A Red China State of Mind, in an American Red State

Red China flags
Sometimes, even Red States in America have a little Red China in them.

“Wow, you’re like a celebrity!” he exclaimed. “I want to shake your hand!”

As a foreigner in China, I’d felt “almost famous” hundreds of times. Chinese have surrounded me in curiosity, asked for my photograph, and grilled me with the tenacity of a tabloid news outlet.

Except, this time, I wasn’t the “celebrity” — my husband was, in a Wal-Mart in Eastern Idaho, when a man discovered he was from China.

“Oh, how I love the East!” the man declared, with the kind of passion that made me wonder if a “Red State,” like Idaho, had an entirely different meaning. This man, a strapping six feet plus with steely blue eyes and a stubbly salt-and-pepper ‘do, looked more like the type of guy who would rail on China for the lead in his kids’ toys, or for stealing away American jobs.

“You know, this is the first time anyone has ever thought of my husband like this,” I confessed to him, and he looked genuinely surprised. He spoke of China’s rich kungfu tradition, its golden ages during the Tang and Song Dynasties, and even the language itself, sharing a few words he’d learned from children’s show called Ni Hao, Kai-lan.  It was as if suddenly we existed in some alternate universe of the US, in a corner of Wal-Mart, where everyone revered the Chinese.

But once we said farewell, and paid for our groceries, we stepped out into the biting winds of the Snake River Plains, and the biting reality.

The next day, I’d turn on the radio to hear more about China manipulating its currency, and China’s trade imbalance with the US. I’d remember how our university cut the Chinese language program, and that my husband’s classmate even refused to buy anything made in China.

But then I saw it, after my aerobics class — one of the doors decorated for our homecoming week, with its theme of the year of the Tiger, painted with the Chinese characters “虎” for tiger and “胜利” for victory. And I smiled, knowing that even a Red State that criticizes China has a little Eastern Red buried in there, somewhere.

Have you ever been surprised — or not surprised — by the attitudes towards China in the West?

(P.S.: this entry is dedicated, with love, to Claudia.)

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14 thoughts on “A Red China State of Mind, in an American Red State

  • October 18, 2010 at 5:48 am
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    Interesting story. You just never know in a vast different country like the US. Just like in CHINA where one place might be somewhat negative to the US but then the next place you go they might love you. Sometimes there’s no rhyme or reason to what people think!?
    But I wouldn’t just pin all that sentiment only on Red States. A lot of candidates from Blue states are using “fear of the dragon” in their political campaigns to get the vote.

    Reply
  • October 18, 2010 at 9:44 am
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    Actually coming to think of it, there is not much difference between the red states and red China and with the GOP likely to gain control of at least the House of Reps, it is indeed a Hunt for Red November here in the US! Red Staters heavily support spying and wire tapping on fellow Americans. They like a Berlin like wall South of the border which perhaps a thousand years from now will be a tourist site similar to the Great Wall of China. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, the Red Staters spied on people to stop interracial dating and marriage. Therefore not much difference between the Red Staters and Red China…same mindset…Only difference in Red China dissent is not tolerated while here it is the skin color…in Arizona if you are a Hispanic or light skinned South Asian, you will more likely than not get detained.

    They can all fear China, but beggars cannot be choosers. With China owning a substantial proportion of the US debt which hangs like a millstone around the neck of the country, there is very little the politicians or people can do!

    Reply
  • October 18, 2010 at 10:05 am
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    Wow. Jocelyn has opened a can of worms. Responding to George would actually make him feel confident in his views. So I won’t.

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  • October 18, 2010 at 12:40 pm
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    Oh man, some of the things I’ve heard from non-Chinese in the US have ranged from adorably ignorant to downright stupid. I’ve heard questions like “Since Japan is close to China, do people in Japan understand/speak Chinese” to comments like “If I adopt a child I’d adopt a baby Chinese girl because if I don’t they’d kill the child.” And these were well educated college students in New York City. I’m an ABC, and I’m always asked the question “where are you from?” When I answer “California,” they often reply with “no, where are you REALLY from?” It’s irritating and really shows how Chinese/Asian Americans are like perpetual foreigners in their own country. It was definitely a surprise for me, since I grew up in a heavily populated Chinese American community. But after doing a lot of research (I ended up majoring in Asian American Studies in college), I now find the perception of China in America to be very unsurprising, given the history of how this country has treated their immigrants (Chinese Exclusion Act anyone?).

    Biased media portrayals of China has definitely affected the way people think about the country. It’s not limited to Red States, as evidenced above. Even where I live (Los Angeles, in a predominately Hong Kong/Taiwanese area), attitudes towards Mainland China are often negative and outdated (most of them left the Mainland before or during the county’s transition to Communism, and so still hold on to the “evil oppressive Commies” mentality). My theory has been that every country needs to have a “threat of the moment” in an attempt to maintain control over the people, something like in “1984,” but to a lesser degree. Before, it was Russia and now it’s China.

    Reply
  • October 18, 2010 at 9:39 pm
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    “Wow. Jocelyn has opened a can of worms. Responding to George would actually make him feel confident in his views. So I won’t.”

    Here is at least a Red (East) Germany (if not Red China) state of mind in an American red state, Alaska..slouching towards communism? Perhaps, but this so-called conservative, a closet communist called Joe Miller does admire the East German commies…

    http://chattahbox.com/us/2010/10/18/joe-miller-admires-east-germanys-machine-gun-border-security/

    Americans have no authority to criticize Red China or Red anybody when they behave like commies themselves!

    Reply
  • October 19, 2010 at 12:03 am
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    I used to volunteered at my church helping many international students from Asia, especially China, adjust to life in the Midwest (Missouri). They were pretty quick to adapt.

    I think for the most part, considering these students were all post 80s’ kids but were willing to move out their comfort zone (and had a thick skin), they were fairly ok with attitudes regarding China. Like they just brush off those criticisms, and remained focused on what they want to do, like studying to get into graduate school or finding a job (and having fun at the same time).

    Once in a while they get rattle. One funny story I have to tell. Back in ’06 perhaps, one of the professors at my college wanted use the ROC flag for a big public meeting to talk about how Taiwan is independent from China. To me, I got used to such antics, but a Chinese classmate (who was also my co-worker) said a lot of her friends were mad and started a protest at the school. I felt bad because I was sort of encouraging her to go all out mainly because I wanted the pleasure of seeing someone take on a professor. Anyways, the day was raining, I wasn’t at school, and my Chinese classmate told me a lot of her countrymen wave China flags, spoke slogans and held out signs inside the building. I asked her how many were there, and she kept saying a lot. I found at that there were 6 people involved, but get this; my school was very small and at the end the professor cancelled her talk apparently because not a lot of people were interested (generally speaking, the most of the attitudes of the locals were similar to what Joycelyn had, a mix of admiration and the red scare).

    Reply
  • October 20, 2010 at 7:11 am
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    I am sorry, but they plainly dont like Asians (or other non-whites) in some US communities: try Mountain Brook, Alabama or Castle Rock, Colorado or Bergen Park/Evergreen, CO. [State] is also full of anti-Asian folks. It generally has nothing to do with communism or socialism…those are code words. If you really want to know about white people disliking Asians, try the whites who fled Cerritos, Walnut or Milbrae, CA in the 1990s and early part of the 2000s! The schools in those districts used to be predominantly white, and now they are mostly Asian as Asian enrollment increased sharply and white people fled.

    Reply
  • October 19, 2010 at 6:52 pm
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    @ Louisa
    ” I now find the perception of China in America to be very unsurprising, given the history of how this country has treated their immigrants (Chinese Exclusion Act anyone?).”

    I think this fear actually goes back further to ancient Greece. It you read how Herodotus describe the Persians and their myriad came out of the east to menace the freedom of the Greeks, it might not sound too different from how American journalists were describing the Chinese and the red hordes in Korea.

    What is also peculiar and interesting is how the same negative stereotypes used in propaganda against Japan during WWII, was transfered lock stock and barrel on to the Chinese right after the war ended, even though China was an ally and fought against the Japanese.

    Reply
    • October 19, 2010 at 10:23 pm
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      @Magnus, thanks for the comment! So true that you can encounter anti-China sentiment even in a blue state — I’ve certainly felt it in some democratic strongholds of Ohio, where the unions have a deep dislike for the Middle Kingdom.

      @George, as always, thanks for joining the convo.

      @Louisa, thanks for the comment. Your experiences w/ ignorance towards Asians remind me of the writings of Derald Wing Sue, a counseling psychology prof at Columbia who has done many studies on racism, mainly around NYC. I mention these whenever someone tells me that ignorance only happens in the backwaters of the US — not true!

      @friend, thanks for sharing — what an interesting story about that prof! Wow, just six Chinese demonstrating canceled the talk. Fascinating!

      @Justin, thanks for commenting, and shedding some light on some of the origins of negative stereotypes/perceptions of Chinese and, more broadly, people from the East. Interesting.

      Reply
  • October 21, 2010 at 11:15 pm
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    George,

    I think most people reading this blog are “getting” your point. You pretty much repeat the same stuff over and over again in many entries, even if the topic is only slightly related. Not to dismiss your experiences, I’ve had them as well, but try to move on. It’s not healthy to linger too much on those thoughts. Or do something within your reach, I’ve learn that the most we as individuals can and should do regarding these issues is to think globally but act locally. It’s not cheesy talk but that’s how life works. If possible, have some faith in humanity to be able to break down that wall of ignorance and prejudice.

    Reply
  • October 22, 2010 at 10:24 am
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    Not my experience. Experience of a visiting professor’s daughters from Hong Kong who lived in Mountain Brook for a year. Also the experience of a Singapore school girl with a Mountain Brook family back in of all places, Singapore. I will leave it at that and wont raise this topic unless someone else does.

    However, Mr. Miller of Alaska being concerned at the Red threat is pretty laughable, when he himself is proposing some of the reddest solutions…like building a Berlin Wall and some of these people’s views are more extreme than you will ever find in Red China…this I shall emphasize every time there is a blog such as this unless I am banned. This American attitude reeks of pure hypocrisy!

    Reply
  • October 22, 2010 at 7:07 pm
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    George,

    I really hate confronting people on the internet (mainly because it’s silly) but dude, you have issues.

    There’s a lot of different forums and sites where you can express your view. I’m a regular on some of them, like fools mountain, however I don’t recall seeing anyone on there like you, I think.

    I’ll leave this is as a general comment for anyone; virtually all the successful stories of overseas Chinese (by citizenship or heritage) or any minority for that matter, around the world has at one point and time experience prejudice to various degrees. Most of them have found their own strategies in dealing with them and still be able to prosper or contribute greatly to people. My own strategy is this; first, sometimes you just have to brush it off and only get defensive when it’s necessary. Second, keep yourself busy. Third, remind yourself that you are just one person, and not everyone is going to like you nor are you required to be everyone’s friend. Family, classmates, co-workers, business relationships or a few close buddies is really all that should matter. That will help prioritize what and who is important to you and what you should do.

    Reply
  • October 24, 2010 at 8:50 pm
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    When I was in Arkansas last year, I met a guy who was really into Bruce Lee and Kungfu in general. He was so interested in the Oriental and apparently, he had read much about the culture and the people even when he has never been to China. A lot of people asked me about job opportunities in China. They got the impression somewhere that China is where jobs are and where money to be made, which was not what I had expected at all.

    Reply

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