Edmund Hillary and the New Zealand Chinese Media

Sir Edmund Hillary died yesterday morning.

For the past 24 hours the New Zealand media has been full of tributes, summaries of his achievements, reactions from around the world, various miscellaneous interest stories. Some might call it overdone, but it isn’t like he’s done this before, so lets let the media go to town. If talk-back radio is anything to go by the interest is out there. Since he passed away there has been little else on the airwaves besides people ringing in and sharing stories and thoughts. OK, there has been a little bit of silly stuff (replacing Waitangi Day with Hillary Day can only seem a good idea if harmonious race relations bore you), but mostly it’s been a feel-good media fest.

So far the New Zealand Chinese media is a glaring exception though.

This morning the newspapers got their big chance to run the story. Lets compare today’s New Zealand Herald (probably the closest thing New Zealand has to a national newspaper) with the New Zealand Chinese Herald (its Chinese language sister publication) [UPDATE: It appears the publications are not related. The story seems a bit complicated and I have not bothered to find out the truth.  They may have been related initially, but the New Zealand Chinese Herald is now separate.].

The New Zealand Herald led with the headline story “Happy Ending to a Life of Heroic Feats and Care for Fellow Man”. That was supplemented by an editorial, two pieces by columnists, and something like 13 supplementary stories. This count was based on the paper’s website, and it is possible that one or two of the supplementary stories didn’t make it into print, or that they were put on the site later in the day – it is already Saturday evening now.

The New Zealand Chinese Herald led with the headline story “U.S. Sub-Prime Lending Storm Reaches New Zealand” (美國次貨風暴進襲紐西蘭). The story details the increased cost of borrowing facing home buyers. Honestly. . . What the fuck?

Today’s New Zealand Chinese Herald contains not a single news story on Sir Edmund Hillary. The local news stories are as follows: “Farmers are Prepared to Deal With La Nina”; “Teenage Girl Escapes Abductor”; “Adventure Cavers Criticized for Lack of Professionalism”; “Japanese Tourist Ordered to Pay NZ$10,000 to Family of Deceased”; “Almost 6,000 Dangerous Drivers Still on the Roads”; “Policeman and Superiors Accuse One Another of Neglecting Duties” (a bad translation on that one sorry); and finally and most unfortunately, “Is it Really Possible to get into New Zealand without a Passport?” (不用護照就能進入紐西蘭?).

All of those stories are supposedly written by the publication’s own reporters, of which there are several judging by the various names that appear. This is not a publication that simply lifts the English news from the previous day and translates it into Chinese. Well maybe that is what they do, but it is not how they present themselves.

So the casual reader of the New Zealand Chinese Herald for Saturday 12 January 2008 would have no idea that Sir Edmund Hillary had died, though they may have decided that the rejection of Auntie Liu’s visa application is no biggie after all. More thorough readers would find an obituary for Hillary tucked away on the editorial page in Section D . The obituary took up about a quarter of a page and was a very standard piece, simply listing the main facts of Hillary’s life, without any real thoughts on his significance to New Zealand or other opinions from the editor.

The obituary did contain one detail that I don’t think the English language media picked up on despite devoting far more space to the story. Apparently, a Chinese sculptor named Chen Weiming (陳維明) was commissioned to produce a statue of Hillary over a decade ago. This detail was simply added as a sentence after the obituary. There were no details on where the statue was (it might be the Orewa statue since the one at Mt. Cook is only five years old). The editor hadn’t tried to track down the sculptor to get a comment, mentioned why they got the job, or expanded on who they were. Perhaps Chen Weiming is a household name in China, but I have never heard of him and wouldn’t have minded knowing more. There was nothing about whether the statue had started to attract wreaths or other tributes. By stretching the statue business a little more she could have created a Chinese angle on the whole story; but no, the statue detail just sat there like an incomplete afterthought.

Another more obvious Chinese angle could have been that Mt. Everest is sort of a Chinese mountain. The mountain’s Chinese name is 珠穆朗瑪山, and Everest Base Camp is located in Chinese territory.

Of course the most obvious Chinese angle of all would have been that Hillary’s climbing partner Tenzeng Norgay was not a Nepali, or a Sherpa, but an ethnic Tibetan from what is now China. Tenzeng grew up in a Sherpa region of Nepal after his family emigrated there, but he was an non-Sherpa outsider in that society, having been born in Tibet to Tibetan parents. Given that Tenzeng had grown up a cultural outsider, in a border region before the surrounding nations formalized their borders, he was in a sense stateless. Following the Everest success the Indian PM Nehru decided Tenzeng was the sort of hero who could be useful in building the Indian nation, and offered to formalize his hazy legal status by the grant of Indian citizenship together with generous patronage. Tenzeng thus gained the financial security he desperately wanted for his family, but also had plenty of reasons to keep his ‘Chinese’ origins quiet. He would raise his children (all to Sherpa women) as Sherpas rather than Tibetans.

Admittedly it’s a literal borderline case, given that Tenzeng was born in a remote border region of Tibet, at a time when Chinese control over Tibet was nonexistent, and back when national borders didn’t mean a great deal anyway. However, the Chinese rant endlessly about Tibet being an indelible part of the Glorious Chinese Motherland, the Tibetans being their brother race (subordinate of course), and so on, and therefore I can’t explain why this angle was overlooked in the New Zealand Chinese media. Most nations like to claim their heroes, and Tenzeng was a remarkable partner to Hillary who the Chinese have a claim to.

Much like Hillary, Tenzeng was an ordinary guy who overcame a humble background to achieve worldwide fame through his skills, determination, endurance, and perhaps a spot of luck with the weather. His story is very like that of Hillary, but sort of an Asian version.

The New Zealand Chinese Herald has embarrassed itself badly. After the papers came out this morning it was announced that Hillary would be getting a state funeral. So we now have a state funeral scheduled for Hillary, but the ‘news team’ at the New Zealand Chinese Herald has yet to report the guy dead!

This group of ‘journalists’ have assigned the most famous New Zealander (the only one who features on the currency – how did that one pass them by?) to the ‘irrelevant to our Asian readership’ category, despite his most celebrated achievement being done in partnership with one of the most famous Asians (and arguably ‘Chinese’) of the 20th Century. Incredible. Presumably these guys draw salaries. They don’t deserve them.

When I picked up the Chinese Herald I initially thought that their printing schedule must be too early to run the Hillary story. Or maybe the staff were so out of touch with the rest of society that they were unaware of the news? The journalists at the Chinese Herald can’t spell Dominion Rd. (they favor the more exotic ‘Domainion Rd.’) despite the fact that their readers either rent or own most of it, so nothing is impossible. But the editor was aware that Hillary had died and had sufficient time to write an obituary before she put the paper to press. Her editorial has a note attached saying it was written in the early evening, so the publication had at least half a day to react to the story.

Despite being aware of the news then, the editor was happy to let the Saturday paper go out with a headline on the cost of borrowing? Did she have no sense of her responsibility to inform her readers of the day’s big story? Didn’t she consider that by leading with interest rates when a national hero had just died she might be making the Chinese community look a little insensitive, ignorant, insular, and errr. . . money-obsessed?

Surely a major function (among others of course) of minority language media is to relay current news and help members of minorities understand the societies they live in? How could the New Zealand Chinese Herald treat a major news story, and a very easy one (i.e. uncontroversial and simple to research), so stupidly and unprofessionally? They didn’t even have the imagination to make the story directly relevant to the Chinese community, despite the enormous potential to do so.

I haven’t seen any of the other Chinese papers yet. Hopefully they have done better. You don’t expect blanket coverage, but surely this has to be front page news?

11 Responses to “Edmund Hillary and the New Zealand Chinese Media”

  1. Song Lam Says:

    Thanks for your concerns and comments on last Saturday’s Chinese Herald, in fact I myself was also very disappointed to see the insufficient information on this great NZders’ death. Apart from my own article, there was nothing mentioned on the paper about Sir Edmund not even an obituary for him.

    I must stress I am not the editor but only a voluntary contributor for the Chinese Herald. You may be surprised to learn that all columnists for all Chinese papers in NZ are voluntary and purely for interest and I am one of them.

    The editor offers me a personal column on Saturday (every fortnight), the deadline of my first column of 2008 was 5pm Friday Jan, so I have to get ready /prepare all articles by the Friday afternoon.

    On Friday morning I learnt about Hillary’s death, I was shocked and keen to do some research on him, finally I translated and wrote an article which was the one that you read and had concerns about in Section D. (a very standard piece, simply listing the main facts of Hillary’s life, without any real thoughts on his significance to New Zealand…)
    I wish I could do more on this topic but regretfully I could not due to limited time. In fact I ‘ve withdrew one of my prepared article and asked the editor to replaced that one.

    On behalf of the Chinese Herald, I appreciate your criticism and valuable thoughts, it is surely good to the Chinese media, editor and journalists, also thanks for sharing with me your wonderful Blog, I enjoy reading it and will certainly be a regular visitor in the future.

    The statue of Hillary has been displayed in Hillary Square of Orewa more than ten years, the Chinese sculptor Chen Weiming (陳維明) lives in the USA at the moment and you may like to contact him on 001-646-8536648 for more details.

    I’ve rung the editor Jerry who promised to have a full page coverage with our great hero Sir Edmund on the Tuesday issue.

    Finally let me express my heartfelt condolence to Lady June and her family.

    Once again thank you for choosing to read the Chinese Herald and my column, you are more than welcome to visit my Blog as well.
    Blog: http://www.365nz.com/linshuang

    Song Lam/Lin Shuang 13-1-08

  2. seamus Says:

    Thanks for commenting Song Lam.

    I guess I didn’t realize the limited resources you guys work with, so apologies if I was a little harsh. Also, I wasn’t quite sure about who the editor was so sorry for the confusion on that front too.

    I will look forward to reading your Tuesday issue. I read the NZ Chinese Herald a fair bit. Not every issue but once a week or so.

    If would be interesting if you guys explored the Tibetan origins of Tenzeng Norgay. I am still trying to find out if he was ever promoted in China as one of their own heroes. Maybe the information on his origins just never really got out there.

    Will check out your blog too.

  3. 洋人讀者對先驅報的鞭策 - 阿爽-大视界 Says:

    [...] Edmund Hillary and the New Zealand Chinese Media [...]

  4. Potato Says:

    謝謝您對中文媒體的關注。既然您可以讀懂中文,而我的英文書寫又不夠好,請您原諒我使用中文留言。在此,想和談談我對Ed Hillary先生的認識。

    我通過新西蘭主流媒體,瞭解了很多Ed Hillary的生平事蹟,包括世界各國的反應。我感覺,他是個偉大的人,是個英雄,是位值得大家尊敬的紳士。但是,作為一個普通的在中國長大的中年人,我心目中的中國偉大人物太多了。
    除去因為政治需要宣傳的“英雄”,也不算在戰場上犧牲的士兵,中國過去50年在各個領域都湧現了世界聞名的偉大人物。科學界有華羅庚、童第周、陳景潤、陳章良、楊利偉(宇航員)等,藝術界有齊白石、徐悲鴻、梅蘭芳、錢鐘書、老舍、陳逸飛等,體育界有朱建華、郎平、李甯、姚明、劉翔等。在中國人的傳統觀念中,純粹挑戰自然極限的探險活動是沒有意義的,雖然近年也出現了幾個聞名世界的探險人物:唐師曾、柯受良、張建,但中國人對於探險人士是否是“英雄”確有很多不同觀點。

    蔫人張健坦然做英雄
    http://french.2007afdb.org/GB/channel7/498/20000816/189642.html
    Re: 真不明白張健算什麼英雄
    http://edu.stuccess.com/KnowCenter/Swimming/articles/jianwen/00000018.htm

    Ed Hillary先生除了探險外,在長達40多年的時間裏幫助了很多新西蘭、尼泊爾的普通人,這是我最尊敬他的地方。不過,梁從誡、高耀潔、李昌平這些中國人為普通民眾所做的貢獻,已經在我心裏佔據了很大的空間。

    此外,將《中文先驅報》和《NZ Herald》相比,在我看來是很可笑的。就我所知,除了林爽所說的“volunteer”以外,(1)中文報紙是一個編輯(沒有記者)負責數個版面,英文報紙是幾個編輯記者負責一個版面;(2)中文媒體關於本地新聞的消息來源,80%依靠英文媒體,因為中文報紙是免費的,沒有錢去支持昂貴的採訪。不過,中文先驅報沒有及時報導時事,是失職。不過您的激烈反應,讓我有種被強迫接受新西蘭價值觀的不悅。是否您認為中國人必須關心的,我們就應該必須關心?

    我留言的目的很簡單:讓您知道一個普通的中國人在想什麼。因為您對中國人的誤解還是蠻多的。

  5. seamus Says:

    Potato,

    Apologies for writing English but if I write Chinese it will just take longer and there is more chance that some things may not be clear.

    First:

    I understand the the New Zealand Chinese Herald operates with far more limited resources than the English newspapers. I think it is great to have so many Chinese newspapers here in Auckland and I would hate to see them disappear. However, to be considered a newspaper (rather than a glorified advertising sheet) the New Zealand Chinese Herald should have responded better to last Friday’s situation. The news was big enough that it was obvious what needed to be done, the story was easy to write, and there was at least an afternoon to do the job in. The minimum appropriate response would have been a few lines placed in a prominent part of the news section. It was possible and should have been done. They messed up.

    Second:
    I am honestly a bit confused as to why you have listed a bunch of Chinese heroes and told me that you hold so many Chinese heroes in high regard that you don’t have space to bother with New Zealand heroes*. Obviously you are entitled to your views, but to me they are peculiar. Of course I have spoken to enough Chinese people over the last decade or so to have frequently encountered the type of self-absorbed mindset you display. Therefore while I find your views peculiar I am not at all surprised by them.

    Speaking for myself I found that spending the best part of a decade living in Taiwan and China actually opened my eyes to many new things, including new heroes. I didn’t find myself unable to pick up anything new because I was so burdened with all the valuable stuff I was already carrying. This probably means that either I am more open minded than you, or that China truly is a far more wonderful place than New Zealand.

    Third:
    Your suggestion that since Chinese people have not traditionally held adventurers in high regard it is natural for a Chinese newspaper not to report the death of a notable public figure who happened to be an adventurer is unreasonable. Sorry, but the bottom line is that this is a state funeral grade event. Of course it should be reported! Certain events are simply newsworthy.

    When I open a newspaper I usually find a host of stories that are either boring to me or that I don’t care about. While I might sometimes argue that these stories do not deserve to be in the newspaper, on the whole I just accept they are what make up the news. The point of the news is more to inform than to entertain. Regardless of what we might personally feel about Hillary, of course his death should be in the newspaper, otherwise the newspaper has not done its job.

    The point of what I wrote was not to demand that Chinese people care about Hillary. I was simply making some observations about the Chinese media in New Zealand. I realize that newspapers tailor the news they report to their readerships, and that the New Zealand Chinese Herald selects stories they judge will be of particular interest or informative value to the Chinese community. For Hillary’s death to be deemed insufficiently newsworthy for Chinese readers is surely worth observing, no?

    You suggest that I am attempting to force Chinese in New Zealand to adopt New Zealand values. That is not my intention at all. Whether they adopt New Zealand values is really up to them I guess. I am just observing.

    Having said that though, if the Chinese in New Zealand were so averse to New Zealand values that a non-Chinese criticizing the Chinese media for failing to report a major story involving a non-Chinese made them concerned that they were being forced to adopt New Zealand values, then I would think they had a problem. That is just another observation. Right now I am not convinced such a problem actually exists, and have no idea what should be done to solve it if it did exist, or even if it would be worth trying to solve.

    Fourth:
    You finish up by telling me that I “don’t understand Chinese people”. I may as well let you know that almost every time I have a disagreement with a Chinese person they will tell me that I either “don’t understand China” or “don’t understand Chinese people”. Sometimes they are probably right. However, even when they are clearly wrong they will still say this.

    A case in point would be a girl from Harbin I recently had a debate with about the whole ‘Taiwan problem’. I wasn’t trying to provoke her but Chinese from the PRC can be very sensitive about this stuff. A third person brought the topic up and things rapidly snowballed until myself and the girl were disagreeing. At the end of the conversation the reason for our disagreement in her mind was still simply that I “did not understand China”. In fact though she knew far less about the background to the current Taiwan situation than I did. She had zero knowledge of how Taiwan was originally colonized by Chinese emigrants, and how the Qing state had gradually extended its authority there. Being from the north she was even completely ignorant about the various dialect groups and ethnicities inhabiting the general Fujian area. The point here is not to show off my knowledge. A person like myself (living four years in Taiwan and having an interest in history and culture) could be expected to know something about the topic. The point is that in her mind, as a non-Chinese I could not possibly know more about some aspect of China than she did, since after all she was Chinese. I think that is a dangerous assumption to make.

    * You cast some doubt on whether Hillary was in fact a ‘hero’. I guess that is a philosophical and semantic question. Personally I don’t see applying that label to him as controversial. He was introduced to the world as a ‘hero’ back in the 1950s, and I guess the label sort of stuck, even as his charity work gradually came to represent more and more of who he was. Calling him a ‘notable public figure’ would probably be less controversial. However, ‘hero’ is shorter and easier, and since other people are using that term about him right now I think the term will do. Feel free to read it as ‘notable public figure’ if you prefer. I’m happy with either term myself.

  6. M.Y.W Says:

    I think Potato is missing the whole point of this. It’s not about arguing whether Sir Edmund is a ‘hero’ or not, besides, trying to argue about who is ‘more’ of a hero is totally subjective, there is no scale to which you can measure.

    I think the main point here is that Chinese NZ Herald is regarded as one of the best sources of Chinese media in NZ. In other words, readers should expect to be able to read about what is happening in NZ and the rest of the world whenever they pick up a copy of the newspaper.
    Isn’t that the purpose of a newspaper: to bring unbiased news to there readers?

    It would be irresponsible for a reputable newspaper circulating in New Zealand, albeit targeting a Chinese audience, to not report something which is newsworthy and relevant to people living in NZ.

  7. song lam Says:

    very good points!!

  8. Potato Says:

    Thank you all for your response.

    I have said “我通過新西蘭主流媒體,瞭解了很多Ed Hillary的生平事蹟,包括世界各國的反應。我感覺,他是個偉大的人,是個英雄,是位值得大家尊敬的紳士。” and “不過,中文先驅報沒有及時報導時事,是失職。”

    (1)在此次漏報重要新聞問題上,我一點兒也不想幫先驅報辯護。但在我理解,你的如此激烈的反應,顯然是覺得自己的感情受到了傷害。

    感情是培養出來的,即使在新西蘭的中國人,知道Ed先生才幾年的時間,怎麼可能有和他一起長大、或者一起變老的新西蘭人那麼深的感情?這就是我列出中國偉人的原因,因為你對他們沒有感情,即使你知道他們的功績和為人——你對他們的感知,和我對Ed先生的感知應該差不多,你不知道當這些中國偉人逝世的時候,誰得到的哀悼最多。

    我,以及相當一部分在新西蘭的中國人,所表現出來的沒有你們那麼深切悲痛的原因,大概如此。和什麼“西藏歸屬”毫無關係。這難道不是你對中國人的誤解嗎?

    (2)你寫:
    “Another more obvious Chinese angle could have been that Mt. Everest is sort of a Chinese mountain. The mountain’s Chinese name is 珠穆朗瑪山, and Everest Base Camp is located in Chinese territory. Of course the most obvious Chinese angle of all would have been that Hillary’s climbing partner Tenzeng Norgay was not a Nepali, or a Sherpa, but an ethnic Tibetan from what is now China.”

    “However, the Chinese rant endlessly about Tibet being an indelible part of the Glorious Chinese Motherland, the Tibetans being their brother race (subordinate of course), and so on, and therefore I can’t explain why this angle was overlooked in the New Zealand Chinese media. Most nations like to claim their heroes, and Tenzeng was a remarkable partner to Hillary who the Chinese have a claim to.”

    以我的理解,你把“大多數”當代中國人譏諷為被蒙蔽的、狂熱偏執的民族主義可憐蟲。這不是事實,也是我無法接受的。但是,出於善意的推測,我使用了“誤解”一詞。

    我不知道你在中國的10年是何時開始何時結束,我知道我現在如果一兩年沒去北京或者上海,就可能走錯路。中國是飛速發展的,不僅是高樓大廈,也包括思想。中國人,即使是生活在大陸的人,資訊管道仍然是非常廣泛的。雖然政府採取了更為嚴格的資訊管制,但是憑藉互聯網、憑藉到國外留學移民旅遊的人、憑藉廣泛的對外商務文化交流,中國人的觀念和視角,早就遠遠超出了“一黨專制”和“媒體喉舌”的範圍。

    回到對Ed先生逝世的反應問題。如果你真的對“真相”那麼感興趣,想知道中國人是怎麼看待這個問題的。你只要流覽中國的新聞網頁(第一條新聞發表於新西蘭時間1月11日20點),就會發現,即使是共產黨控制下的sina.com.cn,對丹曾的國籍(尼泊爾)和希拉蕊先生的功績,都是沒有二話的。在新聞後面的近20條評論中,16條表示敬仰和哀悼,1條調侃“希拉蕊登山有經過中國允許嗎”,1條罵那個調侃的人是“sb”,2條其他。這能否說明點兒什麼?難道不是你對中國人的誤解嗎?

    臺灣問題上,哈爾濱女孩說你“不懂中國”是沒有道理的,但是像我這樣知道臺灣現狀,也知道歷史真相的中國人,還是會說“你對中國人有誤解”。比如,對“中國/臺灣”問題敏感的,不僅是從P.R.C來的人,我就认识好几个从那個你認為很瞭解的臺灣來的人,他們對我把他們說成是中國人,反應非常激烈。臺灣問題多數時候是個政治問題,是國家安全問題,我不想討論,畢竟“屁股決定腦袋”。

    紐西蘭人本周是否也在討論要不要英國女王作元首的問題?我發現,kiwi的身份認同差別也很大。

  9. seamus Says:

    Potato,

    I read though your comments. Unfortunately I don’t have anything too intelligent to say in response.

    You seem to assume that I was personally hurt by the New Zealand Chinese Herald’s handling of the Hillary story. I was never personally hurt by the New Zealand Chinese Herald’s handling of the Hillary story. I simply found their handling of the story worthy of comment.

    You seem to have been personally hurt by my comments regarding the New Zealand Chinese Herald’s handling of the Hillary story. I don’t have any helpful suggestions for you on that front. I did apologize in advance to Song Lin for being harsh when I wrote to give her the link to my blog. The e-mail containing that apology was published in the New Zealand Chinese Herald. The spirit in which I wrote my piece should have been fairly clear. Finding my piece offensive is your personal choice.

    You still appear very anxious to prove that I really “don’t understand Chinese people”, and give examples from the Chinese media in China to prove this. My original comments were simply observations about the New Zealand Chinese Herald. If I had wanted to comment about the Chinese media in China (or about ‘Chinese people’ for that matter) then I would have done so.

    You seem to think that by discussing Tenzeng’s nationality I was intending to make a point about the status of Tibet or about China. I wasn’t. I simply think Tenzeng’s nationality is an interesting angle on the story given that he was arguably (provided you stretch things a little) Chinese. That fact that angle was not looked at is also interesting.

    You say that I make Chinese people (I guess that in this context you specifically mean PRC citizens) out to be “當代中國人譏諷為被蒙蔽的、狂熱偏執的民族主義可憐蟲”. I don’t think I said too much to suggest this in my original piece, since I was really talking about media. Actually though, I think I would agree with that description. Obviously there are many exceptions (many PRC citizens are not that way), but in general PRC citizens really do tend to behave like misinformed nationalistic bigots.

    Obviously the tendency is relative. Relative to New Zealand or Europe I’d say the tendency towards believing misinformation and displaying nationalism and bigotry is very strong in the PRC. If you compare the PRC to its Asian neighbors I’d say the PRC still displays this tendency but the contrast is less extreme (i.e. while the PRC is worse, Japan and Korea have similar problems in this area – i.e. not teaching reasonably unbiased history). Comparing the PRC to the United States you might say that the US also displays similar negative traits. The Iraqi war gives an example of the U.S. population supporting a declaration of war based on false information.

    To be fair my views of PRC citizens as bigoted are influenced by my having lived in Taiwan. While living in Shanghai I also dated a Japanese girl and that also probably didn’t help in this regard. Simply put, many PRC citizens react ‘negatively’ to me having lived in Taiwan, or to having a Japanese girlfriend, making me likely to have a disproportionately large number of ‘negative’ experiences with PRC citizens. Sometimes all it takes is for me to say the word ‘Taiwan’ or ‘Japan’ to a PRC citizen and the stupidity begins. If a PRC citizen asks me where I learned Chinese and I say I spent “four years in Taiwan and four in China”, they may aggressively interrupt to say “Taiwan is part of China!”. If I say I am on my way to meet a Japanese friend they may tell me that they “don’t like Japanese people”. Trying to have a conversation becomes stressful when people behave this way. One time I made the mistake of saying ‘Taiwan’ in the wrong context on a flight from Auckland to Hong Kong. The woman beside me spent the next nine hours telling me about how Taiwan belonged to China and how she was looking forward to seeing China invade Taiwan, and how happy she was that the police stood by and let hooligans vandalize the Japanese consulate in Shanghai because this showed that China was ‘strong’ (I was there myself that day by the way and saw exactly what happened, and to me it made China look like a complete joke). Me wearing a t-shirt with an ROC flag on it here in Auckland has been enough to provoke criticism from PRC citizens (complete strangers – twice!). The ridiculous thing is that the t-shirt was bought in a museum in Chongqing in the PRC (the Flying Tigers Museum), yet according to these people I shouldn’t wear it in Auckland. I could spend hours listing examples of this type of negative behavior.

    I don’t want to get into too much discussion of Taiwan. The whole area is too complicated. A couple of points though.

    - About the Harbin girl. I forgot to mention that I met her here in New Zealand where she has been living for at least six years or so. So she had very bigoted and narrow minded attitudes despite being one of these PRC citizens you talked about who should be so different because of an overseas education.

    - You said “但是像我這樣知道臺灣現狀,也知道歷史真相的中國人,還是會說“你對中國人有誤解”。比如,對“中國/臺灣”問題敏感的,不僅是從P.R.C來的人,我就认识好几个从那個你認為很瞭解的臺灣來的人,他們對我把他們說成是中國人”. Well, what can I say? You really do consider me to be extremely stupid don’t you? So 周星驰 (your logic reminds me of the script of one of his movies), do you want to explain how a group of Taiwanese referring to themselves as ‘Chinese’ is inconsistent with me ‘understanding’ Taiwanese?

    There is no time to go into the full stupidity of your statement but we could start with this:

    - Taiwanese referring to themselves as Chinese is not news to me. Taiwanese are citizens of the Republic of China after all so it should hardly be surprising. When I’m speaking Chinese I often apply the term 中国人 to Taiwanese too.

    - Of course I’ve also seen Malaysians, Singaporeans, Thais, Cambodians, New Zealanders and others refer to themselves as Chinese (i.e. 中国人). The term is often used very loosely. Strictly speaking I guess 中国人 should denote nationality (i.e. citizenship of a country). Often however it is used loosely to denote ethnicity and culture (where 华人 might be more appropriate). Therefore there is not necessarily any political meaning attached to the term.

    - There is obviously a diversity of opinion in Taiwan. This is so obvious do I really need to say it?

    - Pointing missiles at people can influence what comes out of their mouths.

    - Many New Zealanders who had never visited Britain used to call Britain ‘home’. It is normal for citizens of colonies to sometimes adopt identity labels from the mother country. Taiwan has a history of colonization (first by Chinese immigrants from China, then a weak Qing government, then a strong Japanese government, then a corrupt KMT government). So what does Taiwanese labeling themselves Chinese really mean? Until recently many of the older generation labeled themselves Japanese. Now that generation is mostly dead. On the other hand you now have a younger generation (say under 25s) many of whom prefer to use the label Taiwanese. There are multiple labels.

    - How people use identity labels in Taiwan is a hugely complex area. There are all kinds of subtle forces at play here. . . I dated an aboriginal girl (原主民) and would regularly be corrected by Han (汉族人) for referring to her as Taiwanese (台湾人). They would tell me she was Chinese (中国人) not Taiwanese. But sometimes the Han who corrected me on this point (i.e. exactly the same individuals) would later refer to themselves as Taiwanese (台湾人). Think about the logic of that. The aboriginal must be referred to as ‘Chinese’ (because that makes the Han feel comfortable and in control? because by calling her ‘Chinese’ they kindly imply she is a civilized member of society and not a barbarian? because Hokkien speakers want exclusive use of the label ‘Taiwanese’?), while the Han can call themselves ‘Taiwanese’ if they choose. Absurd. . . the original Taiwanese become ‘Chinese’, and the later Chinese arrivals become ‘Taiwanese’. Why do I mention this convoluted example? I mention it to demonstrate the complexity of how these labels are used in Taiwan, and how prejudice works in all kinds of directions, but often from the larger group trying to impose its values and labels on the smaller group. I also mention it to demonstrate that no example you comes up with in regard to the use of identity labels in Taiwan is likely to be news to me. I have seen and heard it all before.

    You have managed to pull out one thing that I don’t understand though. That would be your expression “屁股決定腦袋”. I asked half a dozen young Chinese on MSN what it meant and nobody could answer me. Maybe this really does mean that I “don’t understand Chinese culture”? Never mind. I am probably in good company since many Chinese also seem confused.

  10. seamus Says:

    I did some more research on the phrase “屁股決定腦袋”. After reading it in a few different contexts online I see what you mean.

    Personally I think it doesn’t think it is much of an argument. I’m aware that there would be benefits to the PRC in controlling Taiwan, just as there are benefits to the PRC in controlling other border regions of the defunct Qing Empire.

    I mean you could apply the same argument to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. “The U.S. had to invade Iraq to protect America against terrorists and secure its energy supplies.” Many Americans believe this. Morally they are worms.

    Also, your whole phrasing of the Taiwan question as a ‘national security’ question contains a serious contradiction. If the Taiwanese truly are part of the happy Chinese family then why would there be a security risk from them remaining independent? If China must control Taiwan to deal with a security risk then are the Taiwanese really part of the happy Chinese family?

  11. MyLaowai Says:

    For what it is worth, the Chinese media in China made no mention that I could find of the fact that Sir Edmund Hillary had died.

    There was a mention of it in a Taiwanese paper, though it wasn’t a major headline.

    I learned of it on CNN (may God have mercy on my soul), and the story was picked up around the world in many of the major papers.

    I guess it’s just a question of which nations’ heroes matter to whom. I’m guessing if Sir Edmund had been a rebel who fought to overthrow the legally elected government of his country, and who died when a truck ran over him while he was washing his socks, like Lei Feng for instance, then he would have made the headlines in China. Of course, people like that aren’t the type to do heroic deeds such as climbing the world’s greatest peak.

    But hey, whatever floats your boat, right?

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