Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Mixed-Race TV Contestant Ignites Debate In China

From NPR's All Things Considered, a report by Louisa Lim:

President Obama's arrival in China on Sunday is being eagerly awaited by many people, especially one young woman in Shanghai. Lou Jing is of mixed race, with a Chinese mother and an African-American father. She became famous nationally after her participation in an American Idol-type program sparked a spate of vitriolic online racist abuse.

* * *

"When I was young, I didn't really know I was different from other people," she says. "It was only after entering the competition that I realized I was different from others."

The show drew attention to her background, which is very unusual for China. She was raised in a single-parent family by her Shanghainese mother, who is a teacher.
Her African-American father, whom she has never met, returned to the United States without even knowing he had conceived a child in China.

On air, her mother, Sun Min, said she had only ever had one conversation with Lou about her father. She described how her then-7-year-old daughter had asked about him. "I didn't answer and immediately started crying," Sun recalled. "From then on, Lou Jing never asked again." [Ya think?!]

In her two months on air, Lou was nicknamed the "Chocolate Angel" and the "Black Pearl" by the media. She wasn't bothered by these names, she says.

But online, the poison pens were venomous. Chinese posting messages on the Web criticized her skin color as "gross" and "ugly;" they called her shameless for appearing on television. The worst insults were reserved for her mother for having had a relationship with an African-American out of wedlock.

Lou and her mother are now suing one Shanghai newspaper for libel.

I heard the report while driving to school to teach my evening class -- very thought-provoking. I remember quite distinctly my students in Xiamen telling me that there was no problem of racism in China (I didn't believe them!) because of the racial homogeneity. In fact, this is what I wrote:
The discussion of racism was almost amusing, since China takes the firm position that there is no racial discrimination in China. That’s a pretty easy position to take when you have a mostly homogeneous society. But, I asked, how about the various minority groups in China. Would it be considered a problem if a Han (the majority ethnic group) were to marry a Miao (a minority group)? No, they said, most of the minority groups are so assimilated that there are few distinctions made any more.

I asked the students whether inter-racial marriage was considered a problem, and they assured me that it was not. I asked how their parents would react if they were to marry a Caucasian person. The men said this would be no problem, and as they were talking I could see the women laughing and whispering to themselves. So I asked them how their parents would react, and they said their parents would see it as a big problem. They would worry that the children were not Chinese, and would not be raised to understand Chinese values.
This story about Lou Jing makes the point that with increased openness, China will be confronting the issue of racism more and more in the future. And the stigma about out-of-wedlock birth is also going to be an issue that China will face more frequently in the future [remember the sex-ed story?]

[The audio won't be online until 7:00 p.m. ET, but the link to the written story, above, should give you access to the audio when it is available.]

3 comments:

osolomama said...

"I remember quite distinctly my students in Xiamen telling me that there was no problem of racism in China (I didn't believe them!) because of the racial homogeneity."

Uh, wouldn't racial homogeneity leads to racism if someone from another background showed up?

Oh, that's priceless.

AmericanFamily said...

It is funny that you are posting about this topic, because just today I ran across this article: http://bit.ly/1OJLT9

A biracial baby is such a big deal, the mom is doing interviews in the hospital? What the heck?

Though I must say, the title of the article is awesome:
Shanghainese girl gives birth to black baby, her parents ignore the matter

A Chinese Dad said...

Those comments on Luo Jing are sickening. China has not involved much in the last 20 years even though it has put up many skyscrapers and widened many roads. This story reminds me of a Japanese movie (Proof of the Man) in the mid or late 70's. A black/Japanese biracial young man came to Japan to look for his biological mother after being abandoned by his mom at a young age in the U.S. His mother, now a famous fashion designer, did not want to acknowledge him. She had him killed in order to hide her past. This is the song of the biracial man. For some odd reason, every Chinese growing up in China in the 70's was touched by this movie and can forever remember this song.

I hope Luo Jing will get some justice.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yUk6UePKyTA

Mama, Do you remember the old straw hat you gave to me
I lost the hat long ago flew to the foggy canyon yeh
Mama,I wonder what happened to that old straw hat
Falling down the mountain side Out of my reach like your heart

Suddenly the wind came up
stealing my hat from me yeh
Swirling whirling gusts of wind
blowing it higher away

Mama,that old straw hat was the only one I really loved
But we lost it,no one could bring it back
Like the life you gave me

Suddenly the wind came up
stealing my hat from me yeh
Swirling whirling gusts of wind
blowing it higher away

Mama,that old straw hat was the only one I really loved
But we lost it,no one could bring it back
Like the life you gave me
Like the life you gave me