Posted on June 17, 2008

Is China Ready for Barak Obama?

Robert Vance, China Teaching Web, June 17, 2008

“I don’t have a problem with black people,” a Chinese student recently stated in one of my classes. “It’s just that I don’t understand their language or their culture very well.” {snip} But now that Mr. Obama has finally clinched the nomination, some of my students have been candidly sharing their opinions about African Americans and blacks in general.

Most Chinese people with whom I speak on the issue of race say that they “have nothing against black people.” But many of my friends and students do seem to ‘buy in’ to some of the stereotypes of black people that have always existed. For example, a student recently told me that she “is a little scared of black people” because they are big and strong. Others have said that their black English teachers teachers were always kind but they often smelled bad. Still other students have said they have never really met a black person so they have no opinion of them. A few have even asked me about whether or not there are more black people involved in crime in the U.S. than white people. {snip}

As a teacher, I always try to help my Chinese students to understand that such stereotypes are unfair and can be perceived as racist. I explain to my students that there are many African Americans who have achieved great success in the United States. {snip}

Why is it so difficult for them to conceive of a black man in charge of America? The answer is quite simple. When Chinese people think of America, they think of the color white. Chinese women use umbrellas in the sun to keep their pale skin while both Chinese men and women try to change their hair color to blond or at least something lighter. {snip}

The belief that racism is still very prevalent in China is another reason why some Chinese people have been ‘caught off guard’ by Obama’s success in the U.S. A young Chinese lady who was engaged to a foreigner told me recently that her parents were worried about her future in America because they had heard that “Chinese people’ and other minorities were treated as “third class citizens.” Whether or not such beliefs are true, many Chinese people are amazed that a minority person would ever have a chance at achieving the world’s most powerful position.

Some in China are willing to say of Obama words that few Americans would dare to utter in public. On Monday, an editorial in the the People’s Daily Online in China proclaimed that “one of the causes for the Western media to lavish overpraises onto Obama is owed to his (skin) color, and the other cause is the change that he may bring to American society.” This online newspaper, which speaks for the government, seems also to speak for the Chinese people. {snip}