To critique and be critiqued

Contrary to what readers might think, I am having a fascinating time in China.

This last week, I have been hounded by many overseas Chinese students and professors alike, chasing after me with ax and pixel to protest my previous two articles. After seriously reviewing their critiques and rethinking my position, I’ve decided to share my observations. There are three issues at stake here: a play of identities, patriotism and the essence of a newspaper column.

At first, I was shocked to see that some Chinese students at the University took such serious offense to the article I wrote about my personal experience at dance class. I had intended the article to be a lighthearted, humorous account of an episode of culture shock. It was in no way disrespectful or malicious. I find it very interesting many Chinese students thought my little anecdote about a few funny-looking dancers had the power to disgrace an entire ethnicity.

Upon second thought, I realized it was not the description of dancers, but the projection of China and its people, that angered my Chinese readers. Herein lies a battle of identities.

The angered individuals were definably “full-blooded Chinese,” born, raised and educated in China. How dare I, a Chinese American (an outsider), make fun of my host country when I must have only a “superficial” understanding of Chinese culture?

Basically, I have committed the double crime of 1) writing about China while I myself don’t “understand it,” 2) portraying a bad image of China to the “wai guo ren” or the “foreigners” – the non-Chinese students on campus and thus, causing the Chinese community to “lose face.”

But what these critics fail to realize is that mine is not a “superficial” understanding of China; it is merely a different, but nevertheless, legitimate understanding. My interpretation of discrimination by Chinese people against other Chinese people or against some other minorities is solely based on a conglomerate of my personal experiences.

It is not an objective fact, and I don’t claim it to be. I am a columnist, not an essayist. I am in no way obligated to portray China in a sugar-coated way. My only obligation is to be truthful to myself.

Certainly, I can understand some Chinese readers’ anger, because it is an anger that is aroused by a love for their motherland, or “ai guo zhi xing,” as we say it in Chinese. However, I would like to challenge my readers to question their own patriotism and its formation. Because I believe that all nationalism is a social construction, I don’t hold an allegiance to either China or the United States. In that sense, I am a free critic.

It is good to stop yourself when you read something that offends you and ask, “Why do I feel offended?” Is it because I am reading complete falsehoods, or is it that beneath all the rubbish, I feel there is a grain of truth, but don’t want to admit it or don’t feel comfortable when somebody else who doesn’t belong to my identity group reveals it?

Frankly, I find it ridiculous that some angered readers have begun to blame The Minnesota Daily’s editors for not censoring my articles while at the same time admitting that I have free speech. Censored columns are not columns at all; they are dictations. After all, should I request the Daily censor letters to the editor, based on the fact I find them disrespectful? Should the Daily start censoring articles advocating gay marriage because it is offensive to a good part of the population? Of course not!

I welcome and respect critique, even harsh ones. However, I will not accept unfounded attacks that misinterpret the very essence of column writing. Opinion columns are, by their very nature, subjective, biased and oftentimes offensive.

Finally, contrary to what some readers might think, I am having a fascinating time in China. As a study-abroad student, I try to soak in what I witness with a critical mind and a humorous heart.

What interests me the most about the country I was born in is neither the high sky scrapers nor the ever-expanding economy – all the macro-level developments that are always lauded in the newspapers.

It is the lives of the bike repairman downstairs, the thoughts of the elevator girl and my position as a privileged Chinese American that concerns me the most. When I hear that some Chinese people ask a black student to go “wash her hands,” it bothers me. And I’m not afraid to share these feelings with my readers. I am extremely proud to work with a team of editors at the Daily who clearly understand that the life of the opinion pages is controversy.

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