Friday, February 9, 2007

Be sure you hate them for the right reason

There is a funny side story that accompanies the release of the Chinese movie, Getting Home. In one scene, famous Chinese comedian, Guo Degang, plays a robber who hijacks a bus. Just recently a random Chinese blogger caused an internet storm when he castigated the Guo Degang for playing the bumbling criminal role with a Henanese accent. According to the blogger, linking criminal behavior to Henanese people plays on negative stereotypes and brings shame to the Henan province. Interestingly enough, there is no link to the original post, because the Chinese censors blocked it. However, there has been no shortage of commentary on other sites. Below is a piece by Lifeweek magaine editor and uber Chinese Blogger, Wang Xiaofeng. He helps us out by summing up all of the major regional negative stereotypes in China and lays out a curious theory comparing the status of Henan people in China to the status African Americans in the United States. His opinions about the role of black people in American cinema are clearly misinformed, but it’s interesting to hear a Chinese person make such a comparison. I have heard expats talk about similar things before, but the comparisons do not hold up if you examine them closely.

Nevertheless, I can attest to the fact that many Chinese people have some pretty nasty stuff to say about Henan and its people. It is weird to observe this regional discrimination from outside the loop.

We’re All Bad People

When Getting Home was released, some people had problems with it. A group of Henan folks asked the question: does not Guo Degang’s character, a bandit with a Henan accent, do damage to people’s image the Henanese people? I think it does. So why not switch the Henan accent to a Northeastern one? Because then the Northeasterners will get upset. How about Fujian dialect? Well, I’m sure that 99% of the world’s population would not understand it, but still the Fujianese people would get upset. Sichuanese? They would have none of it either. Try Shanghaiese. But, can you actually envision a soft-tongued Shanghai guy robbing somebody? Who could possibly believe a guy like that could actually rob a bus? Then change it to English. That way all Chinese people would feel comfortable, and there would be social harmony.

China has over 30 provinces and administrative regions. The people of every region have their own characteristics. We Northeasterners for example—I’m from the Northeast so I can talk about this. All you Northeasterners who read my blog do not start bickering with me. I think that only Northeasterners who leave the region can see Northeasterners’ bad traits. You don’t notice them when you still live in the Northeast.

Anyway, I’ve said bad things about Northeasterners on this blog before. Immediately after, I find comments like this: “You think you’re cool shit. Come find me and we’ll see how cool you really are.” This is a typical northeastern chorus line. It’s implication is really: "if you come to the Northeast looking for me, I’ll send you home in a casket.” The wolf of a Northeasterner is always found on his tongue, not in his actions. If you really went looking for one of them, they would be the first to kneel down and beg for mercy. There was once a criminal detective at the public safety bureau who said, “during suspect interrogations, Northeasterners are the easiest to handle. Scare them a little and they confess right away. People from Fujian, Guangdong, and Zhejiang are a lot harder to deal with. With them it becomes a real battle of IQs. They will only confess when there is no conceivable avenue left. So I like interrogating Northeasterners. There is a high rate of success in cases involving them.” This perfectly illustrates the Northeasterner's falsebravado. Of course, Northeasterners have many other faults; for example, fake loyalty, false hospitality, a preoccupation with face, a love of bragging, all talk and no work, laziness, and male chauvinism. All of these characteristics can be applied to Beijing folks as well, though one difference between Northeasterners and Beijing people is that Beijing people would never say something idiotic like, “Come find me and we’ll see how cool you really are.” But Beijing folks also like to bluster. If you take the Yellow River as a border, you would find that all northern peoples have the same types of shortcomings. Maybe this is taking it a little too far, but northerners are brainless. Why doesn’t the economy develop in the north? A lot of that has to do with the northern person’s personality.

Henan people have given the Chinese people a bad impression of themselves, and it has become a sensitive issue, especially in regard to this movie. If you speak a few words of Henan dialect it doesn’t mean anything. If you didn’t speak in Henan dialect, would it mean anything? But people do think that speaking in Henanese means something. It seems that Henan people in play the role of the black American in Chinese society. For example, in Hollywood movies blacks hardly ever play evil characters, and are only rarely given leading roles. If the image of black people is disparaged in movies or television programs, they will protest. So, the screenwriters and directors avoid causing trouble to protect their reputations and ticket sales. This shows that blacks in America are a disadvantaged population. There are problems with their popular image, and “political correctness” has emerged to balance out the public psychology. But I think that Henan people’s problems have not gotten so severe that we need political correctness to fix them. Think about it. If Guo Degang played this role as one of our country’s minorities, it would probably not have passed censorship. [Protection of ethnic minorities] is real Chinese political correctness.

Actually, the people of many regions are stereotyped or cartooned in our popular consciousness . If you mention Xinjiang people, the first thing that comes to mind is a street full of pick pockets. When you think of Cantonese people, you imagine a people obsessed with doing business. People know that stingy Shanghai folks would quibble over half a ticket of rice (referring to collectivist-era meal tickets). Northeasterners talk too much. Beijing folks are full of shit. Folks from Mongolia (not just ethnic Mongolians) are big drunks. Fujianese people are high-tech criminals. Hunan people are evil officials, and Hubei folks are wily and crafty. The Sichuanese are violent and aggressive. Considering all of these stereotypes together, you will discover that no one of us is better than the other. Sometimes we just like to pick on others’ weaknesses and ignore our own. If I had not left the Northeast, maybe I would view the Northeasterner’s shortcomings as virtues. If I had never left, I would still imagine that Beijing people were great.

The northeast has a lot of local sayings. Why has the word huyou or “talk nonsense” become popularized around the country? This is because it is part of the northeastern personality. But we northerners did not complain about Zhao Benshan [and his portrayal of Northeasterners]. That is because we consider huyou to be a virtue. You think that the low IQ skits that Zhao Benshan acted out during the Chinese New Year TV programs were planned? They contained the essence of the Northeastern personality.

So when you Northeasterners finish reading this, don’t pretend to be threaten to me. Hunan folks, you don’t need to feel put out. We’re all bad.


hcduvall said...

I find it interesting that the writer would chose to compare stereotypes based on region and provicincialism with that of race, though the power of, and coverage, of American race issues makes it a much more eye-catching. Actually, I find it interesting whenever terminology cultivated from otuside sources pops pup in columns, foreign or not. I await the day when "political correctness" as a phrase is neutered of even its perjorative connotations, so we can start discussing people's protective impulses to their identity with putting it in quotes, and summed with "shucks, we all got it".

HoBs said...

My brother's favorite song from Avenue Q (which I havne't seen yet) but he sing's all the time... "Everyone's a little bit racist"