Yellow-faced discrimination all too common

I came back to my homeland with perhaps a naive sense of nationalism and pride in my heritage.

Chinese nationalism is strong. It means that waves of people band together Oct. 1, singing to the rising flag. Inside this rather hollow national identity lies the ugly face of discrimination. It is this face that strikes me the most as a Chinese American visiting my homeland.

Last week, a friend shared a grueling story with me. As an English teacher at a prestigious Chinese university, she suffers from one ailment: The color of her skin is yellow.

As a full-blooded Chinese American who speaks fluent Mandarin, she is treated as a second-rate foreigner. While her white colleagues received bouquets of flowers from their students on Teacher’s Day, she received glares of mistrust from students and staff alike. Why is she teaching English? Isn’t she Chinese, as the rest of us?

Indeed, she was lucky to have received a job as an English teacher in China through a U.S.-based exchange program, which, ironically, did not discriminate against her.

The majority of Chinese Americans are not so lucky. One U.S.-born Chinese student was bluntly rejected for a teaching position while the hiring officer chased after a white student from Scandinavia who did not even speak English. This seems absurd to me. Yet it is the reality of a phenomenon that extends far beyond this microcosm of English-teaching in China.

Gender, age and class discrimination are entrenched in the developing Chinese society. Migrant workers suffer daily humiliation from city dwellers. Middle-aged women find themselves replaced by 20- and 30-year-olds for a sales position. Women of all classes still, for the most part, work under male bosses.

Chinese students studying abroad in the United States often complain of being discriminated against by their white colleagues or the university staff. Many graduate students suffer under the hands of tyrannous advisers who milk free labor off of them and postpone their graduations.

Yet, instead of protesting, the overseas Chinese often redirect the discrimination toward other minority groups, especially blacks. Oftentimes, they avoid living in the same neighborhood as blacks. They shy away from Hispanic immigrants.

I wonder if this chain of discriminatory attitudes finds its root in mainland China. I came back to my homeland with perhaps a naive sense of nationalism and pride in my heritage.

What I discovered was a rather disappointing reality. In China, being yellow-faced can sometimes mean swallowing insults while the white student standing beside you is enjoying an immense popularity boost and is licking your ice cream cone.

Diana Fu is a University student studying in China for one year. She welcomes comments at [email protected]