Zhege what?

In by Simone

There is a linguistic and cultural wall dividing the Chinese blogosphere into two (admittedly uneven) halves. English language blogs (maintained by foreigners living in China) and Chinese language blogs (mostly Chinese affairs) run on course like two ships in the night. Rarely do the ‘twain meet. And yet last week there was a telling clash of sorts. It all began on March 22nd when a blogger at China Geeks named C. Custer posted a blog entry about a satire of one of those “monkey to man” evolution charts that he had seen on a Chinese blog. The evolution chart representing Africa stopped earlier than the others and therefore was interpreted by the blogger as racist. C. Custer then discussed the issue of racism in China, while honestly granting,
“I may just be, by some people’s standards, taking this too seriously, coming as I do from America, the most race-sensitive nation on the planet.”
The Chinese blogger He Caitou responded by claiming that there was no racism in the picture and that the problem was not Chinese racism but US hyper-sensitivity to any mention of race. He defended this by reiterating that the Chinese had never taken slaves from Africa and that the racial hyper-sensitivity apparent in US culture is actually itself a form of racism.
The cross-cultural blog spat brings to mind a controversy from last summer’s Olympic Games in Beijing. The Spanish Olympic Basketball team took a photo in which they stretched their eyes to look more “asian”. This quickly became a controversy in the US media, but was mostly ignored by both Chinese and Spanish language sources. It seems the two parties directly involved in the racial controversy did not recognize it as such.
The racial narrative of the United States has come to define the boundaries of expression in Anglo-American media and the fact is, US and UK institutions serve as the default global news media. The imposition of Anglo-American values onto the cultural interactions of non-Anglo countries could be interpreted as a form of cultural chauvinism, imperialism or worse. Of course the argument could also be made that the United States, as a country which has overcome centuries of racial violence, is uniquely positioned to teach other countries not to repeat its mistakes. What is certain is that as the world gets smaller misunderstandings like these will only increase.