I call these my concluding sentiments as opposed to ‘conclusions’ or ‘concluding thoughts’ because sentiments are less logical, less detached. Sentiments contain nostalgia, an unexpected discovery of another place to call home. A re-embracing of a culture I had long neglected, suppressed. Of sentiments that have changed me . Of sentiments that sustain me still.
After spending a month in Bei Jing with IARU students from all of the world who traveled to study in China I have come to not only embrace my Chinese culture but also develop a sincere hope that the future of China and the United States will be one of integration, not competition. Of cooperation, not destruction.
Until recently I had not realized that there was always an unconscious effort on my part to subdue and erase my Chinese heritage. You’d think the Chinese people would embrace their own heritage. This is not the case. Especially not before the Chinese economic boom. The Chinese has long suffered from a distaste of its own nation. Even when I was still growing up in China, everything made in China was regarded as less valuable. Thus, even when I was in China I had the incentive to depreciate my Chinese values, culture, and heritage. Once I moved to the United States, assimilation became the main issue. Even though I was little, I was human enough to understand that I was a foreigner, that I was different, that I needed to focus on ‘American’ values (whatever those may be) and to assimilate. In other words, there had always been incentives for me to neglect and repress my Chinese culture. And I always have.
At Peking University, I met IARU students who were so passionate about their Chinese heritage – were so excited to learn about the Chinese culture as opposed to criticizing it. All my life, all I’ve heard about China was criticism. This time was different. Their respect, knowledge and willingness to learn about China and to withhold judgment was not something I had seen before in regards to my heritage. (I’d like to take this moment to acknowledge the inspiration they have all offered me). In my experience, though, they are the outliers whether in China or in the United States. And I am sorry to say that I have been contributing to their marginality. I have always avoided my Chinese heritage. Spending a month with them and seeing their eagerness to learn and love the Chinese culture was the first time I have really embraced my own heritage. Once I started, it was hard to stop. It is such a fundamental part of me and the culture is so intriguing, so rich, so deep that you cannot help but fall in love with it. So from the generic tendency to judge and deride the Chinese, I emerge a new ren (person) with a recognized and respected heritage that I proudly embrace.
With the US pressurizing China to push up its RMB currency, trends to neglect Chinese culture, values, and sentiments are still present. The fact that the general public views China as a economic and power threat to the U.S is a complete misunderstanding of what China is about. The Chinese culture, much based on Confucianism, seeks the acceptance and approval of the U.S. It believes in deference, integration, optimizing relationships. China does not want to compete with the U.S’s hegemony over the world. It perceives itself incompetent to do so – ask any of its citizens.
To perceive China as a threat to the US taints its deferential labor to the world and mars the very efforts it has contributed to win the world’s acceptance. To not only deprive the Chinese of the respect and approval that it has worked hard to earn but also demonize it as the next threat to all that is free, just and humane will have cheated the Chinese of their chances at happiness. They too, are seeking for ways to attain peace, prosperity, stability. If the world continues to pursue its own economic and political agendas with ignorance and disregard of Chinese values and perception, happiness will not only be out of reach for the Chinese, but also for all those that are now connected to the Chinese economy.