So Much More on the 'Chinese Professor'!

By James Fallows

Recently I quoted a testy reader who thought it "racist" of me to say that Chinese-Americans looked richer and better-fed than their distant cousins who had grown up in mainland China. Now, three followups.

1) I'm right! A Western reader reinforces the idea that there are easily visual cues for knowing who grew up where:

>>You can count me on your side in the argument that there are subtle differences that signal an ethnically Chinese person who was not raised in China. You mentioned better teeth or skin, as a result of better nutrition, or hairstyles. You can add clothing style to your list of attributes that send abroad vs. mainland signals. But also, as an American living in Beijing now for 2.5 years, I'd also say it's just in the way a person carries himself.

The best way to spot the differences is on the subway, when small differences will stand out in stark contrast to the norm. In my first year in Beijing, while riding the subway, I would sometimes see a person that had the "je ne sais quoi" of a fellow American. I wouldn't think too much more about it until I would hear that person speak - in perfect American English. At first I was surprised when I realized I had recognized an American who by all accounts looked just like the other hundred or so Chinese waiting on the platform or stuffed into the subway car with me. I guess small differences in hair, teeth, clothes, and hairstyle may have added up to a pretty big difference that triggered my subconscious. But there's something else in the posture, or the walk, or the way Americans just kind of carry themselves in a public venue. It's hard for me to put my finger on it. I used to surprise myself at my ability to pick an American-born-Chinese out of a crowd, but now that I realize how easy it is, it's no longer a cool parlor trick.<<

2) The Extras in the Ad. I mentioned the last time around that I wasn't sure how the Asian-American college students who served as extras in the "Chinese Professor" ad felt about serving a larger "Yellow Peril" purpose. A reader graciously pointed me to the Racialicious site, quoting from Angry Asian Man, with an account from an extra in the shot:

>>It was filmed at a community college (NOVA in Alexandria VA) and when we got there, the production team did tell us about the ad, but in a misconstrued kind of way. I know that the ad was about the US deficit and they did tell us the premise of the ad (taking place in the future, and we all supposed to be "Chinese" students in a lecture). I saw the commercial and it's pretty intense and one thing I did not know that the commercial would do, is put this almost red-scare type of fear in the eyes of Americans (effectiveness wise, the political ad works, not saying I agree with the tactics) [JF note: that was my original point about the ad].

What's interesting is that the production team told us that we would all be laughing in the commercial because the "Chinese Professor" said something funny, so there were multiple shots where we all "laughed" after the "Chinese Professor" said his so called, "joke."<<

3. The IPA Angle. Picking up the gauntlet of my challenge to find a "better class of angry-letter writers," a reader in Singapore writes with his own degree of wroth:

>>How dare you, sir, put a nearly full-page picture of a Sierra Nevada Torpedo on your page? You should know that there are thousands of expats suffering the absence of hops in Asia. In Singapore it's particularly bad, because there are a few decent microbrews, but you have to pay US$10 a pint and you can only get them at a few bars. If you want to drink beer at home, you're paying US$12 for a six pack of Tiger cans. You KNOW this!

That picture probably got at least a thousand mouths watering for something they can't get. Now that you're back in beer country, I hope that you're thinking about how to bring affordable hops to Asia. Or else at least put a NSFAE (Not Safe For Asian Expats) warning on future pictures of delicious, delicious IPA.<<

I do, in truth, know the reader's pain.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2010/11/so-much-more-on-the-chinese-professor/66071/