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Stereotyping in any form is harmful

Updated: 2011-04-13 14:31

By Huang Xiangyang (chinadaily.com.cn)

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Stereotypes come in many forms, and one of them in China is heaping excessive praise on foreigners for their moral high ground while lambasting the Chinese for their ingrained ugliness in character. An online debate stirred by a recent criminal case in Shanghai has brought that question back in the spotlight.

The news story had it that an apparently mentally unstable son who landed in a Shanghai airport at the end of March after flying back from Tokyo quarreled vehemently with his mother who went to meet him, and stabbed her nine times with a knife, possibly because he was unhappy that his mother had failed to send him money in time to finance his study in Japan.

A video clip was then posted on major news portals on Tuesday, showing a Caucasian squatting beside the injured mother to provide emergency aid, while Chinese onlookers stood by doing nothing. The scene is emotional enough to elicit a flood of online comments criticizing our countrymen for being consistently cold-blooded and callous in the face of other peoples' woes, and bemoaning the ever-widening moral gap between Chinese and foreigners in a situation that calls for gallantry.

Chinese people have been generous in meting out eulogies to foreigners for their good deeds ever since Chairman Mao wrote his famous piece in memory of Canadian Norman Bethune for his "utter devotion to others without any thought of self, his great sense of responsibility in his work and his great warm-heartedness toward all comrades." In contrast, we have been extremely stringent in scrutinizing weaknesses in our collective character, so much so that some of us feel that the Chinese are a morally inferior race when compared with their foreign peers.

We have been ruthless in exposing our moral ulcers. It is not uncommon to read news reports about the ugly deeds of Chinese tourists when they roam around the globe with bulging wallets. They are a rowdy group when they dine and wine. They disrespect basic rules of conduct, spitting and jumping the line. They are yet to cultivate good hygiene habits and never flush after using the toilet. And their failure to meet basic requirements for a decent and qualified member of this global village has reportedly prompted many tourist destination countries such as Japan and Thailand to issue warning posters in the Chinese language, asking them "to flush," "to keep quiet" and "not to vandalize."

I have no way of verifying whether such reports are true. But that is not important anymore. After years of brainwashing, some Chinese firmly believe that we, as a race and a nation, have lost all virtues this 5,000-year civilization claims to have once possessed - "ugliness" has become our hallmark.

I do believe there are many bad apples among our countrymen in terms of morality and etiquette. I will not even be surprised if I am told that China has the biggest number of jerks and degenerates. The country with the largest population could be number one in any aspect after all. But let us analyze all this case by case instead of generalizing things. To conclude from the above negative instances that Chinese are low and foreigners are superior morally is tantamount to self-debasement.

During my trips to Europe and the United States in recent years, I never got the impression that my foreign hosts treated Chinese differently because of their "undesirable special habits." Actually most of them could not tell the Chinese from the Japanese or Koreans - we are just Asians. I saw more dog excrement piled on the sidewalks in Paris than in Beijing, and the smell of urine was much more penetrating in the back streets of Manhattan than in any alley of Beijing's hutong. In a nutshell, we are all humans, basically the same in nature, with both weaknesses and merits.

Stereotyping foreigners in a positive way is as ignorant and harmful as the other way around. Several years ago, also in Shanghai, a "foreign language teacher" stirred up an online storm when he posted pictures of himself in intimate acts with many of his Chinese "girlfriends," along with detailed revelations about how easy it was to find sex partners in the city. The public fury led to a human-flesh search that forced the foreigner to shut down his blog, and a stereotype claiming that all Westerners were "lascivious sex animals." And we all know that is untrue.


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