How blacks are perceived in China: Part One….Chinese not racist, curiosity misinterpreted

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CHINA was a closed society until the Reform and Opening up policy was enacted under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping in 1978.
Since the mid-19th Century, China had been fighting Western forces such as Britain because they were attempting to colonise and parcel out Chinese territory among themselves.
Fully fledged war took place twice when China seized the British opium trade that had badly affected the Chinese economy and society.
The breaking point which led China to be isolated were the events that took place after Japan surrendered Korea which was at that time united.
The US tried to subtly take over Korea, but were challenged by the Koreans, Chinese and Russians.
Eventually the Korean War broke out in June 1950 ending in July 1953 and the US managed to manipulate the United Nations (UN) to send its troops to actualise their interests.
Just when they seemed to be winning, China’s Zhou Enlai announced that as a neighbour of Korea, they could not leave her without help in times of war.
The Chinese troops entered Korea at the request of Kim II Sung and upset the US plans to dominate the area.
The US along with the rest of Europe then shunned China and sanctioned it.
There was no foreign presence in terms of business and tourism in China for almost 30 years.
A generation passed with China being estranged to the rest of the world and to this day, the nation is still recovering from that isolation.
As a result, foreigners, particularly blacks, are not a common sight to the Chinese.
Surprisingly, blacks were present in China in ancient times and their statues and paintings are evident in many temples and monuments around China.
They are shown in prestigious positions and even the oldest Buddhas are clearly depicted as blacks with kinky or locked hair and other typical black features such as black skin colour, broad nostrils, thick lips and large body stature.
However, in modern times, the blacks of Africa who used to sail to places like China with the Monsoon winds had been estranged from sea navigation, owing to the upsetting of traditional systems because of colonisation.
Beginning in the 16th and 17th Centuries, Africa’s economic and social governance became compromised and the Portuguese and Dutch presence in the eastern seas would become more prevalent.
Therefore, blacks in China and other parts of the Far East became a rare sight for well over 300 years.
It is only in modern times that blacks began travelling to China from Africa.
In Zimbabwe, people like Cde Josiah Tongogara went to China for military training in the mid 1960s as the nation was fighting for liberation.
This was when China was closed to Europe and America while China was making its mark in Africa.
In the 1950s, many Chinese nationals entered Africa with some staying for good.
For example, the family of Fay Chung who was born in this period as a Zimbabwean of Chinese descent.
China is a large land which successfully became one with Tibet, Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia and Manchuria.
It therefore, has many ethnic groups, though the Han are the most populous.
Racism is therefore not very evident in China as diversity is a key part of the nation.
Only whites have had periods in Chinese history when they were disliked and called xigui which literally means Western (white) devils owing to their role in warring against China and causing an opium epidemic.
Owing to China’s incredible size, though it has been 40 years since China opened up, the population is not yet used to seeing blacks, whites and Indians.
Large cities where foreigners often visit such as Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou are much more accustomed to seeing foreigners.
Smaller and less-developed cities however, often contain large amounts of people that have never seen foreigners, particularly blacks, except on television.
The Chinese admire blacks for their often large body stature.
Most young Chinese have black athletes like LeBron James, Shaquille O’Neil, Usain Bolt, Kobe Bryant and many more as their role models.
They wear clothes with black people printed on them and show a lot of admiration.
They are also astounded by the ability of blacks to dance, sing and fight.
They acknowledge how the blackman is dominant in sports like boxing, athletics and constantly talk about Mike Tyson and others when they meet blacks.
This is not limited to China.
In South Korea, blacks are called ‘heukhyung’ which is an affectionate title they give to blacks and literally means ‘black big brother’.
This title comes as a sort of admission to the physical superiority of the black race.
In terms of black people’s intellectual capacity, the Western media has convinced Asia that blacks are not intellectually prominent.
In Hollywood, blacks are depicted as poor thugs who are taken to criminal behaviour.
This prejudice along with that of Africans being poor has reached the Far East owing to the propaganda of the West.
Events such as the election of Barack Obama to presidency in the US in November 2008 had a positive impact in debunking this false myth that blacks are intellectually inferior to other races.
The Chinese have since recognised our potential but are yet to be educated on the intellectual achievements of blacks in past and present times.
The impact of prejudicing blacks takes a toll when one is seeking employment.
For example, if a Spanish-speaking whiteman applies for an English teaching job, he might win it over a blackman who has been speaking English all his life simply because he is white.
When a black actor wishes to audition for a movie role, he/she might not get the job because he/she does not appear to be a gentleman, but will instead be offered the role of a thief or a thug.
The Chinese have given in to the notions that are pushed by Hollywood and in the minds of the Chinese, a gentleman is the likes of Brad Pitt.
If an African is to win the role, he will have to forgo his African style, dress and act like a whiteman.
The Chinese are not racist but their curiosity towards blacks can be misinterpreted as racism by the casual eye.
They may gaze at you so much that you will feel like an animal in a zoo.
Parents point at blacks and yell to their children, ‘heiren’ which literally means blackman.
They can decide to take pictures of you without asking for permission.
Cars and bikes can stop at the sight of you as you are walking.
If you interact with them, some may try to feel your skin and touch your hair.
All these feats take place almost on a daily basis.
Though they may be disturbing, it is important to understand that it is out of curiosity.
The more remote the location is, the more extreme and frequent the encounters get.
The telling sign that they mean no harm when they do such things is the smile they usually make when pointing or looking at blacks.
They also make comments that may be disturbing if one understands the language such as: ‘How can a human be that black?’
But if one looks at it from their perspective, such comments are excusable.
There are dark ethnicities in China and when they finally see a fully-fledged blackman in real life, they realise that what they deemed dark was not that dark at all.
Despite all this, one will not feel like an outcast because the Chinese are generally gentle people who mind their own business.
Rather, one may feel like a celebrity who is trying unsuccessfully to be inconspicuous in his or her private life.

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