What I had in mind with the title was something that sounded like Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall: ‘Hey teacher! Leave those kids alone’.
The obvious problem here was the polysyllable, the Chi- and -nese. I could have gotten around this by using the ethnic slur (highly offensive my Google barometer tells me): Chink. Leave those Chinks alone. You can’t say that sort of thing these days. It’s bad. It was alright in the past, but due to restrictions imposed on us via the modernizing of social conventions we now know it’s bad. For this reason, along with sand-nigger, the term has all but disappeared into the shadows. But, the instigator of the term – the foundations that formed Chink and sand-nigger, the emotions that swill around those malodorous terms, their catalyst – thrives within the ‘social underground’. We are no less racist because we don’t permit ourselves the use of racist terminology.
If we must be racist in today’s tricky, sticky, cleansed environment, we must do it in non-racist ways. You can’t call a Chinese person a Chink, but you can talk about their driving skills, we can castigate them for reading maps, with us as a standing mirror of perfection, as if, some of their purported bad habits were essentially a Chinese Chromosome, a personality contagion perhaps, carried aloft by budget airlines into this – I mean our – country.
Good racism, the kind you can get away with without sounding like the Klu Klux Klan, the implicit, rather than explicit, is having a bit of a heyday here in Chiang Mai at the moment. There isn’t a day goes by when I don’t hear a good racist comment. Chinese… don’t flush the toilet (my father once told me that Pakistani people defecate in cinema isles – as a rule, not a fetish, and I believed it for some years); they can’t drive; they are dirty; they spit everywhere; they shit in the streets; they are loud and obnoxious; they are cheap… You can add to the list if you feel compelled to do so.
There may well be plenty of incidents of toilet misdemeanors in China that I am not aware of, as they were in my own house, after which my mother would scream “Who pissed on the seat!?” If these incidents have been reported, then I won’t refute what people say is the truth. I have not been privy to any of this so-called bad behavior, but if you tell me it exists, I am content to believe that you witnessed a singular case that might be described as a transgression apropos what is acceptable within Thai cultural parameters.
What I won’t accept is that this is typically Chinese behaviour. No such thing exists.
I have lived all over the world, and there is no such thing as typical, nationalised, behaviour. Nations and people are complex entities, and shouldn’t ever be crudely reduced to an un-complex whole. Collectivisation leads to tyranny of many sorts: mindful slavery of a populace through nationalistic propaganda, holocausts, pogroms, dividing public transport into white and black spaces. We should be careful with our articles, the Chinese, can lead to all sorts of discriminatory rubbish.
The is the start of a wicked statement that serves to misrepresent a complex society. We create, or become part of, as my naive father did with his Pakistani pooing conviction, a kind of social hysteria. The Chinese have become victim to social hysteria. It’s hard to see them as not some kind of collective that somehow belong to all these pejorative statements. The stink we create with our restless, untrained mouths eventually covers everything. The Chinese government, by making a manifesto on polite behavior made a terrible mistake. They inflated the hysteria. While betel nut chewing, and its consequent emissions of blood red spittle, might be widespread in some parts of China, or Thailand, or Burma, the act cannot be defined a national trait. Neither, can bad driving, or map reading in the middle of the street. Most serial killers – this can be easily validated – have been white Christians. Does this mean we should go to church with mace in our handbags? No it doesn’t, but the the fact is certainly something I’m interested to understand better. Rather than commit to hateful, spiteful reasoning, we might attempt a better understanding of human idiosyncrasies.
The bad racism is all but kicked back into the closet thanks to public relations, nice Hollywood films, and mums and dads being restricted from funneling their anger into their kids’ hapless heads. But racism hasn’t gone anywhere. Maybe it was better out in the open, where we could see it. All this Chinese hysteria is cloaked, repressed racism, it’s the fear of The Other, as philosopher Slavoj Zizek puts it in his passage on racism in the book Violence. It’s part envy, part fear, that are innate to our way of living, that manifests as this implicit racism. Not only do we feel a sense of superiority when we trounce people of a nation for their habits, but we also somehow protect ourselves from them, our competitors. As part of Thailand, or even Chiang Mai, we have become somewhat partisan, a member of an unspoken group. I think it was Orwell that said this always exists, the partisanship to a place, or symbol that represents a place, even in the most intellectual folk. The proof is that members of a country, or culture, often criticize their own foibles, but when outsiders do it there is tension. I can say bad things about my country (or mother), but you can’t. This aggression, our dysfunction, creates a hot-bed of racism. We are better than them. Even foreigners here can’t escape it. We are inextricably caught up in Chiang Mai. It can perhaps be some amelioration to society’s woes if we can accept our aggression, or be aware it exists. The same can be said about the red/yellow, rich/poor schism, that exists in Thailand. We seem always to be in contention with The Other.
The social hysteria, the implicit racism, confirms our innate prejudices, ones we secretly hold because the fear of the other is always active within us. We enjoy it, because it sings to our egoistic demands to feel superior, and to lessen the feeling of fear which always exists in the competitive world market. The Chinese are coming speaks of an invasion, but not one that involves guns and tanks, but one that might prove oppressive to one’s sense of self, or entitlement, or status. The amount of distress caused by incidents relating to so-called cultural transgressions are negligible. Our problem is not with the incidents, it’s something personal, yet at the same time universal, the problem of us Vs them. By relating incidents to others maybe you become part of the social hysteria, your words combustible yet empty, like used hairsprays cans thrown into a fire.
While it can be argued in the case of these Chinese incidents that there is no smoke without fire, fire is also reactionary.
One of the comments I read that was in-line with recent anti-Chinese sentiments I have pasted below, in part. It shows us how many people attempt to deny racism, by making clearly racist comments. This is the playing field of the new, good, racism. The non-racist racist remark, what Freud called stating the unspeakable within (modern) culturally acceptable boundaries. The speaker most likely is unaware of his real, politically incorrect racist position:
“Personally, I have nothing against Chinese people and nation, but what I want to point out is that such a large country having its doors and borders wide open to other countries such as Thailand and to small areas like the north of Thailand, Chiang Mai in particular, will completely destroy the unique character, attraction and cultural interest of this place, including the traditional kind manners and habits of its inhabitants. It will also destroy the interest of Chiang Mai for other worldwide travellers willing to catch up with the authenticity of its cultural heritage and the thousand years old way of life of its citizens.”
It’s a fair point that over-development may affect the natural beauty of Chiang Mai. But if natural beauty is your kick, then there are government departments you might want to seek out, such as the mayor’s office, the land-planning department, and those that sell space, or the ingredients that form a culture, to make money. The race card is a dangerous card to play. We should leave the Chinese alone.