I was having dinner with a friend, and she asked about my work. “Please give one thing you want Americans to know. China, “She said.
“Chinese are people,” I replied.
She asked me to elaborate, and I said that the Chinese people are not so different from the people here, so we are as human as any other person. It was an unpleasant exchange. My friends are white and American, but I’m not. I regret my response that my answer to her well-meaning question implies an accusation. I put the unbearable weight of the race into a casual conversation. But even when only some of us are conditioned to see it, race is always on the table and in the air.
After working on the Large Hadron Collider for over a decade, I left physics this year to get a job studying science policy and Chinese politics. By working on a Europe-based experiment in the United States, I think I’ve learned a lot about how to navigate a profession while being a “minority.” I was wrong. As a Chinese woman studying China in the United States, I am constantly amazed at the dazzling whiteness of this area.
I’m not saying that only Chinese can study China. Living experience is not equal to expertise, and diverse backgrounds bring a fresh perspective.Metrics seen as Criteria for “credibility”It can also be used to exclude, such as being able to speak Chinese or spending time in that country. The Chinese government routinely develops self-orientation, treating China as if it were fundamentally different from the West, justifying its policies and damaging credibility with external criticism as “imperialism.” The state also limits space within the border or for free investigation by citizens. Depending on the subject, foreign passports may allow access and protection in China, and foreign land may be the only safe place for the country’s independent research.
So the real question is who, where, how, and more importantly, why and for what. What kind of knowledge does the West generate about China?According to the newly released Research Demand for China’s efforts in the United States is increasing (according to the National Committee on United States-China Relations), but its discourse is increasingly dominated by national security concerns, as one respondent said. This area is “extremely lacking in diversity.” Countries filtered through the lens of national interest are the “challenge,” “threat,” and “problem” that need to be resolved. The borders coincide with the racialized boundaries of imaginary empathy, and the Chinese people transform into labels, statistics.
In a general story about China, the central government is an almighty monster embarking on world domination, impregnating ancient foresight and comfortably expressing its will through the government’s vast bureaucracy. The public expression in China is either protest or propaganda, and people are either helpless victims or ignorant infantry of state oppression. US politicians and critics are proud of their plans to secure the South China Sea. Protect Democratic Taiwan With military power. Potential loss of life on other continents is of little concern when the real purpose is to maintain America’s power. From Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region to Hong Kong, the worst abuse of the Chinese government will be devoted to advancing the domestic agenda. Many assume that they “punish China” for their human rights records. Few people pause to see if punishment can harm the people themselves who have the right to claim to defend them.
In public forums and private conversations, I’m often asked: what does China want?How to do we deal with they?? The choice of pronouns is obvious and doesn’t put me here or there. I don’t know how to deal with these comically broad questions, as if it were a whisper of a dragon. People who default to such generalization really don’t want to know China as a place. They like it as an idea, a geopolitical concept that can be distilled into a sound bite and transformed into a policy. White men can change their brand name as “Chinese experts” overnight and charge a fortune for their insights, but Chinese may be heard as “dissidents” rather than scholars. Will be higher. A lonely crusade against a repressive superpower is a fascinating story. It demonstrates Western China’s notion of embodying authoritarian evil. It confirms their superiority complex to the Western audience. Inadequate criticism of the Chinese administration casts doubt on its scholarship about China, regardless of its area of focus.
My disappointment with my occupational prejudice is not a personal complaint. At the heart of the matter is not how much the West understands China, but how much the West understands itself. The rise of China and its role in global capitalism have challenged Western economic domination and shattered the convenient notion that markets inevitably bring freedom. To give the impression that the issues of political repression and technical abuse are unique to China is the rejection of the complexity of governance and the knowledge of mankind. Instead of confronting the truth about yourself, it’s much easier to fold everything into the wrong binary and project your fears to others without a face. The West is not the only one convicted of this logic.
With each passing news cycle, the latest Chinese “threats” were inadvertently spoken, and my country of birth and adoption home seemed to be trapped in “power competition”, with the ground at my feet. I feel it is torn. I sometimes wonder if this instability is the price I have to pay to leave my hometown. Then I remember that generations have been sticking to the margins and challenging artificial divisions that downplay their humanity. If we get together enough to regain those margins, a new world where no one is in exile may be born.
The West sees China as a “threat” with real people, not real places.Yang Yang Chen
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