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Resolving disputes in a rapidly transforming society

Revisiting discrimination in China

The main purpose of my article was to reveal the kind of discrimination based on racial preferences (which I’ll term racism, for lack of a better word) as well as the discrimination based on the color of passports (I’ll explain in a sec what this means) that exists in China. I want to make clear that while this discrimination has been my experience and that of those close to me, it does not represent the experiences of every Asian American in China.

One point that some of my readers missed is why I was trying to identify myself as an American. In certain circumstances, identifying myself as an American was necessary to receive equal treatment. This is especially true in the English teaching market, where a person's race is often looked upon as more important than his or her background, education, and even teaching credentials. Some people are hired just based on the way they look. (A few readers pointed out that this does not just pertain to China, but exists in other places as well, such as Thailand and Japan.) In such circumstances, I have found myself trying to point out that I am also American because being an American has been one of the qualifications for a job or an opportunity.

Moreover, I was not trying to argue that I should be treated like an American. Rather, I was only describing how I, carrying the identity of both a Chinese and an American, can be treated differently depending on who I am compared with. When I am being compared with a Chinese local, I am treated differently — usually because of the color of my passport. When I am being compared with other westerners, I am also treated differently — usually because of the color of my skin. And it is precisely these kinds of discriminatory practices that trouble and offend me.

A few readers have added some very powerful and interesting comments regarding why and how the Chinese people view and define Americans. Many of them point to the U.S. media as an important influence over how people in other nations define America and Americans. One reader wrote, "The problem is not that the people in China are looking at Asian Americans like yourself with racist lens, but rather that they are looking at you with the racist lens supplied by your fellow Americans. Perhaps the problem is not that 'in the eyes of many Chinese people, white Americans are the only authentic Americans,' but rather in the eyes of the Americans responsible for presenting America to the world, white Americans are the only authentic Americans."

I have received numerous responses from readers regarding my article, both supportive and critical. Some have also weighed in on why such discrimination happens, and have offered various answers, with many attributing it to China’s colonial past. Another reader pointed out the important diversity of China's many ethnic minorities, demonstrating that China is not as homogenous as I have indicated. I sincerely appreciate all of these comments.

Lastly, I wrote this piece because the subject has been bothering me for a long time. I have had many conversations about racial discrimination, or have heard people discuss it in private, but I have not encountered many articles published on this issue. Is this to save face? I don’t know. But it is an important issue and it worthy of public discussion.