Aug 24

(Letter) A China-friendly foreigner’s Post Secret

Written by Joel on Sunday, August 24th, 2008 at 4:57 pm
Filed under:-mini-posts, culture, Letters | Tags:, ,
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Just saw a China-related Post Secret (I swear it’s not mine! 😉 ).

It says (my translation):
I’m an American.
I want to be a Chinese.
I haven’t told my Chinese friends,
But I feel they all know…
…but I will never be Chinese enough

Is it possible for Americans (or anyone else) to become Chinese? If so, what does it require?

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36 Responses to “(Letter) A China-friendly foreigner’s Post Secret”

  1. Leo Says:

    The real question is, I’m afraid, what kind of Chinese he wants to be. He can be the kind of Chinese that pursue 1930s Shanghai chic, write traditional character, and whine that they are not accepted. That is the kind of Chinese I always keep away from.

  2. MoneyBall Says:

    Why would an American want to be Chinese? besides you cant be something you are not.
    Though I m stuck as Chinese this life time I still dont wanna be anything else.
    If I have a next life I want to be an Italian, their language sounds so cool, their women are so beautiful, their music is so gracious, their food is so overated…..LOL

  3. Daniel Says:

    Hmm…I’ve seen something like this before I think. Anyways, there’s a lot that can be said and ponder about whether people are wanting to “emulate” others of different backgrounds or they actually want to change their entire identity and such.

    I don’t know how others think but anything is possible. In my next life, I want to be a Martian or settler on another planet.

  4. FOARP Says:

    @Moneyball – I’d be Swiss, tall mountains, nice ladies, decent food, all the benefits of European living with none of the drawbacks (well, except one – too many rules).

  5. Hui Says:

    There’s a great saying: “Anyone who can speak and write Chinese are Chinese”. Yes, that’s true. Chinese language is the last barrier to prevent you being emerged in Chinese culture, history and tradition. Learning Chinese is the once-then-forever solution.

  6. RUMman Says:

    What is wrong with writing traditional characters?

  7. FOARP Says:

    @RUMman – Poor old FOARP can’t read them!

  8. Charles Liu Says:

    Joel, I know how this person feels. As much as I am Americanized, these questions follows me around:

    “[XXX US cith]? I’m where are you REALLY from?”
    “You don’t have an accent…”

  9. S.K. Cheung Says:

    I guess it depends on what you mean. Linguistically, culturally, citizenship, politically (threw that one in there for kicks), genetically? It does harken back to previous threads about what it means to be Chinese.

  10. Joel Says:

    I think this makes for an interesting cultural contrast that raises lots of interesting questions, because “Chinese” as an identity (in its various forms) is constructed differently than some other cultural identities.

    For example, it’s easy to say, “Anyone can become a Canadian. Actually, it’s not that hard,” because “Canadian” is a just a political and cultural category, and culturally it’s broad, vague, diverse and poorly defined (Canadians have their own special cultural identity issues).

    Not so for “Chinese.” Asking why makes for an interesting exploration of our various and ever-changing cultural identities.

    A short bit of my own thoughts as a foreigner in China about the desire to “become Chinese” (whatever that means), and how we understand our place in Chinese culture and our long-term cultural goals, is here: A foreigner’s Chinese Post Secret.

  11. admin Says:

    One of our most popular entry is “What does it mean to be Chinese? ”

  12. chriswaugh_bj Says:

    Just quickly, because I’m being summoned to dinner, and everybody knows you do not disobey my wife: From the little I saw in my six weeks in Norway, China’s nothing special in this respect. It was clear to me then that to be “Norwegian” was as much an ethnic/blood thing as being “Chinese”, and integration was as much about learning the language and culture there as it is here (although easier for me, because being of mixed Scottish and Irish descent I have almost as much Viking “blood” in me as my half-Lapp hosts in Norway). Old world countries don’t see things the way those of us from new world, “immigrant” countries do, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

  13. Wukailong Says:

    There is a difference between “ethnical” countries and “immigrant” countries, but with the world we live in today, ethnical countries will have to change to accommodate immigrants. This is of course not going to be an easy process.

  14. my_mother Says:

    Hey Joel,

    Think about this situation. My grandfather and father are CBC and I am ABC. It is kind of funny (not really) to see people’s reactions when I tell them that my father and grandfather are Canadian. And just the other day in KFC, the response from the guy in front of me (when told I was American) was, “No. Where are you really from?”.

    So as something to think about, I will post a couple of company questions to your question above.

    What does it require to be Canadian. Or American for that matter?

  15. Joel Says:

    I don’t think the guy’s reaction in your example necessarily means he’s saying, “You’re not a Canadian. You’re from somewhere else.” Being “really from somewhere else” and being “Canadian” are compatible. At least where I grew up, when we talked about where people were from, it wasn’t with the idea that they weren’t Canadian. Even when we said, “Her parents are Korean,” it didn’t mean (to us) that they “weren’t Canadian.” They’re both.

    The truth is, Canadians don’t really know what makes a Canadian. Canada doesn’t have a strongly defined cultural identity, though they are constantly trying to create one. In my experience, they don’t care where you’re from or how bad your English is, so long as you’re willing to accept an overly-P.C. environment (this is culturally speaking; actually getting legal documents is another story). The only time I’ve heard people complaining “That’s not Canadian!” is when various minorities are perceived to be trying to impose socially conservative views on the broader population.

    Here’s a funny answer to your question from popular stand-up Canadian comedian Russel Peters, who uses Canada’s multiculturalism for much of his material: How to Become a Canadian Citizen

    He also has a skit (explicit) about walking out of the airport in Beijing:
    “…and Chinese people are going, ‘You stink! You from India!’
    ‘I’m from Canada! This is how Canadians smell!'”

    There are even skits treating white Canadians as a minority: White Canadian Accent (explicit)

  16. S.K. Cheung Says:

    To Joel:
    ahh, Russell Peters. You have excellent taste. 🙂

  17. Joel Says:

    honestly, i’d like his stuff more if it was cleaner. but it’s still interesting (and funny) to see a guy have fun with the cultural tensions of a multi-ethnic society.

  18. S.K. Cheung Says:

    Yeah, he gets away with some nice language. But somehow, it seems justified by the flow of his narrative, and doesn’t seem gratuitous to me. His accents are second to none…his Chinese accent is better than mine.

  19. Daniel Says:

    I think it’s true that there are some significant differences between the old world and newer countries regarding their national identities. At the very least, it’s worth investigating.

    I can’t say for others because admittingly or not, we in the US don’t carry as much cultural(s)/historical weight as other countries. There are some traditions and issues over the generations that sort of defines us, but it’s not quite the same, and in a sense, we’re always changing.

    As far as what it takes to be an American, as long as you got a citizenship, in a legal sense, that’s all it takes. However, there are many that would accept those who have resided long term and are a part of whatever local community it is in the states. At least, that’s what I believe. Some probably have more questionable opinions.

    I’m guessing what it takes to be Chinese might change in the future (though not too drastically). I’ve assume that close relationships are what defines this group. On an interesting note, I read somewhere that it was recently as in maybe a couple hundred years or less, that people in China even saw themselves as belonging to the same group. Like, even among the Han, some will view each other just as foreign I think…I don’t understand all the details, rumors or half-truths but possibly some of you all might know more?

  20. JXie Says:

    Charles Liu, it’s all about distribution. The American public thru TV, media, school surely is shown that Chinese Americans are Americans The PC question should not be which country you are from. But consider this: in 1950, only 0.1% of American were of Chinese origin; in 2004, the number was over 1%. The vast majority of Chinese Americans are 1st or 2nd generation of immigrants. Though the question (given you are an American) is in-PC and maybe uncomfortable, it has nevertheless a high chance of being close to reality.

    Over 0.5% less than 1% of Brazilians are of Japanese origin and the bulk of them live in Sao Paulo. Though in Brazil PC is never quite as crazy as in the US (nevertheless there is far less racial tension in Brazil than in the US), Japanese Brazilians are embraced as Brazilians fully. Distribution-wise, the peak of Japanese immigration to Brazil happened in the first half of the 20th century (while immigration to the US/Canada was shut down). Most of the Japanese Brazilians are generations removed from the 1st generation.

    It is a fascinate study of Japanese immigration in Brazil. Most of the early Japanese immigrants were peasants working as hard labors in the farms. Through saving, hard work and improvement of education, today Japanese Brazilians are the richest ethnic group in Brazil. And their ancestral home, Japan, through saving, hard work, and improvement of education, has become a more desirable place to make a living than Brazil. There has been, since the 1980s, reverse immigration of Japanese Brazilians back to Japan. Maybe the same will play out for Chinese Americans in the future…

  21. A-gu Says:

    I believe what the writer is expressing is some anxiety that no matter how well he speaks or writes Chinese, no matter how long he lives in China, no matter how few foreign friends he has, even if his kids are half-Chinese, perhaps even if he dropped his foreign passport … the Chinese people around him would take one look at him and classify him as a “foreigner,” and would never be able to internalize thinking of him as a “Chinese person.” At best, he would be the “Very Chinese[-like] foreigner.”

    I think that’s what he’s saying, at least.

  22. Joel Says:

    Yeah, that’s how I first read it. But someone on my blog pointed out that he may be a 华侨, and simply too Americanized to every fully become Chinese. I have a friend who used to think of himself as Chinese growing up in the States, but last year he did an internship in Tianjin, and he said that made him realize how American he is.

  23. Chops Says:

    Chinese immigrants find it hard to assimilate in Western countries, so the same goes for Westerners in China.

    Westernized Chinese get teased with the term “Banana”, which usually comes from other Chinese who fears losing their Chinese heritage.

  24. Joel Says:

    speaking of bananas, I once saw a list of descriptions for all kinds of different Chinese (as written by an ABC). Amazing how many different kinds, many determined by how much Chinese heritage they’d lost and by their attitude toward their Chinese heritage (like whether they just embraced being “white” or were overcompensating for their “white” upbringing by trying to be Chinese).

  25. A-gu Says:

    I believe the grammatical mistake (我想是一個中國人) is pretty good evidence the writer is unlikely to be 華橋 or 華裔; he seems much more likely to be a non-native speaker.

  26. Daniel Says:

    I think I know what you’re talking about Joel,

    *If it’s the same thing or something similar as what I saw, a lot of those “for fun generalizations” is mainly regarding the youth. I also don’t think that list is complete because I’ve seen, in person… many more descriptions of Chinese that go beyond them, not just in the US and Canada but elsewhere.* (if it’s not the same then ignore my post).

    The older we get, it becomes very noticeble that what kind of “Chinese” they are matters little. Usually, the identity crises issue dies down around late teens to early 20s, or whenever they start making a living and raise families. People start behaving under the influence of however the locals or friends/co-workers are, their specific upbringing by their families (which despite stereotypes, I noticed many subtle differences) and whatever life-changing events which affects their well-being.

  27. TommyBahamas Says:


    I am just curious here. First of all I am not an ABC, BBC or CBC. My brother immigrated to Vancouver 20 years ago and his 15 year old daughter is a CBC. Now when I asked my brother what his very artistically talented daughter was going to major in college a couple of years from now, I was kinda disappointed to hear the all too familiar Asian reasoning, that “for a better prospect in the job market – now get this – as a Chinese in Canada,” she had better choose science subjects. Now don’t get me wrong, my brother loves Canada, you don’t hear him bitch about his adopted country, and that was why I was kinda sad to hear the real reason in his decision making has this counter-racist element in it.

  28. Daniel Says:

    Hi TommyBahamas,

    Its kind of sad, and a little familiar (though I have witness different ideals in other Chinese/Asian families) but some people and places do have that glass ceiling and perspective on certain backgrounds. I’m a little surprise that your brother didn’t use the gender reasoning. I’m trying to remember some websites and blogs that talk about this, although most of the ones I’ve read before refer to the Asian/Chinese community in the States, but I think it’s not too different for Canadians or other peoples to understand. You could probably just google it up or contact one of the many multi-cultural organizations for this topic.

    The older generation of mine (like my uncle’s time, he was born in the mid 60s) I remember them talking about how a lot of families, didn’t push their kids per se, but more like use the idea of practicality alongside with the ethnic reasoning. Many did agree and one common saying was that people can not argue with numbers. (maybe it was due the times and experiences of some of the immigrants…a lot of distrust regarding other fields) It’s not like a shame to be a scientist, engineer or doctor (it’s a lot of hard work and benefits too depending) and some do find fulfillment in their careers.

    A lot of people probably had different opinions and experiences, but from what I’ve learned from my ABC peers, nowadays, it’s a bit more diverse. From what I noticed, often the parents who push their kids to science or medicine are also involved with the field, or have close family and/or friends in the same field or had similar aspirations since youth but didn’t fulfilled them and living through their children. Actually, there are some families that are swaying their kids towards other occupations as well, due to the same reasons above.

  29. Daniel Says:

    Come to think of it, the ethnic reasoning for particular occupations shouldn’t really matter. However, I think we have to refer back to some of the comments regarding what catergory of “Chinese” are we talking about. The experiences will be different considering those from Hong Kong, the Mainland, Taiwan, Latin America or S.E.A. My father had a conversation with a person from Hong Kong regarding their children’s futures…both were from the same generation (give or take 5 years) but had different ideals. Judging from the conversation, the man from Hong Kong assumed my dad was older and belong to his father’s time but when my dad told him he was a war refugee, the other guy sort of understood.

  30. S.K. Cheung Says:

    I think, as a Chinese in Canada in 2008, you can do most things. Even in the arts, I think one could excel. Of course, there are many starving artists (or so they say), and I don’t think Chinese ones are immune to that. If her artistic talent happens to be acting, that may be one of the areas where challenges remain. I don’t think there are that many roles made for Asians in stage, TV, or movies. But if her talent is as a musician, or writer, or behind the scenes, I don’t think there are institutional limitations these days.

  31. TommyBahamas Says:

    Thank you Daniel for your response. I am sorry, I should have made it clearer that my niece, the artistic young girl in question, is also an ace student in the sciences, so, either way I think she’ll be fine. As a matter of fact, my brother, her father, is also a very artistic man, but for practical reasons he quit art school for MBA. So, I am kinda seeing generational history repeating itself here. I did not venture to further ask my brother what exactly he meant by, “as a Chinese in Canada,” knowing that he’d be reluctant to elaborate. So, I could be wrong, but it wasn’t the first time I’ve heard similar ethnic reasonings regarding career and neighborhood choice for example.
    Like I said, I was just curious as to how real racial related prejudices are on the ground — not only White vs colored citizens of the same country but vice versa. A young white American in his twenties, a good friend of mine, told me that he makes friends easily with local HK Chinese but not so with ABCs because in his words, “The ones I’ve met at home seem to have chips on their shoulders especially against me / white folks.” Geeze, I hope I am not offending anybody here, as that is not at all my intention here.

  32. TommyBahamas Says:

    @S.K. Cheung

    Yes, I suppose you are right, and that was what I thought too, until, that is the recent conversation I had with my brother when he visited HK last month.

  33. Daniel Says:

    Hello Tommybahamas,

    I don’t know…it’s a little bit of a generalization your good friend made, but the more I think about it, there is some element of truth there. However, it really depends on where you friend grew up and how many people he knew and interacted with. Those ABCs, like every other group, are very diverse in itself.

    I mean, we really have to go in depth with that discussing about the minority experience, social attitudes and trends, family background and much much more that it may or may not be appropriate for this blog. Probably someone would like to make a post about the overseas Chinese in general.

    The thing is…a lot of us, when young, were quite aware that we were different and sometimes it was made to our face. Not necessary in a mean way, but more like you just stick out. Added with the desire to fit in, you catch a lot of what goes around you, and some of the attitudes towards “white Americans” could be due to the attitudes and generalizations they pick up from other minority groups or the media or their “white friends” as well. Along with parental pressure and other traditions where as if the outside world was a bit heavy enough, one is almost in an constant way, reinforce that you’re just different. Then there’s also the fact that maybe it’s just their individual personality to behave certain way.
    However, what I just type is also generalizations and like I said, we would have to go very in depth for more comprehension.

  34. TommyBahamas Says:

    Hi Daniel,

    Once again, thank you for your very good albeit “generalized” but nevertheless enlightening comment. I think I understand what you said. WEll, having not have had first hand experience, my understanding is no doubt limited. Hey, perhaps, you could start a discussion on this topic. no? Cheers.

  35. sisi Says:

    The first thing is you should love China ,but how? You should learn to understand how Chinese people feel and why .Before you do that ,you should start from learning to speak mandarin. http://www.hellomandarin is a good website to help you learn mandarin with Chinese and to practice with volunteers, so you can learn more about Chinese.


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