Everyone should read this article, which explores how Gary Locke’s nomination as the first Chinese American US Ambassador to China is stirring strong emotions amongst the Chinese and conflicting feelings about race, national identity and patriotism. The article struck a chord with my own experience as a Chinese American studying abroad here in Beijing for the past month, particularly this passage:
China’s state-run Global Times quoted an analyst saying Locke would understand the Chinese way of dealing with issues, including “the subtleness that can be difficult to explain in words.”
But a deep antagonism is evident in a profusion of less-than-diplomatic commentary on the Internet in China.
“A fake foreign devil who cannot even speak Chinese,” wrote one anonymous contributor to an Internet forum on public affairs.
“I don’t like this guy who has forgotten his ancestors” wrote someone from Dalian on a popular news site, while another from Sichuan piped in: “If he wanted to be Chinese, he wouldn’t live in America.”
Some Chinese call the 61-year-old commerce secretary a “traitor” and resort to ethnic slurs to disparage his being born and raised in the United States.
The hostility is no surprise to Chinese Americans who live or work in China and are alternately embraced as long-lost relatives or scorned for deserting the motherland. They often aren’t recognized as foreigners and have difficulty getting into diplomatic compounds where many expatriates reside.
What rattled me about this passage is how accurately it paralleled my own experience over the past few weeks. I am an expatriate, but I don’t look like one. I am ethnically Chinese, but I don’t truly act like one. I have gotten outright stares from people for speaking English with my friends in a public place, and treated rudely when I take extra time to form my sentences in Mandarin or apologize to explain that I am American. On the flip side, I have also spoken with smiling taxi drivers who are fascinated by my background, and have been welcomed by warm, curious university students who are so open to become my friends.
I have yet to fully grasp the reasons why such conflicting views exist towards Chinese Americans, and the hateful comments spreading on the Internet regarding Locke’s appointment only seem to confirm the the existence of negativity that some Chinese feel towards Chinese Americans. I can only hope that Mr. Locke is not unfairly judged by the Chinese simply on his background, but instead by his true efforts to strengthen the US-China relationship.