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« The Politics of Virtue Ethics | Main | Modern Mimicry »

September 08, 2008


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Hi Sam,

I question your basic premise (which you state but I don't think anywhere really argue) that economic development *necessites* a multi-pluralistic society. Is the US model a universal model? (The US, of course, was founded on principles that almost demand this kind of multiculturalism, for example-- but does that mean that it is the only way to play the game?)

Japan, of course, during its own economic boom saw in influx of foreigners-- but they remained foreigners. In Japan, a black or white person really cannot be Japanese in the ordinary understanding of the word. They may hold citizenship (a rarity) but even if they hold a Japanese passport, they would not ordinarily be called "Japanese"--

What about Singapore? Korea? Malaysia? More interesting, what about India? Russia? Poland? Mexico?

I remain puzzled by your premise that global dynamics are pushing a European-style or US-style multi-culturalism as I think there are other models-- and more: that there are other *valid* models. And does maintaining culture or race (as the Japanese for example do) does that necessarily imply you are "excluding others unlike yourself"? Is it really as "black" and "white" as all that?

Like all issues of cultural importance, I refer to the glorious Yan Xishan:

If our first horrible name [Da Shan 大山] displays equal parts ignorance, insecurity, and misplaced arrogance, the second horrible name reveals in its holder a willingness to debase themselves for fame. I speak of what I take to be the most idiotic name ever taken by a laowai (and that says something), Aihua (爱华). Meet Aihua:

Aihua. What a fucking name. It means “love China.” I suppose it will not surprise you to know that Aihua is an actress. Here is what the always reliable CCTV said about her:

[She is an] American girl who has embraced and adopted Chinese culture and tradition as her own. Meanwhile, she is beloved by the Chinese people, and they have accepted her as a Chinese, not a foreigner. She has graced the stages and TV screens of China since the young age of 10. “Ai Hua”, meaning Love China, is her Chinese name. And the name proves very appropriate, for not only does she love the Chinese, but the Chinese love her as well.

Shocking, is it not, that this CCTV report is inaccurate? Note to all laowai: You will never be accepted as Chinese. Picking a suck-up name might make us feel comfortable around you–it does show that you will kiss our asses for as long as we keep you around–but it does not make you Chinese.

I still cannot believe anyone would take this name. To balance the scales, I am currently looking for a Chinese citizen to move Montana and take the name “Me Love USA Long Time.” If you know anyone who might be interested, contact me at once.


You raise an excellent point. Thank you.
Let me begin to respond this way. I do not mean to suggest (as the piece itself may have) that there is a US or British "model" that others should copy. Rather, I would argue that there are global forces that effect all countries in similar ways, even if individual countries find distinct ways of responding. For example, it is virtually impossible to maintain old-style state socialism (i.e. where the state owns and manages most of the means of production). To attempt to do so, as does North Korea, seems to guarantee poverty.
Thus, Japan has faced pressures to multiculturalize. In the 1980s PM Nakasone called for an internationalization of Japanese identity (Thomas Pyle, The Japanese Question, pp. 94-101) but, as you might respond, even he stopped short of immigration and naturalization. The pressure was similar to what China faces, but the response may have been different.
But why was Japan able to respond as it did? The pressure to multiculturalize is, at base, economic. To remain competitive, socio-political change is necessary. Japan was able to avoid some of the more challenging cultural changes because it was rich. Indeed, it was so rich, due to its earlier industrialization, that it was able to absorb a ten-year recession without too much in the way of socio-cultural change. Remarkable. Whether it will be able to continue to avoid change as the indigenous population ages and the need for younger, foreign, labor increases, will be something to watch in the coming decades.
But China is not Japan. Chinese identity has always had a universal element to it, while Japanese identity has tended to be more ethnically focused. China, over the centuries, has interacted with many "foreign" or "barbarian" cultures. It has absorbed elements of them but it has also itself been transformed in the process. Confucianism, generally, is not an ethnic ideal: the pursuit of Humanity is open to anyone. Indeed, I think Confucius and Mencius understood their philosophies as universal. Thus, there is a kind of philosophical precedent for the idea of "foreigners" becoming "Chinese."
But the bigger question is how far will this dynamic play out. You may be right. There may be countervailing forces that limit the changes.
Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

Hi Sam,

In general, I agree with your opinions on many issues. In this case, I have a few qualms.

First of all, globalized or not, we are a society obsessed with taxonomy. The irony is that your article is one such example. Look at all the "little boxes" you described there. We are all guilty of it. The first thing we do when we meet people is to find differences and "classify them." It isn't even second nature; it is our first. Ugly? Yes, I think so. Can we do something about it? Well, we can discuss and rationalize the flaw ad nauseam but we may as well be lobotomized before rationally change our ways. Even people that inter-marry, for all the love they may have for each other, are acutely aware of their differences. Heck, I find great differences between my wife and I and we are both white hispanics. We share a common language but come from different hemispheres with different cultural nuances (hint: language isn't the unifier is made out to be and, since we are at it, would someone enlighten the masses that Latino/Hispanic is not a "race" but a bunch of people that share a common "language" and that come in as many colors and shapes as you can imagine...)

Now, let's bring the ball from China to the U.S. field, the "Land of Immigrants." I'll share MY own experience, which is typical of first generation immigrants, specially Hispanics, whom can be as pale skinned as a Norwegian, as black as you can find, and everything in between (Fujimori anyone?). I've been living here for almost 25 years. I've become a citizen, I vote religiously, I've two American children, one of them in college. Still, to this day, I feel excluded and not always welcome and here is the thing: I can write English as well as anybody but, the moment I open my mouth, my accent shows me as "different." The funny thing is that many "Native English speaking Caucasians" feel deceived by someone that, at first sight, looks like them in every respect but ends up being different. This is particularly true of the U.S.A. and their biggest minority group. See, the key to "taxonomic harmony" is to be easy to classify. If a snag is found in a first impression "classification," the person doing it feels deceived. The sad part is that many times it shows...

Speaking of ironies, please take a look at this picture I took a few years ago. and read the explanation. As I said there, not much of a difference from today. Only the taxonomic focus has changed.

So, I predict that, if the future brings to China anything close to what the U.S. has experienced in the last hundred years, the "easy-to-spot" immigrant minorities (examples as described by your note) will perhaps fare much better than other minorities with similar physiological attributes associated with the Han but come from neighboring regions with different languages.

Call me a cynic but everybody will remain "different" and will live in the same tense harmony, in danger of snapping at any given moment, as we enjoy here. As long as no one deceives by appearance, they'll fare better than the rest.

Come to think of it, this isn't much of a risk in China, mind you. With 1.3 billion Han-looking people around, any given minority would have to breed like rabbits on Viagra to catch up and blend with the whole... So, vive la différence!!



I do not find you cynical at all. I accept your central point that multiculturalism in the US creates "...a tense harmony, in danger of snapping at any moment..." I do not mean to play down those tensions. Indeed, my argument could be wrong. But I will stick with it for a while longer.
So, even if you have better described the American experience, perhaps it is still possible that the pressures for multiculturalization in China still hold. The outcome may well introduce more tension into the "harmonious society," but maybe that is a cost of globalization.
Thanks for the comment - it helps me think through the issues....

Hi Sam,

I do (I believe) understand what you are saying and yet-- to be honest-- I remain puzzled as to why economic development should *necessite* multiculturalism. That it would make isolationist economics or isolationist politics difficult-- that is without question I think true. But why, for example, do you jump from saying that an expanding economy would make old-style socialism impossible (true) to the statement "thus Japan has faced pressures to multiculturalize." I am having a hard time grasping that logical leap...

More to the point, though-- and perhaps this is where we may have to agree to disagree: while I agree with you whole-heartedly that Confucian philosophy is universalist in the sense that

"The central value of Humanity (ren) is not delimited by ethnicity or race. It is an ethical practice that anyone can pursue and accomplish. If you act humanely, you are humane, regardless of national or social status."

Why does this necessite that a black man **should** become Chinese.

That is to ask the question whether a nation cannot maintain its sense of race and culture without being isolationist? Isn't there other valid styles of cosmopolitanism other than modern multi-pluralism? This is a question--not a statement per se.

I have myself spent my entire adult life in East Asia and to be honest while I have never felt myself inducted into the Japanese or Chinese camps-- at the same time, I have never in any way felt excluded. And, while a Japanese person could relatively easily become an American or Australian but not a Chinese, this does not seem to be something problematic in the way you are hinting; which perhaps is really to suggest that as long as their is mutual respect, then I don't think the Sage would have demanded the Chinese or Russians or Polish or whatever other non multi-pluralist society you name to change.

What do you think?

I think it comes down to the way I think about globalization. It seems to me that to succeed in the world economy a certain openness is required, economic openness and cultural openness. Looking at China these past thirty years the two have gone hand in hand. To my mind, never before in Chinese history have the cultural expressions of "Chinese-ness" been so varied and expansive. Cultural practices that were, just twenty years ago, considered wholly and irrevocably "Western" are not commonly enacted all around China, and especially in cities. If we add to that dynamic the increasing movement of people, also driven by globalization, and competitive pressures at the level of creativity and innovation, then I think, at the very least, the question of ethnic and racial multiculturalization in China arises.
Part of this, too, is a matter of teh intentions of the Chinese government. Do they really want to lay claim to some form of global "leadership" - i.e. become the place that sets global technology standards and produces more, and more profitable, global cultural "content". If they do, and I think they do, then more openness of all kinds, including immigration and naturalization, will be required. If they are willing to step back from the pursuit of global leadership and cede creativity and standard-setting to the US and Europe, then the pressure for openness will be less.
Also, all I mean to do here is suggest that a certain pressure for multiculturalization. The Chinese government and people can, of course, chose to resist it. They are facing this pressure, however.
Finally, I have not directly dealt with the normative question of whether a black man "should" become Chinese. I am, at this point, trying to analyze the empirical factors that seem to be making it more likely that foreigners will ask, or apply, to become Chinese. I guess I would start the normative investigation from the negative: why shouldn't a black man become Chinese?

Hi Sam,

Big Brother (FBIS to be precise) is watching. I'm sure you'll get a chuckle out of this. From my site's stats counter...

Say HI.


Hi Sam,

I have a bit of a problem with your assertion that “it is inevitable that the numbers of non-Chinese people seeking naturalized Chinese citizenship will grow”.
I believe there is a huge difference between staying in a country that is not yours, for whatever reasons (work, love etc.) and adopting the citizenship of the country of residence.
As China opens up, there are indeed more and more ways to stay for a longer and longer period of time, and the so-called “green card” you mentioned (even if the number of holders is pretty small as far as I know) is a good evidence of this trend.
However, as of today, how many citizens of say the US, France, Germany or Japan have applied for, and secured a Chinese passport? I have a hunch (I know, it is not much) that we are not talking thousands a year here, are we? So why is that?
I believe the political system in place is not a small matter when considering applying for citizenship. And if you value basic freedoms, no doubt will you wait for a ‘new China’ i.e. a more ‘democratic’ one, before asking to legally be Chinese. And it would seem that this ‘democratic China’ is not for tomorrow.
Therefore the number of foreigners living in China will certainly increase, but in my opinion the number of non-Chinese people seeking naturalized Chinese citizenship will not grow noticeably in the foreseeable future because there is simply no incentive to do so.

So, if you look like Da Shan, I’m not sure any of us will live longer enough to see you being considered otherwise than a Laowai, simply because there would be an infinitesimally small chance that you are legally Chinese.

Hi Dave, I don't think Sam is necessarily talking about large numbers of white laowai but rather-- as happens in the US or in parts of Europe-- peoples from less wealthy surrounding countries will desire to live and work; and then take advantage of citizenship of the country where they are residing. It would be starting from economic reasons and then as immigrants marry or become entrenched in the life of the country, they would seek citizenship. Is that correct Sam?

Well, I suppose we will have to disagree because again I remain unconvinced that there is anything logically demanded by economic expansion (and international participation). Greater openness can occur (indeed we see it in Japan and to some extent Russia)while still maintaining cultural concepts concerning nation or races. For me, personally, I don't have a strong opinion about whether Japan would have been better off if it had culturaized-- what I object to (ever so slightly) is the assumption that there is one way inevitable method for adopting a cosmopolitan outlook. Basically I think you really are starting with a lot of assumptions that I am just not so sure logically or even empirically hold up. I suppose being raised in the same country as you, I too share these values (and love them) but I just logically I remain unconvinced that high level creativity and competition necessarily demands a pluralistic society in the way you are hinting.(this can be evidenced by the large number of US copyrights held by people in monoracial societies). Yes, they are not #1, but they are #2 and #4 (I used to translate copyrights and have since given that up so my figures could be old-- but let's at least say that Japan and Taiwan do quite well in the creativity department).

Anyway no sign of Big Brother on my stats but just in case, I guess I'll sign off.

Looking forward to chatting again!

In a way, Peony's and Dave's points work together. Dave suggests that I have not adequately considered political factors and Peony holds that I am overemphasizing a certain view of economic globalization. All of this is helpful, should I try to develop this analysis further. And I thank both of you.
I am actually thinking that, if pressure to multiculturalize is to come to China (and the various critiques of my piece suggest that it might not be terribly likely) it will come from the top, not the bottom of the economic ladder. There will be little pressure for low income, low skill labor immigration. Rather, it is my sense of the competitive pressures at the information and education intensive levels of creative innovation that leads me to suggest that China will have to encourage people with those sorts of skills to stay and, perhaps, become Chinese.
The copyright point is well taken. I'll have to think about it.
And Dave's argument about politics is also worthwhile. I was aware of my un-playing political factors, but will have to do more to integrate them, if this goes forward....

One real tough "barrier to entry" is the whole family aspect of the general asian identity. Since one's Chinese identity is so much defined by the extended family, it is almost impossible to individually become "Chinese"(or Korean, Japanese...). Honestly pretty much the only thing that would remotely come close is marriage... which is in itself tough.

As a Chinese,I have to admit most of Chinese will be more friendly to white men,though we claim to be hospitable.Maybe it is because most of us are looking forward to going to America or Europe .However,it don't mean we despise black,we can accept them to stay with us,to work with us,so I believe China will be a fantastic place for foreigners.If you have any problems,I suggest you to

Congrats on the link from the WSJ China Blog. I haven't done as much reading as I'd like in this area, but I'll ramble for a bit anyway. The idea of Chinese-ness seems tangled up in multiple meanings. On the one hand, you have being politically Chinese - carrying a Chinese passport and being subject to the rights, responsibilities, and restrictions of a Chinese citizen. As noted before, we haven't seen many Americans or Germans or Japanese jumping on board here - and probably won't until Chinese citizens have just as much freedom as foreigners. On the other hand, there is the idea of being culturally Chinese. Linguistically, have waiguoren and zhongguoren - political terms. But as a counterpart to huaren, you have...again, waiguoren, and perhaps laowai - both terms defined by their "outside-ness". When a "foreigner" lives in the US long enough, she can be an "American". But the cultural ideal among "Chinese" of "blood", of a mythologized past connecting people and being passed down by ancestry, seems to preclude the transition from waiguoren to huaren. It's this cultural idea which allows overseas Chinese to think of themselves as fully Chinese in their own minds.

Yikes! All the Mental Masturbation reminds me of my time at the University of Chicago. Wake up,folks! In Taisan(sp?) dialect,white people are called 'Bakgoy"or, White Devils. African-Americans are called 'Hokgoy', or, Black Devils. The Chinese word for 'Japanese' translates as 'Brown Dwarf Pirates'.

The 'Middle Kingdom' is, was, and always will be the most Racist in the world. I know. I was a Big-Nose posted there for 3 years. iMike

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