Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Race and espionage

I have a post up on the China Beat about race and espionage:

What’s interesting about Chinese espionage operations in the US, however, is that they appear to involve strong racial and nationalist overtones. The Soviet Union tended to appeal to ideology, or simply offer money or other types of benefits to its agents; China, it seems, is mainly going after overseas Chinese communities in its efforts to recruit spies.

While I'm at it, the Onion issue that parodies China -- which has gotten an unbelievable amount of attention -- includes an article that taps into this widespread notion of Chinese-Americans as potential spies. When the Onion features something, you know it's worth paying attention to.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Canada for Chinese

Sometimes while traveling the information in guidebooks and what you actually experience is woefully mismatched, especially when it comes to “cultural” advice. The following is a cultural guide to Canada intended for Chinese people that I happened to stumble across today. I have no idea where it originated, but a quick search on Google reveals several variations of it scattered around Chinese travel advice pages (for example, here, here, here, here, and here)—it seems to be one of those apocryphal Internet texts that sound authoritative to the ignorant. As these things always are, it’s fascinating for what it emphasizes and for what it gets wrong. Makes you wonder how accurate English guidebooks are.

As always, any translation tips would be appreciated!

Canadian clothing is similar to Americans’, but is not as casual. During informal situations they wear whatever they want, such as T-shirts [?夹衫], round-collar shirts, and everyday dress pants. During formal occasions—such as going to work, going to church, going to a concert or a play, or attending a dinner—they pay close attention to their clothing, making sure it is neat and tidy. Men wear suits and women wear dresses. Women are not too particular about the material of their clothes, but they value good taste and originality, coordinated colors, and comfort.

Canadians are simple and honest (朴实), amiable, friendly, and warmly hospitable. When they meet they shake hands, while close friends sometimes hug. When they part they shake hands again. During introductions, the men are [first] introduced to women, younger people are introduced to older people, and lower-status people are introduced to higher-status people. When friends meet they address each other informally. When shaking hands, women, older people, and higher-status people extend their hands first. When chatting, a topic is chosen that everybody is interested in, such as Canadian economic and cultural development, the weather, sports, traveling, and [cultural] customs. It’s not appropriate to inquire about one’s age, income, family situation, marital status, body weight (for women), and other personal topics. Canadians don’t like to compare Canada and the US. They don’t talk about politics, family ancestry (世族), religion, language, and, above all, such sensitive social issues as the [situation in the] French region of Quebec.

Canadians have a strong awareness of time. When a time for an appointment is set, one should be punctual. Usually business is conducted in restaurants or social clubs. One ought to have a specific reason to give somebody a present, and should not give presents for no reason. During birthdays, weddings, and when parting from one another [for a substantial period of time], one should give a present. Pay attention to the wrapping of the present. Usually it’s best to use paper with lots of colors, to attach ribbons or other decorations, and to sign your name on a card attached to the present. When receiving a present, one should open it immediately and thank the gift giver. During family dinners Canadians are commonly welcoming towards guests. Guests should not arrive early, and should bring a bottle of wine, a box of candy, or a bouquet of flowers as a present, or give small presents to the hostess and children. If you give a bottle of wine, it is appropriate to drink it during dinner. Family dinners are usually buffet style: the food and drink are placed on the table, and every person helps himself and finds his own seat. Everyone chats while eating. On the day after the dinner, the guest should write a thank you letter to the hostess. After the dinner is over the guest should not stay for too long; usually one should leave before 10:00 on weekdays and before 11:30 on weekends.

In Canada the number 13 and Friday are taboos [as they are bad luck]. They abide by the 10 commandments found in the Bible, and do not address holy figures with disrespect. When going down stairs, Canadians avoid smashing glass products, and avoid overturning saltshakers [?人从楼梯下走过,忌打破玻璃制品,忌打翻盐罐]. Avoid saying the word “old,” avoid calling an elderly people’s home a “nursing home” [保育院], and avoid calling an elderly person an “old citizen” (高龄公民). White lilies are used during funerals, so don’t use them as everyday gifts. When at home don’t blow a whistle, don’t talk about inauspicious things, and while eating food don’t talk about sad topics. Avoid eating the insides of an animal and its fatty meat. Canadians are used to eating cold food and they attach the most importance to dinner. When eating with Canadians don’t urge them to drink alcohol [if they refuse]. Most Canadians don’t like fatty meat and hate shrimp paste, fermented bean curd, and other stinky food. Canadians avoid eating the insides of animals, as well as their feet. Canadians prefer to have even numbers [of guests] at banquets and dinners, and especially avoid the number 13. Black and purple are unpopular colors in Canada. White lilies are used at funerals, so don’t give them to people [as gifts]. When swimming small children should always wear bathing suits. In the summertime women like to sunbathe in their bikinis, so don’t be too astounded.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Evan Osnos, Xinjiang, and Chinese civil society

A quick plug for Evan Osnos's blog, for its well-researched takes on the Xinjiang riots. Though Osnos's history can sometimes be a bit fudgy (I took issue with his brief sum-up of race relations in China contained in this article), when it comes to current affairs, his knowledge and contacts are impressive. In his analysis of the unrest in Xinjiang, it is refreshing that he does not set up an automatic juxtaposition between the undercurrents of discrimination in Xinjiang, and the Chinese insistence that any problems are caused by outside agitators. That's the angle that most western reporting has taken. It's true enough, but it's not the whole story.

If one focuses solely on the government's stance towards minorities in China, or on the nationalist hysteria best represented by the "angry youth," the situation really looks bleak, with little hope of the kind of cross-cultural understanding and empathy that can improve race relations in a country. And if we compare the current situation in China to pre-1960s America (the kind of comparison that, though hopelessly problematic, is made so often that it becomes something one must address), the country does not appear to be on the brink of the kind of radical cultural shift that the United States experienced in the 1960s and 1970s, mainly because China, because of tight control and widespread nationalist thinking, does not have the kind of "marketplace of ideas" that enabled to the US to change so fundamentally.

And yet, when one ignores supercilious government pronouncements and actually reads some of the non-fenqing commentary on Chinese websites, as Osnos does, there does seem to be some hope. First, he notes (as no one else seems to have done) that the problems in Xinjiang aren't only about race; they are also a reflection of the economic and political inequality that has accompanied the rapid development of the Chinese economy. In addressing the problems in Xinjiang, China must also address deep-rooted problems with modern society that exist across the country. And in another post, Osnos summarizes an essay about the riots written by a well-known Chinese journalist and consultant, which takes the government for task for some of its acts of mismanagement of the riots.

Osnos's observations get at a phenomenon that has become increasingly apparent in the past couple years: though more and more moderate voices are having their say in China, both online and in mainstream publications, they are very rarely mentioned in mainstream western reportage about Chinese politics and society. Even venerable publications such as the New York Times tend to focus on the more shrill voices. This kind of reporting isn't inaccurate, but it is incomplete. Chinese civil society is becoming more diverse than many people realize—editorials, blog posts, and reporting, often in mainstream magazines and newspapers, are often surprisingly nuanced. But evidence of this is sorely lacking in English-language news about China.

Zhou Enlai and the Cultural Revolution

At the edge of a lake in the middle of Huai'an sits the Zhou Enlai Memorial Hall, a sprawling cement complex that, considering Zhou's broad popularity both inside and outside China, was surprisingly empty when I visited a couple of weeks ago. Huai'an, a small city in northern Jiangsu province, is Zhou's birthplace and is a delightful place in its own right, with lots to see and do, but the newest Lonely Planet neglects to mention it. So much the better for me! It's the kind of place where people do double takes when a white person walks down the street. They whisper to each other, they say "Don't look now but there's a foreigner behind us," they say "Hellllooo!," they point, they grin, they break into laughter at the sheer bizarreness of it all. In fact, one six-year-old boy who had never seen a foreigner before went a little bit crazy when he saw me. For about ten minutes he kept shouting over and over again, "I hate foreigners!" and "I don't like the foreigner!" At one point he said, "The foreigner will beat us!" His mother was embarrassed and apologetic, and kept trying to explain to her son that foreigners are people too.

There were hardly any other visitors at the Zhou Enlai Memorial Hall, just me and a couple Chinese tourists. Considering the size of the place, one had the sense that Zhou was somewhat of a forgotten figure—which, of course, couldn't be farther from the truth. He is credited for being responsible, sometimes wholly responsible, for the preservation of cultural artifacts during the Cultural Revolution, for saving the lives of various people, and for stopping acts of senseless violence as best he could. Red Guards threatening the ruins and Dunhuang? One call from Zhou will stop them from wreaking destruction. Over-zealous general on the brink of invading Hong Kong? Zhou injects some common sense into the deliberations. Zhou's hand seemed to be everywhere in the Cultural Revolution; the legend of his intervention seems to grow with every retelling.

So powerful is the legend that it even made it into an official museum dedicated to his memory. It's difficult to find any information at all about the Cultural Revolution in Chinese museums—nowadays, most discourse about it in the public space seems relegated to fiction or the odd editorial about how China needs to avoid "excesses," or is neatly brushed aside by being included in the "30 percent" of what Mao did wrong. But in Zhou Enlai's memorial museum I was surprised to see not only a reference to the Cultural Revolution, but several references to it. Not only that, but, in celebrating Zhou's efforts to rein it in, the museum seemed to imply that the Cultural Revolution was something negative. This isn't anything new, but it is rare to see the view expressed in a place devoted to nationalism.

Granted, it wasn't much. One big picture of Zhou had the caption "Devoting his entire energy and thought to the perilous situation during the 'Cultural Revolution'" (殚精竭虑 苦撑'文革'危局), and nothing else. A piece of paper elsewhere was, according to a caption, "A list of cadres who should be protected, drawn up by Zhou Enlai." Three other pieces of paper were "Zhou Enlai's three telegrams drafted in his own hand on protecting the leading cadres inside and outside the Party, as well as top democrats." A fourth plaque, in the tradition of Zhou's enigmatic nature, had only a quote elegantly concealing any opinions he might have had about what was going on: "In the midst of the 'Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution' I only had eight words: 'Spare no effort in one's duty until one's dying day' (鞠躬尽瘁,死而后已)."