Twofish's Blog

December 16, 2006

Comments on belonging and diaspora

Filed under: china, globalization, personal — twofish @ 6:59 pm

I like the term diaspora Chinese.  Part of the reason why is that diaspora invokes the Jews which have a lot of commonality with Chinese.

One thing that the article mentions is the tendency for diaspora Chinese to do what I call “put Chinese culture into a glass case.”  You take a perfect vision of pure Chinese culture and put it into a museum case.  The trouble with doing this is that you no longer have a living culture, and you end up with something that is unconnected with the living.

I’ve tried to avoid doing this, and I seem to have been one of the few American-born Chinese for which the concept of “China” is a living concept rather than a dead stuffed animal in a museum case.  When I think of “China” I think of current events that are happening on the web, the reform of the securities market for example.

One advantage of pulling a culture out of the museum case is that no only does it live and breath, but you can also change it.  One of the benefits of being “Chinese” or “American” or anything else is that you have the power to change what the term means, and even without consciously realizing or intending to, you will change the meaning of the term by your actions.  I’ve created new “Chinese” food by putting Mexican salsa on my steamed dumplings.  When a closed fixed definition of “Chinese” this isn’t possible, but a closed fixed definition of any culture is doomed to kill it.

One example of this is how I influence my kids.  It is very important for them for them to define “Chinese” in a way so that the have ownership of the concept, rather than relying on my definition or those of my parents.  They know more about Chinese cartoon characters than I do, and then have parts of “China” and “Chinese” that are not in my experience.  This is important for a culture to adapt and change and grow.

Moving this from the cultural to the political.  The idea of “one China, different interpretations” is something that I think will allow some stability in Mainland-Taiwan relations.  The sticking point of this formula has always been what does “one China” mean.  I don’t think that this is quite the right question, the question is not what does one China mean, the question is “what do you want it to mean?” and that might be different from person to person.


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