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April 5, 2004

Chinese Generalizations


by Sascha Matuszak

In my last column, I made some broad generalizations about Chinese and China.

One of the points of the column was to show that Chinese businessmen make decisions based on guanxi. Any businessman or any foreigner for that matter has a collection of stories about the power of guanxi in China.

The other point is that China and Europe have a new, but very promising, relationship.

Taken together, my aim was to show that China's image (however incomplete it may currently be) of Europeans is a rosy one and will have repercussions, especially economically.

Unfortunately, I did not make these points very clear. Instead, I shrouded them in quasi-ironic generalizations.

Here is why:

In Sichuan, broad declarative statements about China, Sichuan and guowai (outside of the country) are matters of discourse.

I have grown accustomed to walking into a room full of distinguished businessmen, wearing Barberry, Gucci and driving BMWs, announcing that I am German, and having two or more gentleman stand up, give the NAZI salute and yell "Heil Hitler!" I am assumed to be smart, because the German Race is a skilled race. I am assumed to be diligent and taciturn, for Germans resemble Tolkien's dwarves. If I do not display these characteristics strongly and boldly, I am deemed to be a "strange German."

If I announce that I am American (I carry both passports), I am characterized as culturally inept, arrogant and individualistic, but very friendly and down to earth. Badao is a word often used, which means something like bold yet arrogant at the same time. With a dash of heedlessness.

I could go on about the various stereotypes placed on Chongqingese, Shanghainese, French, Africans etc.

Of course this does not mean that all Sichuanese refer to the world around them in bland and tired stereotypes. What it means to me is that Sichuanese are confirming a few things for themselves, namely their own identity within the context of a rapidly changing environment.

I live in this environment. Every day I answer questions that begin with "You foreigners " and end with "We Chinese "

Certain images built up concerning "America," "France," "Italy," "Japan" "us" and "them" in Sichuan and what these images mean for Sino-World interaction should have been the crux of the column. Instead, it seems as if I was insinuating that Chinese are backward and simple.

Specifically, I tried to tackle Sino-European relations, guanxi and the complicated process of identity building in post-Opening Up China.

I didn't pull it off.

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  • Sascha Matuszak is a freelance writer living in Chengdu.

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