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Duo Shao Qian #2 Expat China?

I pitched an article to a few magazines not too long ago on China functioning as a new mother country for folks in Africa.  African Americans and Americans often miss the obvious.  Funny, how quite a few of my friends speak of China's presence in Africa without speaking of African immigration in China.  I guess it is hard for us to imagine that someone else besides Europe has actually accultured someone.

Someone told me that in Gruangzhou, a huge trade city in the South of China, the largest population of Africans outside of Africa reside.  There our folks trade and make cultural connections with China that are at least similar to what we have done in Europe.  Africans in England, America, France, or even Germany are a part of Western reality and imagination.  On the other hand Africans in China sounds like Afro-Futurism.

For the writerly and artistic the expat is myth and fable.  Many of us who read African American literature can imagine a nostalgic time with Baldwin, Josephine Baker, Richard Wright, Dexter Gordon, and host of African American artists and celebrities shuffling down a Rue in France where they enjoy a freedom hard to get in America.  Algeria not withstanding, or the work  of Frantz Fanon, or the dark riots in France in the last decade, we imagine something nostalgic about Europe because of our upbringing, our background, our education, our assimilation.

Years ago, before I made my nine month trip to China, an African American lawyer, flippantly told me in an attempt to connect with my fascination to the country, "We did China."  I was never quite certain what he meant.  China is almost as large as the U.S. with as many varying weathers and regions as the U.S.  There are ice sculptures in Harbin, and the dust and desserts of the West.  On the coastline the famous cities we know like Shanghai, Beijing, and Nanjing operate almost like a mega-megalopolis similar to the East Coast in America spread across a greater distance.  In the South Guangzho reigns as a trade capital.  Doing China is as impossible as doing America.  I guess that is why I was confused.  The term seem to suggest third world, island, and sorta less than.  I thought anyone who went to China would recognize the limit of their knowledge and be overwhelmed.  But he did it.

In Between The World and Me, a book I have spent considerable time writing about here on Free Black Space, esteemed author Ta Nehisi Coates goes to France and describes a few racial encounters he experiences during his trip.  At best the ideas seem to be a retro, remix of James Baldwin that deepen the connection between the work and The Fire Next Time.  It seems African American literature is a caviar of the educated, a preferred taste.  Those in the know can read the works of a famous African American scholar and evaluate the text based on the sampling and intersections with the Western Canon and critiques view of the literature.  Lauded work resonates in learned circles because it gives evidence of training, scholarship, and craft.  However, I have to say the idea  of an African American expat in Europe seems to be outdated at this point.

Cross referenced with social discontent here in the States the European expat idea simply doesn't carry the weight.  Maybe, and maybe only because I have spent a little time in China, I constantly run into people who want to go there, have gone there, or have family members there.  Very few of them attend school in China, but I assume that will change.  More and more, people from all over the world will spend time in China, because there is so much money flowing there.  The African students I met during my time in China at the University I worked at, were amazing people, no doubt as dynamic as the Trinidadians, Jamaicans, Nigerians, Sierra Leoneans, Cameroonians, Ghanaians, Liberians, Senegalese, and  immigrants from other countries I meet here in the States, who come to America to take advantage of education and opportunities.  Most of the foreigners in China are from Southern Africa: Namibia, Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe, a few from South Africa, and quite a few from Angola.  But there are also others from West and Northern Africa.  They are in China because China is in Africa.  The truth is as simple as the reason so many immigrants are in America.  Immigrants are in America, because American business interests are everywhere.  Freedom is the cover, but there is much money to be made in America.

The difference of course, is the Chinese view on the foreigner.  China is not a colonial outpost invaded and cleansed of its inhabitants, after which, a call is sent to the "motherland" for the tried, poor and weak to come.  It is hard to be a foreigner in China, because China is for the Chinese.  Ask the government.  They are clear.  It is hard for people in the West to imagine what a foreigner is in the minds of the Chinese.  I am not certain I know, but I can say that China is not a country of immigrants, and a foreigner is a rarity, an oddity, a sign of Chinese expansion, a rare flower amongst so many Chinese.

I often rode a packed subway train in Wuhan and was the only foreigner.

While it seems clear to me the Chinese admire American culture, they also think their own culture superior.  Some may contest this; but I will let them do that work to prove otherwise.  But here's the important point, the Chinese are not interested in seeing foreigners adopt their culture even though they imagine it to be superior.  Rest assure, they will be amazed if you can get portions of their culture right (if you can do it) and will find you fascinating.  For my experience is that, they feel Chinese culture is difficult for the Chinese themselves.  It is so vast, so documented, so intricate, they know they cannot know everything about it.  The contrast with Western etiquette and culture should be easy to discern.  White supremacy is about the supremacy of European culture.   It is also about how white matters even if you get the culture right, and it is very difficult to be white if you are not.  The Western trip to the motherland is fundamentally about acculturation to remedy less than, and then one can always be less than, even if they get the culture right.  This is part of what Fanon is getting at in Black Skin White Masks.  The less than in spite of acculturation torments the psyche of the mind that has immersed itself in the culture of the conqueror.

No doubt, I heard many African students complain about the quirks of the Chinese and their racism, expansion, and the problems with their race for resources.  Many complained that Chinese people import workers to Africa, and that the Chinese don't mix with the foreigners even when they are in a foreign land.  Others complained about feeling locked out of business interactions or being manipulated by Chinese business people.   I also heard stories (from Africans, Europeans, and  Americans) of what seemed to be a common practice of hiring foreigners to populate clubs and establishments to make the place feel more exotic.

African American scholars will most likely understand a parallel with the "When Harlem was in Vogue" of the Post World War I era.  Whites traveling to clubs in black communities to be entertained by blacks when the blacks themselves sometimes can't attend.  This example helps, and gives me a minute for a digression.  It was always hard for me to imagine that people imagine the Chinese as racist.  Not because the Chinese cannot be racist, but because here in America racism is sometimes laughable in spite of how charged we make it.  Behind most racist offense, that we can actually tell a story about, is a degree of ignorance in the perpetrator that is much easier to recognize in the Chinese.  Indeed, white supremacy packages white supremacy as ignorance that is power.  Black folks believe in it like the Bible. There is  no racism and no ignorance that is harmless.  Walking the streets in China, after having been trained in America, it is relatively easy to see how the ignorance and  importation of the black image has led to the deficiency.  Immigration, or the business with Africa is another matter; but trust me were it not for white supremacy, whites would complain about their treatment in other countries.  And if you talk to whites in China, in matters of power they often feel marginalized and mystified.  Too certain of their power to call it racist, they simply look a bit uncertain about their status in the country.  I've seen it many times.  It reminds me of black people at home. 

Of course the Chinese  view themselves as superior, but then again it is their country.  I read somewhere a while back less than ten thousand Chinese Green cards were given out over a ten year period.  China is not a country for immigrants.  This seems obvious when you consider the large population or cite the one child policy the country held its own citizens to for many years.  The American population is 340 million and China's is 1.3 billion.  To repeat both countries are about the same size.  Population size, Chinese immigration policy, Chinese history, and the density/complexity of Chinese culture contribute to the Chinese approaches to the foreigner.  That some find it racist is understandable.  But racism is at best illusory and not really universal except to the extent that Europe controls most of the world and has exported its fascinating invention to every place in the world.   For instance, one should be mindful of the entertainment and music that portrays black folks being exported to China.  Many of those negative images become reality for Chinese people who have never seen or met a black person.

The other difference is the fascination Chinese people have for foreigners.  I read an article in the Atlantic a while back, by an African on Chinese racism.  It seemed to be more of the cheap journalism I am accustomed to.  The idea that blacks can be experts on Chinese racism I find almost laughable.  She spoke Mandarin (and I do not) and she cited instances where she heard people say derogatory things about her in Mandarin.  I have probably missed all of those.  But I know in a conntry of hundreds of millions of people who are one or two generations away from a poverty I can never understand, who are just entering into urban life, who have never seen anyone like me, let alone live with anyone like me, that I can expect a distance, fascination, or even disdain.  But I always imagine that it is China.  It is their country.

Personally I am so overwhelmed by what I don' t know about China, knowing that they are racist seems like incompetency.  One of our deficiencies here is that our knowledge of racism appears to be a competency.  

The best of China is the sophisticated etiquette reserved for the foreigner.  This etiquette is a refinement of the culture and too complex to fully discuss here, but it is safe to say etiquette for foreigners is, at least, and extension of a concerted effort the whole country has to make to counter its many decades of isolation from the West.   English as a second mandatory language in education is an extension of the Chinese attempts to bridge the gap between their culture and the West.    

There is no doubt in my mind, the connection with China for Africans will continue to increase.  In forty years some Africans will be nostalgic about China in a way their children will never understand.  Granted they won't come with a new found accent, because China is not that type of party.  But some of them will no doubt miss the food, the packed trains, the midnight street spectacles, and those wonderful clubs where the music and culture of Africa and the West are piped in.   They may even take a trip back to China for vacation and wander the streets of some major city and tell their kids about the first time they saw the Great Wall.

This post first appeared on Free Black Space, please read the originial post: here

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Duo Shao Qian #2 Expat China?


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