Seeing Ourselves as Others See Us (Part 12,813)

As anyone who follows U.S. immigration law knows, the first big restrictive measure America imposed was the "Chinese Exclusion Act" of the 1880s. This was in reaction to the large-scale Chinese immigration to the U.S. to build the transcontinental railroads and in pursuit of other opportunities.

Yesterday, the House of Representatives passed a resolution formally apologizing for the Chinese Exclusion Act. As far as I can tell, this was not mentioned in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, or our other leading journals.

In the U.S. context, that's understandable -- the House passes all kinds of measures. But here is how it was received in China, according to an English-language digest of mainstream press coverage there that I have seen. I've boiled down some of the summaries:
 

U.S. House regrets Chinese exclusion history (pg 3)
Global Times/Huanqiu Shibao (Daily, circ. 1.5 mil):
On June 18, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed the N. 683 bill, formally apologizing for a series of Chinese exclusion acts including the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882.  After 130 years, the U.S. Congress has finally expressed regrets over its history of abusing and excluding China.  Zhao Maxim* who promoted the passing of the bill said this is a historic day.  I am pleased and honored.  Xue Haipei, a responsible for American Chinese National Committee, said the apology is a milestone for Chinese Americans.  This is belated,  just after 100 years...The spokesperson for Foreign Ministry of China also took a confirming  stance on the U.S. House's move.
 
Hope U.S. changes mentality from one hundred years ago (pg 14)
Global Times/Huanqiu Shibao (Daily, circ. 1.5 mil):
The United States has formally apologized for the Chinese Exclusion Act, passed more than one hundred years ago.  The U.S. Congress's resolution has been welcomed.  The issue told us that, until one hundred years ago, there was still a level of barbaric content in social policies in the West.  Is the West completely civilized today?  Maybe the most Western elites believe this way.  However, the mainstream Western value system still has had strong character of West centrism.  The U.S.'s attitude toward China is far from building on an objective evaluation system.  A large part of American elites have possessed prejudice.  U.S. public opinion often labeled China as a dictatorship but neglect internal reasons for China's robust development.  After many years, when future American elites look back, they might also find out the elites today have overdone things.  The U.S. Congress has also treated the world in the same selfish way as it did in history.  Despite the progress of mankind's political civilization as well as increasing respect for individual rights and ethnic groups, mankind's exploration to respect countries is still at a primary developing stage.  The U.S.'s bill on June 18 is worth applauding.  It represents the progress of mankind's rationality.
 
U.S. House of Representative apologize for Chinese Exclusion Act (pg A4)
Beijing Youth Daily/Beijing Qingnianbao (Daily, circ. 650,000):
Hong Lei, spokesperson of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that China has affirmed the U.S. House of Representatives' move.  As an immigration nation, the U.S.'s development is closely connected with various ethnic people including the Chinese in the United States.  The Chinese Americans should be fairly evaluated and respected.  Zhao Maxim* said in past 25 years there were only 3 apology bills being passed in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.  Thus the apology bill this time has created history for Chinese Americans.
 
U.S. House of Representatives apologizes for Chinese Exclusion Act (pg 21)
People's Daily/Renmin Ribao (Daily, circ. 2.4 million):
The U.S. House of Representatives passed the NO. 683 proposal and decided to apologize for the acts of excluding Chinese, including the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act.  The article pointed out that five days after the U.S. Senate apologized for the Chinese Exclusion Act last year, an act to force the RMB to speed up its appreciation was approved despite strong opposition internally and externally.   The article commented that the U.S. is still using beautiful words to cover its purposes of excluding China, restricting China politically and economically.
 
Regrets remain on the breakthrough of U.S. apologizing for "Chinese Exclusion Act" (pg A02)
The Beijing News/Xin Jing Bao (Daily, circ. 530,000):
Since the proposer of this act that requires the U.S. to apologize for the Chinese Exclusion Act only asked for an apology for the "behavior", not to the "people" who suffered from the Act, the current apology didn't involve claiming compensation for the damages that Chinese people and their subsequent generations suffered from the implementation of Chinese Exclusion Act.
 
U.S. House of Representatives apologizes for Chinese Exclusion Act (pgA23)
Beijing Morning Post/Beijing Chenbao (Daily, circ. 450,000):
The apology comes late.  However, it reflects the U.S. Congress officially recognized the bad history and unfair treatment to Chinese Americans.  Although it is late, this apology is still a positive step forward.  The U.S. Congress' apology is profound self-reflection conducted by American politicians about racial discrimination in the history, and also a significant victory for Chinese Americans fighting for fair treatment.  It is expected this late apology can heal some historical wounds and wipe out miseries in reality.
 
U.S. apologizes for Chinese Exclusion Act (pg 8)
Global Times - English Edition (circ. 168,000):
Judy Chu*, the only member of Congress of Chinese descent, proposed the legislation and described the legislative body's acknowledgement as a "major milestone."  "It is a remarkable moment, and shows that great nations like ours can learn from their mistakes and atone for them. The trauma of the Exclusion Laws left a permanent scar upon generations of Chinese-Americans," she told the Global Times in an e-mail. "I feel especially honored to have introduced this resolution as the first Chinese-American woman to have ever been elected to Congress."
 
U.S. apologizes for discriminatory laws (pg 11)
China Daily - English Edition (circ. 200,000):
The US House of Representatives on Monday unanimously expressed regret for the passage of discriminatory laws against Chinese immigrants to the United States, particularly the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.  Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said on Tuesday that China appreciates the apology, adding that the contributions by Chinese-Americans to US history deserve positive and due evaluation.  "The development of the US, an immigration country, cannot be separated from the endeavors and cooperation of many races, including Chinese-Americans," Hong told a daily news conference.

*Several of the stories refer to "Zhao Maxim" or "Zhao Meixin." These are the English versions of the Chinese name for Rep. Judy Chu, who was the major force behind the bill. Overall moral: it's a big world, and it is really hard to imagine how different the focus of attention elsewhere might be, compared with what preoccupies us.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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