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Foreign Views of China

Page history last edited by PBworks 14 years, 7 months ago


Foreign Views of China


Foreigners living in China do not, in general, become a part of the country. Most live in the concessions, which in many cases resemble their homelands – parts of Tsingtao, for example, greatly resemble Germany. Very few bother to learn Chinese (with the exception of the Japanese); there is no need to in the concessions.


Their views on the Chinese people are mixed, ranging between sympathy and rejection, parental benevolence and exasperation, affection and hostility. In general, the Chinese are not viewed as being on a par with Westerners or even the Japanese. They are regarded as lazy, corrupt and cruel, as unable to appreciate the riches around them. They are viewed as intellectually inferior and incapable of appreciating any of the world’s great religions and philosophies. “A joss or two, dimly recognized and dimly and spasmodically worshipped is apparently about the limits of their intelligence.” (Howell, 1921)


Foreigners’ tendency not to learn the language must be seen as a large part of the problem (though with so many different “Chinese” languages to choose from in different areas, one can understand why it seems a formidable task). An inability to communicate leads to a lack of understanding; there is no way to learn about the Chinese culture. Indeed, those who do take the trouble to learn Chinese are those who are most likely to hold positive views of the Chinese, or at least to have specific, articulated criticisms. However, for the majority of China’s foreign residents, the Chinese people themselves form nothing more than a faceless backdrop to their lives in a strange land.


Going Native

Some Westerners do not have quite the same love-hate relationship with China as the majority. Indeed, it is not uncommon to find a retired sailor (almost always an enlisted man) who has retired to run a bar frequented by foreign sailors or a missionary or diplomat who has decided to remain in China on an indefinite basis rather than return home. This is referred to by other Westerners as “going native” or “going Asiatic”.


Such men generally have certain assumptions made about them, especially if they have married a Chinese woman. Most Westerners know little about the Chinese and consider them inferior. China itself is deemed beneath any Western nation. Therefore, anyone who wants to live with a Chinese woman and remain in the country must be suspect and has probably “gone Asiatic”. To explain away why a white man would want to do this, many say that only those who lead lives of dissipation are apt to stay in China. If the man is clearly of high moral fibre, the typical reaction is to brand them “eccentric” – a useful word which goes a long way in cases like these.


Sad to say, in some cases the men who remain in China do fit into the category of wastrels. The stereotypical case is that of a retired military man, whose meagre retirement pay goes a lot further – and buys a lot more booze – in China than it would at home. However, many men make an honest living in China, running bakeries, ice plants or other establishments. In Tsientsin, there is a dry cleaning company run by a retired US soldier.




By non-missionaries, Catholics (particularly Jesuits) are usually accepted because they are considered to be well educated. Medical missionaries and those who are trying to introduce better agricultural methods to China, are also met with approval. What brings the most censure and often resentment (particularly from the military who have to protect them) are the “fundamentalists”, who frequently exhibit a distinct lack of interest in engaging with the Chinese people on any but the most high-handed of terms. However, since these Evangelical missionaries (largely American themselves) enjoy wide popular support and funding from people back in the US, they will be around causing headaches for China's native and foreign population for some time to come.



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