last column, I made some broad generalizations about Chinese and China.
One of the points of the column was to show that Chinese businessmen make
decisions based on guanxi. Any businessman – or any foreigner for that
matter – has a collection of stories about the power of guanxi in China.
The other point is that China and Europe have a new, but very promising,
Taken together, my aim was to show that China's image (however incomplete it
may currently be) of Europeans is a rosy one and will have repercussions,
Unfortunately, I did not make these points very clear. Instead, I shrouded
them in quasi-ironic generalizations.
Here is why:
In Sichuan, broad declarative statements about China, Sichuan and guowai
(outside of the country) are matters of discourse.
I have grown accustomed to walking into a room full of distinguished
businessmen, wearing Barberry, Gucci and driving BMWs, announcing that I am
German, and having two or more gentleman stand up, give the NAZI salute and yell
"Heil Hitler!" I am assumed to be smart, because the German Race is a skilled
race. I am assumed to be diligent and taciturn, for Germans resemble Tolkien's
dwarves. If I do not display these characteristics strongly and boldly, I am
deemed to be a "strange German."
If I announce that I am American (I carry both passports), I am characterized
as culturally inept, arrogant and individualistic, but very friendly and down to
earth. Badao is a word often used, which means something like bold yet
arrogant at the same time. With a dash of heedlessness.
I could go on about the various stereotypes placed on Chongqingese,
Shanghainese, French, Africans etc.
Of course this does not mean that all Sichuanese refer to the world around
them in bland and tired stereotypes. What it means to me is that Sichuanese are
confirming a few things for themselves, namely their own identity within the
context of a rapidly changing environment.
I live in this environment. Every day I answer questions that begin with "You
foreigners …" and end with "We Chinese …"
Certain images built up concerning "America," "France," "Italy," "Japan" "us"
and "them" in Sichuan and what these images mean for Sino-World interaction
should have been the crux of the column. Instead, it seems as if I was
insinuating that Chinese are backward and simple.
Specifically, I tried to tackle Sino-European relations, guanxi and
the complicated process of identity building in post-Opening Up China.
I didn't pull it off.