A foreigner’s Chinese Post Secret

Just saw a China-related Post Secret (I swear it’s not ours! ;) ):

postsecretchina.jpg

It says:
“I’m an American. I want to be a Chinese. I haven’t told my Chinese friends, but I feel they all know… …but I will never be Chinese enough”

我是美国人。
我想是中国人。
我没告诉我的中国朋友,
但是我觉得他们都知道…
…but I will never be Chinese enough.
Wǒ shì Měiguórén.
Wǒ xiǎng shì Zhōngguórén.
Wǒ méi gàosu Wǒde Zhōngguó péngyou,
dànshì Wǒ juéde tāmen dōu zhī dao…
…but I will never be Chinese enough.

It’s written in traditional (more complicated) characters, not the simplified characters we use on the Mainland. That means the person probably lives in Taiwan or Hong Kong.

Jessica and I will never “become Chinese” (whatever that means). First, it’s virtually impossible to truly/fully become some other kind of person, culturally speaking, especially for adults. Second, even if it were possible, Chinese culture wouldn’t let us. Unlike “Canadian,” “Chinese” is not just a national and cultural category; it’s also racial category, and the line between insider and outsider is well-defined, constantly reinforced, and passionately defended, especially on the Mainland. That may change in the future (all cultures are always changing), but probably not anytime soon. Third, even if it were possible and Chinese culture would let us, we wouldn’t want to.

Our long-term goal is to be able to function naturally in Mandarin in Chinese cultural contexts, communicating and relating clearly and authentically. That means staying true to who we are, but being able to express that clearly and appropriately within Chinese cultural contexts.

P.S. — This post also went up on Fool’s Mountain.

P.P.S — Post Secret (parents: not necessarily safe for kids) is a voyeuristic symptom of modern societies’ increasing relational alienation, in which people anonymously write on postcards what they’re afraid to tell each other in real life. It’s interesting, but then you have ask yourself why…

P.P.P.S — ha, was that a little too cynical? ;)

8 thoughts on “A foreigner’s Chinese Post Secret”

  1. Yeah, that is pretty likely, now that you mention it. Or an ABC.

    I didn’t know that they still favoured traditional characters in the U.S. Makes sense, I guess.

    “Foreigner” here could include overseas Chinese or overseas-born Chinese.

  2. Chinese” is not just a national and cultural category; it’s also racial category, and the line between insider and outsider is well-defined, constantly reinforced, and passionately defended, especially on the Mainland.

    I hear you and I think I can understand this concept a little bit. In Japan the character 人 (jin)/(hito) is used for both for race and nationality in non-academic settings. As a result of that I have come across a few people who seriously believe that citizenship and race are one and the same. While this may be generally true for countries like China, Japan, and Korea it is certainly not true of everyone in those countries nor is it true of countries that started off as being immigrant countries like American and Canada. Then again, I can understand that their world view was formed living in a country where most people are believed to be of the same race, language, and culture and where those may be considered by many to be proof of citizenship.
    In one of my classes I told them that one of favorite American singers is Utada Hikaru (who is American both by birth in the country and by her own choice at the age of 18). The majority of my class thought I was joking, and the rest thought I was confused. Even after I explained to them the situation they still had a hard time accepting the idea that someone with Japanese mother, father, the ability to speak and sing in perfect Japanese could accualty be a forienger( 外人or 外国人).

  3. The style of the picture and the way the lady dressed and made-up, I would suspect it is a picture printed before 1949, when the standard Chinese characters, not the simplified ones, were standard. And I think it is a picture printed in Shanghai.

  4. Sometimes when people meet me after we talk on the phone, they tell me that they thought I was Chinese. Does this mean that “being Chinese” means different things in different contexts? Yes, I think so.

  5. Thanks. I agree it’s complicated. Not only does “Chinese” mean different things in different contexts, but often means different things to different people in the same context.

  6. “Sometimes when people meet me after we talk on the phone, they tell me that they thought I was Chinese.”

    Very, interesting, Micah.
    Anway, who can tell what citizenship, race, nationality, ethnic group, or state of being someone is over the phone or through the internet? This difficult to do in person as well.

    Being something and apearing to be something are not one and the same.

    Yet, your point about about the term “chinese” being construable(or any other term for that matter) is well worth pondering.

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