Chineseness

I read this article in The Economist a few weeks ago, and it said what I’d thought for a while, but didn’t yet have the words to say: http://www.economist.com/news/briefing/21710264-worlds-rising-superpower-has-particular-vision-ethnicity-and-nationhood-has. However, with Donald Trump’s recent interactions with Taiwan, and the One-China policy coming to international attention, it seems like an apt time to bring it up (and in fact I agree with him to some extent).

The People’s Republic of China discriminates heavily against ethnic minorities within its borders, but it also claims power over people whom it decides should be Chinese, based on ethnic lines and with no regard for nationality laws. This includes Han Chinese people in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, and to a lesser extent the west (including people such as Priscilla Chan, philanthropist and wife of Mark Zuckerberg). According to Wikipedia, there are around 50 million overseas Chinese, many of whose families emigrated before the founding of the PRC in 1949. My grandparents’ generation settled in British Hong Kong in the late ’30s, around the time of the Second Sino-Japanese War, and most of us have not ever held a PRC passport.

The One-China policy was originally a concept of the Civil War and later the Cold War, but then it was a matter of political control: Which party should have power over these lands, and should they be run as a right-wing dictatorship or a communist dictatorship? But it has since been perverted into a notion of ethnic nationalism, with the help of Mao’s policy of discouraging localism in favour of national loyalty. Many Mainland Chinese today are blind to the idea that a member of the diaspora might not speak any form of Chinese, might not know anybody in China, and might have no loyalty to the PRC.

Part of the problem is terminology: The English term ‘Chinese’ does not distinguish between the different terms of ‘華人’, ‘唐人’, ‘漢人’ and ‘中國人’, although these terms are also used sloppily, and the term ‘Chinese language’ usually refers to Mandarin and simplified characters (a bias that is then increasingly reinforced).

The exclusionary statements ‘You are not truly one of us’ or ‘Go back to where you came from’ are widely-known prototypes of racism, but the inclusionary ‘You should be one of us’, ‘Come back to where you came from’ and ‘You should be loyal to us’ are less often thought about, yet possibly more insidious. Firstly, it shows a lack of respect for international law and allows them to justify, amongst themselves, the kidnapping of foreign citizens such as the Hong Kong booksellers. More harmfully, it can cause other nations to become suspicious of, or hostile towards, the diaspora populations who live there.