19 August 2016

CHINESE TAXONOMY: exploring anglicized chinese culture and identity

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two young chink in a busted ass park

In the last post, I wrote, “The idea of ‘Chinese’ is broken. The idea that people from China can be fixed into ‘Chinese’ much less ‘Asian’ is broken.” Words as ‘Chinese’ serve their utilitarian purpose to group together a people never truly unified in any sort of stable political structure. The very idea of China is in itself synonymous with volatility. When I think of China, of course I think of it as a home. I think of it as the place where I was born and the place where everyone I love is born and the place that in essence, created me. I, however, rarely refer to ‘China’ through pure denotation.

‘China’ to me has always metonymized home, a home that I firmly believe still exists for me in ‘China.’ Yet, ‘China’ has never been home. Never has a one-for-one exchange occurred in my mind where the word ‘China’ explicitly meant home. In Chinese, I would say 回国 or 回家, yet I would almost never say 回中国. terms country while terms home. Yet, the focal power of this statement is in the verb, terming ‘to return.’ The glyph is a mouth, put inside another larger mouth, . Linguistic return in Chinese of course has everything to do with orality. The true home, the 老家 primarily exists by its distinctive dialect and culinary flavors. ‘To return’ means to reverse the act of oral subsumption that occurs outside the home.  

The larger body of ‘China’ does not as for jingo zealots as the French work as a warm port for nostalgia. ‘China’ is a begrudging term for an immigrant to take once away from home to belong to a new, transpacifically dislocated land. To be a ‘Chinaman’ or ‘Chinese’ or a chink means not the same as being a 中国人 or a 华人. The subtle, cultural aphasia that transpires through the forced translation of 中国人 into ‘Chinese’ is a reluctant self-defense mechanism. I believe that only needs be in the initial stages of being and immigrant. There’s no need to defer to ‘Chinese’ when there is power available, when there is respect gained, when there is a life ready to be lived.

Chinks don’t need to translate the idea of being a 中国人 to being ‘Chinese.’ The essence of ‘Chinese’ in English is weakness. ‘Chinese’ means every single stereotype imaginable because they are true. ‘Chinese’ reluctantly defines yourself according to their linguistic practices. There doesn’t need to be a reconciled ‘中国人-chinese.’ I don’t wish to do away with the term ‘Chinese.’ I only wish to decipher and explain its various valences in language and people, so it can grow out of its currently negatively charged state. ‘Chinese’ will never mean, or or 中国人or 华人, but I’m not completely resigned to the purpose of the word. I can only hope that ‘Chinese’ loses the shit it’s slathered in and becomes at the very least a utilitarian word.

This is another reason why I use the words “chink” or “Chinaman” as it is not charged in any positive light and only reveals the indifference and ignorance of the majority of people towards people from China. Chink ignores our history and culture. Chink belittles us. Chink mocks our ‘language. Yet, chink doesn’t try to hide behind a guise of civility to assimilate us and break us. Chinese erases individual chinks into an anonymous surfeit of people. Chink draws out the misinformed. Chink provokes a conversion where Chinese doesn’t.

In linguistics, people from China don’t speak Chinese. A funny parallel would be people of Europe speaking European. Chinese isn’t even a language. Chinese means people from China. It is also a term adopted by the West and by the Chinese Communist Party to concentrate linguistic and declarative power in one blanched term. The closest approximant to what Chinese actually is and does is lexicon. This seems the only constant that people from China linguistically share. Chinese is probably best used to term the collection of words, not even a unified grammar, just a collection of their words. Chinese is then a vocabulary. The five thousand glyphs, in collected list form, creates Chinese. As a lazy metonym for the language, Chinese belies an underlying drive from both China and the idea, not the people, of whiteness to easily group the Chinese people together.

I will however concede that the use of Chinese as an all-encompassing term to group together all the people of China serves a convenient purpose as a sort of linguistic portmanteau. For better or for worst, there are too many types of Chinese ‘language’ (meaning a collection of symbols and sounds that presents a unified communicative code for a group of people) to be condensed and reduced to one word. To hit closer to a Eurocentric mind, to call all the ‘languages’ of China the same would be to call all wines that are red the same or to call all breads the same or to call all cheese the same. Of course, these groups and their categorical headings have proliferated to the layperson as most people have heard of the words “cheddar” and “swiss.” Yet, for “Chinese,” an amorphous entity so prominent in the world, to not warrant any real distinction outside of academia seems especially suspect. The lazy distinction between Cantonese and Mandarin is itself an almost meaningless binary as “Cantonese” is most clearly defined as, “of Guangdong province.” The people from that province however speak a variety of “Cantonese” languages from Hokkien to Toishan to Yue. Mandarin is the proper and sophisticated way of speaking Han Chinese, 汉语, itself of various branches.

A knee jerk reaction, it would seem to me that the reductive use of “Chinese” relates to the historical shame and ridicule that the language presents for migrant speakers and the foreign ears that hear it. To the immigrant in an alien land whose parents speak “Chinese,” learning Chinese is a shame above all. The dominant tangible purpose presented to a young alien in language is the potential to connect with other people and make social connections with the other. When the young chink immigrant learns Chinese, that chink-migrant learns a language that only facilitates communication with other outcasts and outsiders, the other chinks they see. The chink-migrant most likely has very limited means to return to the origin and speak to family. Unless the chink-migrant lives in a place where chink-density is high, this is potentially the most alienating aspect of preserving culture. To learn “Chinese” is to bring the child further and further back into the old ways that have no place in the new home. For the old country to exist in the new country takes an unquantifiable sacrifice in the needed assimilation quotient. This equates to a dual existence where one part is a westerner, speaking a European language, and the other side is a chink who speaks ching chong Chinese on the weekends and at home. As with all migrants, the chink-migrant, already loaded down with generations of alien notions, is demanded to assimilate. To preserve the alien is to prevent assimilation. To not assimilate is to self-castrate.

 “Chinese,” for the people of China, never meant the cohesive meaning of “language” that the Communist Party intended it to mean or what European languages mean to their nations. The distinction for the people of China has almost always been between a script and a spoken vernacular, much like Latin was a lingua franca. This is what Mandarin intends to do by offering a unified, spoken to the already standardized, written . The difference between and is the fundamental divide in “Chinese.” The presently accepted 中文 or 汉语 are meant as synonyms to account for this divide, but have fallen into lazy use as interchangeable terms for “Chinese.” What now occurs all throughout the Chinese world is that the farther removed the person is from their ancestral home, the further removed they are from their original dialect, from their true natal tongue that extends far more back than the singular generation of maternal tongue. Further, in Chinese, the script, while ‘maternal,’ , terms “of the mother,” it also terms, in more a figurative manner, of the origin, of the womb. What to the Chinese is 母语, directly transliterated to maternal tongue, cannot and should not be translated as mother tongue, but more comprehensively, the original tongue.

To reify the chink’s attachment to the past is perhaps the most “Chinese” desire. To return to halcyon pre-imperialist glory is what has driven every single Chinese political movement including and since the end of imperial times. The rejection of imperialism still proves strong in contemporary thought. To reject a Western, European notion of “Chinese” as a skimmed over, generalized “language” is then a way to restore the multiplicities of nuance that create the beauty of a complex China, instead of the simple, monotone China that’s presented in the West.

The fundamental maxims an immigrant should adopt after moving to the West is to not forgot about the historical through line from which they come. The immigrant should strive to continue the legacy of their people in the new country instead of readily accepting assimilationist pressure. The Chinamen who came in the peak of the exclusion era had no other choice but to assimilate, for fear of deportation. No longer do we need to assimilate to overhanging dominant culture. Yet, that doesn’t mean we should be “Chinese” because “Chinese” does not strictly term “of China.” “Chinese” is not the same as 中国人 or 华人. “Chinese” instead has a history steeped in provincial prejudice and xenophobia on part of both China and the West.

For the West, initial waves of John Chinaman came almost exclusively from 广东 province, more specifically the Pearl River Delta. While this is an area that has historically flourished as the focal point of interaction with the West, this area is in reality as detached as can be from the rest of China, a nation itself in constant search of unification. These are the ones who almost exclusively defined Chinese people in America for the first century or so of Chinese immigration to America. For better or worse, their position as the primordial Chinese-Americans has defined every single Chinese person to emigrate from the East. To most, the difference between Cantonese and mandarin is whether one sounds like they have a lisp or whether they sound like birds. In a way, this is right as this is the only true contrast between the two if proper nomenclature is adhered. Neither refers to a group of people and neither refers to a language. They only refer to the way people sound.

A more accurate way to differentiate this is with the Chinese script differentiation of 大陆 (mainland) and 广东 (Guang Dong). This distinction is where a glut of intra-Chinese animosity lies, yet on both sides of the Chinese people. People with Chinese ancestry from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macao, Singapore use the term mainland to mock the supposed pureness, but also backwardness of the People’s Republic of China. These non-mainland Chinese people subscribe to a post-colonial stockholm syndrome where they look down upon non-colonized Chinese as developmentally retarded. The great British Empire and all its grace gave Hong Kong all its beautiful gifts of Christianity, Western Vice, and shitty tea, so Hong Kong media tends to play themselves up as faithful and exquisite subjects of the Queen with the mainland Chinese as secondary, inbred cousins who were never graced by the majesty of a royal family.

In response, the mainland Chinese through a century of humiliation after the opium war formed a defeated culture of shame—the fundamental Confucian principle of hating yourself to the point of growing. This is where the West interferes most with the construction of Chinese success. After a century of being forcibly drugged, having her hips broken and legs wrenched open, having white navies and armies enter and pillage the country, having the shame of falling from the perch of eminence, the mainland Chinese determined to improve. Yet, to improve for the mainland was wholly steeped in westernizing. The rejection of Confucianism was replaced by Western science and democracy, especially underscored by Christianity. Missionaries came in to proselytize and use our souls as fodder for their corporate ascendancy to heaven. They saw us as actionable stocks to cash in to some god that saw us as depraved devil spawn. In return, they indoctrinated us with opportunities as the Chinese Education Mission by sending only those who were readily accepting of Christian conversion to attend elite American colleges and to return to lead China. The sinister collusion between American higher education and the clergy aimed to put the Chinese under what President Roosevelt approved as the “intellectual and spiritual domination of [our] leaders.” In return, the Chinese looked down upon locals who weren’t Christian and had local schooling. The elevation of Chinese whiteness prominently began.

This change from being drugged and raped by Christianity and Imperialism turned into a full on pandering and fellating of white gods and icons. As it disseminated down to the Chinese, the growth of Western fetishism combined with 大汉注意, or Han Chinese superiority. Han superiority takes place in the form of mandarin standardization, the Chinese slogan that we’re one big family, the idea that we are the same. This is the crux of how the present connotation of “Chinese” came to form. The goal to unify China is one that has guided dynastic successions since the first century. The subsequent two millennia of fracture, internal dissent, and external threats has created a country seemingly unable to unify. By the time imperial China ended, the country fell almost immediately in a depraved network of drug lord warlords that reigned historic regions of the geopolitical present day China. In a way, this almost seems the best way to preserve true and diverse Chinese cultures. Of course, the warlords ranked among the most disturbed human beings to ever acquire power and this regional rule fell into a cesspool of collusion, drugs, prostitution, and apocalyptic destitution. The ruse, the front that the nationalists were successful in truly reuniting China for the first time since the Han dynasty stands among one of the guiding myths of Western, Taiwanese, and Hong Kong hate for the Communists. Chiang Kai-Shek supposedly subordinated the warlords in his mythical 1928 Northern Expedition to create China. Unfortunately, propaganda exists and this lie that still reverberates in public conscience across the Chinese people embellishes reality. The generalissimo, uncoincidentally married to the epitome of Chinese pandering to the west, Song Meiling, unified China by creating a larger cabal of opium accords between the warlords. Chiang Kai-Shek did defeat various warlords, but did unify China in as comprehensive and as unified a manner as Mao would in 1949. It was merely a symbolic unification later promulgated by western propaganda in the Cold War to assert Taiwan as the true China.  

As Mao took the entire country under a banner of communism and streamlined culture, China was unified in appearance, but though the culture destroyed, it still existed in suppressed memory. This is how the Taiwanese are often said to be truer representations of Chinese culture as the nationalists escaped. The continued idea of Chinese then discounts the various historical changes to the culture and the resulting effects. Subscribing to Mao’s blanched “China” and “Chinese” as a continuous, unified culture is nowhere near accurate. Combining the histories of each European country together is more accurate as Chinese history is much longer and has many more people and resulting cultures. To then further lump that into an even more anonymizing Asian is another layer of insult as Asians accounts for 60% of people in the world.

The use of “Chinese” and “Asian” are then easy bleach blottings that severs these people from their histories. To lump all Chinese together makes them an easy target of blanket statements. To discount their history makes them inferior to white people. A Chinaman from Shaanxi is not the same as a Chinaman from Anhui. Each of these provinces has more people than Canada. Each of these provinces has longer histories than any Western country. Yet, the distinctions are never made, they’re just Chinese. Chinese is then exclusively a politically charged term. It can only truly refer to someone who comes from the confines of the present borders of the People’s Republic of China. Internal and external attempts to collate these into a unified word does little to advance the culture or plight of these people.

This is why chinks need to rediscover their familial roots. The food eaten by a chink from Shaanxi is not the same as the food eaten by someone from Anhui. The idea that there is a Chinese food needs some sort of common denominator. It would seem reasonable if this denominator lies in food, yet it lies in physical appearances. To me, Chinese food refers exclusively to chop suey, kung pao chicken, Cantonese-American, and Sichuan-American food. Regional foods made for chink is not Chinese food. To blend our culinary distinctions into one word is why inexplicably Chinese food for its five-thousand-year history is considered among the lowest of foods, synonymous with bodily harm, synonymous with class distinctions.

China is not the home of a chink. The real home of a chink is in their ancestral home, their province, their region. Chinese is not a welcoming or correct way to refer to a chink. It exists as a lazy reminder that the West wants to erase chink history and that chinks are all too happy to do so, that chinks are all too happy to assimilate to a culture that never had a place for them.