Speech Act Rules and the Weak
28 Apr 2006
In the same lecture on the rules of speech acts in which my professor quoted Confucius, he talked quite a bit about race. His point was that the rules of speech acts govern what we can and can’t say about race in society.
According to him, the rules depended on who “the weak” (弱者) were. The weak could be spoken of positively by the rest of society, but if they were spoken negatively of, there would be strong resentment. Furthermore, the priveleged in society could not be spoken of too positively, as that would incur the wrath of the weak.
As an example, he gave holidays. Why are there Teacher’s Day but not Student’s Day, Secretary’s Day but not Boss’s Day*, Nurse’s Day but not Doctor’s Day, Labor Day but not Rich Man’s Day? To this a student asked, “well what about Mother’s Day and Father’s Day?” My professor laughed. “Parents are the most downtrodden of all!” he replied. The class, chuckling, agreed.
He went on to talk about a Chinese song which had been popular in the 70’s. The song glorified the Chinese people, along with their “yellow skin,” “black hair,” and “black eyes.” At that time, everyone thought it was a great song. And yet, such a racially-fixated song would be out of place in Chinese society today. Why?
Back then China was really struggling. It had not yet experienced the economic growth that it would under Deng Xiaoping’s reforms. China was undeniably a member of “the weak” on the world stage. As such, it could glorify its racial features, and no one would have a problem. As China’s economy grew over the years and the nation prospered, it became less “weak,” and the situation changed.
As a similar example, my professor pointed out the situation in the United States. Black Americans could have black pride, but white pride was frowned upon (particularly by “the weak” in society). Similarly, Americans–including black Americans–would not really care about Chinese racial pride, because to Americans both black and white, the Chinese are still “the weak.” He predicted that a Chinese show of racial pride would, however, be offensive to many Africans.
It was an interesting lecture.
* Apparently in China there is no Boss’s Day.