Monday, September 04, 2006

Commentating on China

It's bound to be a dodgy thing this commentating on China malarkey.

Clearly I've yet to incur a burst of wrath such as that witnessed last night on talktalkchina but it's obviously not that hard to attract someone's ire.

In many ways, my blog is, effectively self-censored because:
a) My family read it, so it tends not to be as 'raw' as it might be
b) Some of my colleagues read it - so I can't really talk much about the company I work for
c) I don't want to come across, as some people clearly do in their blogs, as anti-China - because I'm not.

But, as I've said before on this blog, it's easy enough for people to make accusations of racism against anyone who makes any reference to the Chinese in any slightly negative context and it's always a worry that you'll end up getting into a slanging match with someone over your opinions.

Injustice and intolerance is everywhere, and in every direction in China. Some examples:

1) There seems to be much in the UK news about things that are bad in China, very little about things that are good thus giving the impression of deliberate "China bashing"
2) To reciprocate, Chinese TV presents the truth rather selectively about the rest of the world
3) Chinese law is, in some cases, quite mad.
4) Many Chinese people genuinely do try to rip foreigners off - I could cite many blog pages but for example, I've walked into shops in Shanghai and demanded the price of something (in English) only for the shopkeeper to turn to my wife and say "If you persuade him it's 80 RMB we'll cut you in on the deal" - 10 times the price.
5) Chinese discriminate against Chinese and in favour of 'foreign guests' on a regular basis
6) Chinese discriminate against foreigners and in favour of Chinese on a regular basis
7) Westerners generally think the Chinese educational system and values, greatly prizing examination marks above actual ability, is flawed and failing the Chinese students.
8) Chinese studying abroad generally think their western counterparts are lazy and stupid for not studying all the time to achieve the highest possible grades
9) There genuinely seems to be an idea that the rest of the world has a bias against Chinese people generally. I'd guess if you look at the US, the issues that won't go away between white, black and Hispanic populations massively dwarfs any issues with the Chinese. Generally I would suggest that this a general arrogance on behalf of the Chinese people who think this because on average, most westerners probably don't have a stand on how they feel about Chinese people one way or the other, regardless of how they feel about China (see below).

And so on.

There are clearly a number of different entities in play:

a) China - for this read 'The Chinese diplomatic machine' - cryptic and serving its own interests. This is the only thing that politicians in the west are ever referring to when they say anything about China. This is synonymous, in the minds of people like Bush, with communism, repression, dumping, lack of human rights, etc., etc. It doesn't represent their impression of Chinese people at all.
b) The China 'establishment' - for most commentators, this doesn't mean the Beijing level government because we don't operate at that level. It's the sort of thing that Sinosceptic was referring to in his blog post yesterday. It's the sort of self-serving 'you can't do anything about it, that's just the way it is' crap that anyone who comes here any operates a business has to deal with.
c) Chinese people - I don't wish to oversimplify here as there are enormous differences here between various groups within China - not surprising when there are 1.3 billion people of over 50 different races. Clearly there's quite a gradient of people from party officials and businesspeople, 'regular' middle-class professional people, traders, merchants, restauranteurs and farmers.

By and large, and there are exceptions, most Westerners I know (mostly here in a professional capacity, rather than avoiding getting a life back home) are here because on balance, they like it – not because they are doing very well out of it. I have a feeling that the similar but different issues will be had for westerners in Japan, Korea, etc. - anywhere where the local culture is significantly dissimilar, where locals vastly outnumber foreigners and foreigners are easily identified.

Westerners are, whatever Chinese people might think, are both discriminated in favour, and against. We are honoured and used. Stared at and ignored. Shoved out of the way and watched in awe.

Most of the other people's blogs that I read seem to fall into the category of finding China (at various times)

Interesting (often in the pseudo-Chinese sense)

And so forth.

It's easy for people who are that way inclined to pick a hole in the point that my blog, and most of the other people who live in China’s blogs do, from time to time, say negative things about China. That’s because my blog is largely about China because that's where I live. I try to present some sort of balance, I don't try to pretend to be a China expert, it's about me and my life. The same is true of other people's blogs.

With few exceptions, I don't actually know any of these people personally (well, I might do, but it's all pseudonyms to me) but I understand all right. Reading about a guy who is venting some steam because some pointless government regulation is insisting on some random people getting access to his company's design information seems perfectly reasonable because I understand it the pain entirely. There is a whole load of crap running a company here that you wouldn't have to put up with at home and, worse, your headquarters neither knows or cares about - it's the sort of thing they expect you, their “China” person, to sort out.

The fact that anyone, Chinese or not, would comment almost immediately with the tired line of racists everywhere 'If you don't like China, you should go back to where you come from' is missing the point. We don't dislike China, the people. We sometimes dislike China - the establishment - when it's being brutally unreasonable. (To get a better idea of the hypocrisy and what’s inspired this post, the poster of that “go home” comment has (apparently) just advertised for English teachers who must be "Western-looking" – Chinese people don’t want to pay for their kids to be taught by people that look Chinese, apparently – just another example of the multi-layered and conflicting standards here). Whether these problems are the same for Chinese companies or not, whether their bosses can make them go away with a night on the bai jiu in a KTV or not still doesn’t make this one of the Frustrating things about being in China – OK, it has to be dealt with but it’s still stupid and vexing and having a cathartic release of some tension by blogging about it is one of the best things about blogging!

Long live blogging! 万岁 to China and the Chinese people! And if you don’t like someone’s blog don’t read it!


JP said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
JP said...

Hear Hear

JP said...

Just read TalkTalkChina...OMG

dB said...

JP - You really did post 'Here Here' to start with, didn't you... D'oh!

basil said...

dude i prefer the short snappy ones without all the links - there's only so many hours in the day!!


罗裔纬 said...

Well said. Having living in Holland many years, I used to think that Westerners have a bias towards the Chinese (even overseas Chinese), but it might well be that they don't even have a stand, "one way or another", as you have said.

I found your link at

mike said...

Really good post - I got a lot from it, thanks.

J at the Granite Studio said...

All that said (and said well), you have, hands down, the best blog name I've seen yet. I've been chuckling about it for a week, can't think why it's so funny, it just is.

dB said...

罗裔纬 - I'm reasonably certain this is the case. For example, a friend was recently telling me his girlfriend didn't want to fly on KLM because KLM mistreats Chinese people.

My automatic assumption is that there was probably an incident between a Chinese traveller and KLM staff that was specific to those people but got reported in the Chinese media and turned into "KLM doesn't like Chinese people".

KLM is expanding operations in China, expanding their codeshare agreements with China Southern airlines and just launched a "China Business Club for Entrepreneurs"

It seems extremely unlikely that KLM is "anti-Chinese" but unfortunately neither the media nor the blogosphere are particularly balanced.

Mike/j Thanks for the compliments (I feel moderately embarassed having not responded earlier after reading this.