Weird Racism

01 Aug 2003

Recently I visited a photographer to discuss the possibility of doing some work for him. He’s a nice guy, a Hangzhou local, probably pushing 60. It didn’t take long to conclude our business, and it became clear soon thereafter that he just wanted to chat. I was happy to oblige him.

He talked for quite a while about his wife, who happened to work at the high school adjacent to ZUCC. He went on and on about how my school had taken some of the land that had originally been alotted to the high school. I wasn’t particularly interested — other than some vague curiosity about how the Chinese government zones land and allots it to private schools — but I listened.

Things suddenly got interesting again when he started talking about foreigners. The guy was funny. He had one word to sum up entire nations of people. Here are some of the ones I remember:

> Americans – undisciplined (散漫)

> Australians – lazy (懒)

> Germans – inflexible (死板)

> Japanese – cunning (狡猾)

I think he also said something about Italy being full of nothing but thieves, and New Zealand being the greatest country on earth because it not only had gorgeous scenery, but also very few people.

I didn’t take offense at any of this. I was really interested in hearing his opinions because his point of view is a rare one. Here was a man of my parents’ generation who spoke only Chinese but has nevertheless been to many foreign countries and has actually had significant contact with foreigners, both at home and abroad. Naturally, he took with him his Chinese biases wherever he went. In many ways, this guy was just like a Chinese version of so many Americans.

I like how he so matter-of-factly told me that Americans are all sloppy and undisciplined. I got a kick out of it. (I’m pretty punctual, but I guess it turned out to be very cooperative of me to arrive 5 minutes late that particular day.)

What most surprised me was what he had to say about black people. I’m pretty used to comments like, “I’ve got nothing against them, but they’re just so ugly.” It seems a lot of Chinese people discriminate against blacks solely on “aesthetic” grounds. But whatever. I’m not trying to get into that. What this guy had to say was different.

“Black people are good people. I’ve met a lot of them, and they’re really good people. The bad people are the mixed ones, who are only part black. They’re really bad.”

I asked for clarification on that: “I thought Chinese people believe mixed babies are beautiful and smart.”

His response? “Sure, mixed Asian and white babies are. But if you mix either Asians or whites with blacks, you get bad people.”

Bizarre. What can you say to that? Just smile and nod….

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John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.

Comments

  1. anonymous Says: November 7, 2009 at 6:58 am

    I’m a little offended that he felt that way, i really like asians. Black people aren’t all ugly everyone has ugly and beautiful people in their race personally don’t define beauty as skin colour but rather in the proportions of the face (golden ratio and any race can have them). The media simply portrays black people as poor people in need or athletes (at least that’s what i’ve noticed), oh and if you go on about the fact that there aren’t any/many beautiful black models then the answer is that caucasian models are still preferred over black models. im not sure if i would have been able to smile and nod if that was me. :/

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