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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Boerewors and chopsticks: interviews with the Chinese (Janet)

October 20, 2008

Thought Leader (South Africa)
October 18, 2008

When I write about China, I prefer to keep the topics at a
grass-roots level. This is the first in a series of interviews with
Chinese people in Shanghai. The first is my 26-year-old Chinese
teacher and friend, Wei Qian, English name Janet.

Her parents, from Sichuan province, grew up in the Cultural
Revolution and they never learned to read or right, sucked in by the
Maoist cant of "no ABC!"

Her parents must have been thrilled when Wei Qian not only learned to
read and write, but she also learned English and graduated from a
university in prestigious Shanghai.

What are your views on Tibet belonging to China?

Of course Tibet belongs to China. AND we really hate other countries
interfering with our FAMILY issues.

What do you think of the Dalai Lama?

He is a cheat, liar and criminal. His mob burned houses, robbed banks
and shops, killed innocent people and caused lots of trouble in
Tibet. I really hate him and hope he can be caught and punished for
what he has done.

What do you think of the USA selling arms to Taiwan?

It shows what great businessmen they are: ) .

I was horrified by the way Japanese soldiers raped and slaughtered
hundreds of thousands of Chinese in Nanjing (Nanking) in 1937. Japan,
in my opinion, has never really apologised to China for the rape of
Nanjing. Why do you think Japan does not apologise?

In my opinion, after the Second World War, China became the enemy of
the US and Japan became the little baby of the US. How can a parent
make his kid apologise to his foe?! So Japan had the "guts" to keep
silent about what she had done in China. But on the other side, the
miserable victim of all the rape — China — didn't have the guts to
express her anger. Besides, only a few countries supported China
(because they all have their own problems to deal with and don't dare
offend the USA).

What do you think of Taiwan being re-integrated into China?

Some people may blame me for being unpatriotic but I really don't
care about this political issue. And I really don't like Taiwanese.
Do they think they're Taiwanese or Chinese? And they all think they
are superior to Chinese.

Hollywood actress Sharon Stone said that the Sichuan earthquake was
karma for what China did to Tibet. What do you think of that?

I know it's her freedom to say whatever's on her mind. But that's
really stupid to say it in public. See what she's got now! She deserves it!

You say that something bad happened to Sharon Stone? What was that?

I once read a report saying some companies that use her image in
commercials terminated their contract with her and she said she was
very sorry for what she had said and burst into tears. But I still
wonder if that was true.

There are still relatively few foreigners in China. When I sit on the
subway in rush hour I am usually the only foreigner on the train. We
are still a rare species here! What do Chinese people like about foreigners?

I really appreciate foreigners who respect Chinese culture (like you)
and know that Chinese culture is just different from Western culture,
rather than being "less developed" than Western culture.

What do Chinese people not like about foreigners? (Maybe they get
angry too quickly, like me! Maybe they are rude, arrogant, look down
on Chinese, come on, be honest!) What do you think other Chinese
people like/not like about foreigners? Is calling someone a laowai
(foreigner) a rude word, polite or not polite? I always get called a laowai.

I really like all the foreigners I've met. They are friendly and
honest. But the Western media is not so friendly to China. I'm afraid
some foreigners have been misinformed by the media. You and Marion
are so friendly and nice! And I don't think you are arrogant.

I think most Chinese don't have enough chance to meet foreigners. So
they feel foreigners are very mysterious. Laowai is a neutral word.

What is your view of South Africa and South Africans? What have you
learned about South Africa from the Chinese media (newspapers, radio,
television, movies)?

Oh, I really don't know much about South Africa except that it is in
Africa and racism is a big problem there. We do not have the word
"racism" in our language.

You are not a Shanghaiese. I understand from Chinese friends that
Shanghaiese sometimes look down on "outsider" Chinese. How did
Shanghai people treat you when you first arrived here? How do they
treat you now? How much Shanghaiese do you understand?

Actually they were (and still are) friendly to me. But it's not easy
to make friends with Shanghai people, not because they look down on
me, but because I grew up in a totally different environment. (I come
from a small town in Sichuan province.) I have learned little
Shanghaiese because I'm lazy and ungifted in language learning.

Why is it that Chinese people often say they can only speak one
language when they all can speak two — Mandarin and their hometown
language? What is your home language called? How different is your
home language from Mandarin?

(Janet laughs.) We call the other "languages" dialects instead of
languages (no matter how different they are from Mandarin). I also
speak Sichuanhua [Sichuanese, the local dialect in Sichuan province]
which is only slightly different to Mandarin, unlike Shanghaiese and
Cantonese, which are extremely different. I don't understand those languages.

I have had the experience of Chinese people not understanding Chinese
people from other parts of the country even though they are both
speaking the "common language", Putonghua, Mandarin. (That put me off
learning Mandarin at one stage, why bother if people from other areas
won't understand me?) Do you think Chinese people from different
parts of the country speak Mandarin differently? How do you deal with this?

There are some words in Sichuanhua which are not in Mandarin. If I
use those words of course no one understands what I'm talking about,
unless he or she is also from Sichuan.

End of interview.


By her emphatic use of the word FAMILY Wei Qian is referring to the
following cultural value in her society.

The whole of China is run on the jia (family) system. Jia in Chinese
writing is ??. One can see the root ideogram for roof in the little
box or roof at the top of the first character. This, fascinatingly
enough, comes from the following interesting gem of cultural history.
A pig ? under the roof ? meant domestic bliss and freedom from
poverty, and the root radicals for roof and pig come together to form ?, jia.

The jia is of enormous value in Chinese (Confucian) thinking. The
entire country is covered by this roof. That is to say, China is run
like this, including companies. It is therefore an extremely
hierarchical, nationalised society, which average Chinese by and
large serenely accept and feel comfortable with.

The directors of the company you work for are like your parents and
all decisions, good or bad, rest with them and are rarely questioned.
(Me being an outspoken in-your-face "why should I" Irish South
African unnerves them.) But the jia system is one reason why
communism easily spread through China from 1948 onwards. Tibet is
seen as a part of that family, as is Taiwan. It therefore follows
there should be no orphans in this family and outsiders should stay
out of jia business.

I don't say I agree with all of Wei Qian's points (Tibet, Dalai
Lama). However I am starting to question the Western version of His Holiness.

But the first steps towards solving conflicts (me versus you) at any
level are listening carefully, gaining mutual respect and trust
without a hidden agenda, and then slowly transform the difficult
situation into a greater entity that is not you versus me but serves
the best interests (which may not have been apparent) of both you and
me. Sure, much easier said than done.

The brave "glory boys" who stood up at the Beijing Olympics and waved
"Free Tibet" flags around only contributed to the clash, (you versus
me) and not towards the transformation (you and me).

I find it hard to believe there is no word for "racism" in Chinese.
But I certainly cannot find it in the dictionaries. That is not to
say there are not different forms of racism and classism in China.

If any readers want me to ask Chinese other questions in interviews,
let me know.

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