Culture Quiz: Who Is More Chinese?
In the current political climate being called “a friend to China” can sound like a meaningless platitude. Or not. In China, most concepts are related to context or what’s going on, and are situational rather than fixed.
The question of who is a friend, and even who is Chinese, can be a matter of practicality and open to change or revision as needed – to meet, justify or advance business or political goals.
To absorb this key principle of working with China – the idea of context and situation being extremely important – read through the six bios below, keeping in mind the question “Who is more Chinese?”
- Gary Locke. A former US Ambassador to China who served as the US Secretary of Commerce in the Obama administration. Locke is a third generation American of Chinese descent. He did not live in China prior to his ambassadorship; does not speak Mandarin; does speak a variant of Cantonese.
- Jon Huntsman. Another former US Ambassador to China, who sought nomination as the Republican party’s US Presidential candidate. Huntsman lived in China for 20 months as ambassador and in Taiwan for two years as a Mormon missionary. He speaks Mandarin and has an adopted daughter from China.
- Takeshi Kaneshiro. Actor and musician known for playing Chinese heroes in Chinese historical epics Red Cliff, House of Flying Daggers, and The Warlords. Kaneshiro is a Japanese citizen, born and raised in Taiwan: father is Japanese, mother is Taiwanese. He speaks Mandarin, Taiwanese, Japanese, Cantonese, and English.
- Pearl S. Buck. American author and missionary of European descent. Prior to receiving the 1932 Pulitzer Prize for The Good Earth, Buck spent most of the first 45 years of her life in China and learned Mandarin before learning English. She is acclaimed for “demythologizing China and the Chinese people in the American mind”. Her books increased sympathy and support for China, in opposition to Japan, during the second World War.
- Da Shan. Canadian-born television performer and Chinese media celebrity of European descent—also known as Mark Rowswell. A very well-known “foreigner” in China, Rowswell promoted numerous products, services, and causes locally. He is recognized by hundreds of millions of Chinese viewers for hosting Chinese New Year specials and other CCTV programming.
- Amy Chua. Lawyer and author known for touting the benefits of “traditional” Chinese parenting style in Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Chua was born and educated in the US. Her parents are Filipinos of Chinese descent. Chua has never lived in China, and reportedly does not speak Mandarin or other Chinese dialects.
So, are you ready for the answer to to “Who is more Chinese”? Common to many questions about modern China the answer is: “It depends!” The related business principle is that EVERYTHING IS SITUATIONAL.
- If being Chinese is based on ethnicity and family legacy, Gary Locke and Amy Chua are ahead; Takeshi Kaneshiro gets half credit on his mother’s side. Huntsman has a Chinese daughter.
- If Chinese-ness is based on Chinese language capability, Chua loses; Kaneshiro is ahead based on number of Chinese dialects. Gary Locke loses ground by knowing only the “Taishan” dialect; the others know Mandarin.
- If living in China is a quality of being Chinese, Pearl S. Buck and Da Shan are on top, followed by Huntsman. However, none are ethnically Chinese.
- If producing monetary gain and positive cultural exposure for China is the criteria, Da Shan, Buck and Kaneshiro are more “Chinese”; Locke may end up being seen as “the least Chinese” depending on the long view of US-China foreign policy and trade relations.
Because most issues and answers are situational, the best strategy is to understand why a question is being asked in the first place. In China, decisions and actions are very utilitarian, with practicality being the guiding principle. Knowing the context is critical to coming up with the best/most workable answer. If you do not have experience in China or with Chinese culture and language, it can be hard to figure out.
Without knowing why a question is being asked, or what the context is, resist giving an absolute response that may haunt you in the future. Just smile, remember the question about “Chinese-ness” and say “it depends.”
Blue Heron Holdings provides advisory services, executive briefings, and global leadership development for organizations competing in the US-China arena. For more about how to succeed in China, review our free articles or contact us directly.