even if realistically it doesn't always happen that way).  Because of the influence of Confucianism, China is different.

Even though I am American, I can't ignore the Chinese part of my label because

1.  I look Chinese and have Chinese genes.
2.  I was born in Taiwan.

The Chinese label is part of my identity, but I am not culturally Chinese at all.  I can act the act and be polite in Chinese culture as any good observing foreigner does, but it is an act.  I have a Chinese role on a Chinese stage.  Hidden behind the make-up and costumes is an American.

3 comments:

William said...

my parents were born in vietnam and my dad has never stepped foot inside China. my mom did not see China until well after she turned 50. yet they both consider themselves to be Chinese. why?

I consider myself Chinese American because I grew up in a bicultural environment. American at school and in public, yet very Chinese when at home.

i have had the privilege of learning about Chinese culture from my grandparents, who have perpetuated all things Chinese by simply living their lives as they know how.

what's in a name? what's in a label?

it's good to be conscious of labels, but instead of simply saying that you are not culturally chinese at all, why not embrace the culture? it'd be harder to do if you are in Africa and are obviously visibly different from everybody else. but genetically and phenotypically, your Chinese lineage is undeniable. you have a wondrous opportunity to rediscover yourself and perhaps redefine who you are.

one of the perks of being bicultural is that you can pick and choose which aspects of each culture you want to embrace. not everything about Chinese-ness is going to appeal to you. but for the things that do, you should feel free to incorporate that into who you are. don't perceive your acculturation as an "act." embrace it as an opportunity to broaden your intellectual horizons and enrichen your own understanding of the world.

in that endeavor, you might discover a happier and better place for yourself in this world.

Dr. Jen said...

Would you consider a person who does not have Chinese genes but who is living in China acting Chinese or becoming bi-cultural?

After living in Africa and in China, the question what does being fully integrated into a culture mean? Are we ever really integrated? Or are we just really good at following the cultural norms and speaking the language but actually are still outsiders? Is cultural integration a myth?

Am I multi-cultural because I am good at being flexible with my personality such that I can usually fit in anywhere?

One can embrace a culture, learn the language, walk the walk, talk the talk,dress the dress but the inner core of who you are, are the cultures you have visited really a part of that inner core?

Maybe it is. Whenever I have lived in Africa or in China, I can feel my comfort level change depending on the situations. After living in Africa, I am not comfortable making eye contact. After living in China, I am not comfortable with quiet dinner parties but prefer noisy ones. Living in other cultures change me. So maybe it is wrong to say I am not culturally Chinese, not culturally African. Yet somehow it still feels like an act because when I leave those countries, I change again.

William said...

"Would you consider a person who does not have Chinese genes but who is living in China acting Chinese or becoming bi-cultural?"

It's a lot easier to say they are "acting" Chinese because they look different. Chinese society may find it hard (or impossible) to accept this person as "Chinese" because of the way they look.

remember the controversy around Lou Jing?

http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1925589,00.html

Half-black, half-Chinese, but culturally, she is completely Chinese. Yet some Chinese find it so hard...or impossible, to accept that she is Chinese. in my opinion, she is absolutely Chinese.

If African Americans, Mexican Americans, Japanese Americans, and all those other -Americans can be considered "Americans," why can't a half-black women who was born and raised in China be considered Chinese?

Perhaps it's because China is such a homogeneous society. The overwhelming homogeneity makes it hard for the Chinese to accept people who look different as "Chinese."

but in your case, you don't look different compared to the rest of the Chinese population. if you so wish, you can embrace Chinese culture and you'd still have an easier time being accepted as Chinese than Lou Jing.

~

"After living in Africa and in China, the question what does being fully integrated into a culture mean? Are we ever really integrated? Or are we just really good at following the cultural norms and speaking the language but actually are still outsiders? Is cultural integration a myth?"

Will I ever be fully integrated into "American" society? I may feel like it. But some white Americans may never see me as being fully American.

You look Chinese and you are in China. You may never feel fully integrated in Chinese society, but you don't have to be in order to appreciate the benefits of being bicultural in China.

You possess a Western world view, but you have an opportunity to understand the world from an Eastern point of view. Instead viewing Chinese society through Western lenses, look at it from a more worldly perspective. Despite what some U.S. senators and House representatives believe, I don't believe that China is an Orwellian society in which the masses are brainwashed by totalitarian government. I don't believe that China is as scary a place as many Americans believe it to be.

~

"Am I multi-cultural because I am good at being flexible with my personality such that I can usually fit in anywhere?"

Yes, and I think that is a wonderful quality.

~

"One can embrace a culture, learn the language, walk the walk, talk the talk,dress the dress but the inner core of who you are, are the cultures you have visited really a part of that inner core?"

I can try to frame the thought from this perspective:

Is there any African to your inner core? Can there ever be?

Is there any Chinese to your inner core? Can there ever be?

Which is easier to be a part of your inner core?

Ponder what Lou Jing may think about these questions.