Recent encounters with certain Chinese individuals has revealed an interesting mindset. Some Chinese are of the mindset that one cannot politely critcize their own people. It’s not the first time I have encountered such thinking.
Back during the Beijing Olympic Torch Run’s leg in Hong Kong, much commotion was made of a young female Hong Kong University student demonstrating for China to free Tibet. In my Canadian mindset, I have no issues with her campaigning for her personal convictions. That’s her prerogative. (I choose not to air my views on that very sensitive topic.) However, from the patriotic Chinese point-of-view, her expression for Tibetan freedom seems tantamount to national treason. She was booed and jeered at by the surrounding pro-China supporters. (Whether these supporters were from Hong Kong or not is uncertain.)
In a recent event, I commented on how often I encounter bad drivers and they almost always seem to be Chinese. I’ve encountered so many of these drivers, it’s become a bad joke, even embarrassing. In the presence of some Chinese, this kind of self-criticism of one’s own ethnic group was unwelcome. It’s like I stepped onto some collective tail of the Chinese people, even though I’m ethnically Chinese.
Is it the idea of collectivism that drives this strong reaction to self-criticism? Perhaps it’s the concept of face that triggers a huge flush of embarrassment when the group is criticized?
Obviously it’s not all Chinese who have this kind of reaction. As a Chinese-Canadian, I don’t see anything wrong with just talking about things the way they are. Even young Hong Kong Chinese tend not to react so strongly to such comments. I was even making fun of Chinese opera the other day. Chinese opera is definitely an acquired taste, but a national heritage, I suppose. If I were to talk openly about China as a country doing something that I disagree with, I could be opening myself to verbal attacks from some individuals. Somebody from the older generations or somebody from the Mainland may find my comments offensive and un-Chinese of me. It’s almost as if the old country can do no wrong.
So my general strategy is to keep my views to myself in the presence of certain individuals. There’s no sense in spoiling the mood of the conversation. That’s the Chinese in me trying to maintain a modicum of social harmony. I know in general who would be receptive to my comments and who would not. Best to keep my head below the water in some situations, lest I want my head to be snapped off.