I have found myself curiously paying close attention to the latest news concerning the wake of the recent earthquake tragedy in China—more so than I am normally interested in current events. Yesterday’s New York Times displayed a photo that has been a particularly lasting image in my mind: a local Chinese communist leader on his hands and knees begging protestors to stop their march against the government. The angry crowd consisted of parents of children who were killed in collapsed schools. They accuse the government of cutting corners with shoddy workmanship that rendered the school buildings unsafe in earthquakes. Chinese government offices stood solidly as parents lost their only children (see China’s population control policy which limited families to having one child) in a pile of rubble. The angry parents call for severe consequences on those responsible for their lost loved ones.
Separated by thousands of miles, I found myself emotionally moved by the photo—the angry and grieving faces of the parents paired with the desperate look on the government official’s face. I wondered to myself how culpable the Chinese government should be, and how I would react as a parent in that situation.
But another feeling began to creep through my body: shame. Not shame as a human being because of the tragedy, or the supposed crimes against humanity, but shame as one of Chinese descent.
I look at this situation and see this as more fuel to feed the negative image of the Chinese government to the rest of the world. I can imagine what people would think: Those corrupt, barbaric, Chinese…they even eat their own young. Even though the allegations by the Chinese parents are towards the Chinese government, the power of identification causes this to affect their view of Chinese people as a whole.
Identification of a subset to a whole leads people to generalize about the whole set. The unfortunate connection that the Chinese government has with Chinese people, and likewise, Asian-Americans like me, causes people to extend their view—either consciously or unconsciously. This is the root of racism.
If the world sees the Chinese government as corrupt, selfish, and uncivilized, it is not just a black eye for those communist officials—it is a black eye for Chinese people, and likewise, Asian-Americans. Like it or not, we are associated with it simply because of the way we look.