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a chinese perspective Arrow vol 3 no 3 contents
About borderlands Volume 3 Number 3, 2004

 


The Twain Must Meet This Time:
A Chinese Perspective on Deconstructing Anglo Superiority in Ambivalence


Wang Guanglin
Shanghai Institute of Foreign Trade

 

1. ‘They cannot represent themselves; they must be represented.’ This powerful comment, which first appeared in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte by Karl Marx, is used by Edward Said as the preface for his monumental work Orientalism and epitomizes quite forcefully Said’s critique of the imbalance of the power relations between knowledge and representation. While what Marx refers to is the fact that the peasants during French Revolution were infantilized before the ruling class and needed a master to be their protector, the quotation in Said’s context refers to the question of agency of the Orient, especially Arab and Muslim worlds, before the West. The Orient, according to Said, is a ‘European invention’, a ‘place of romance, exotic beings, haunting memories and landscapes, remarkable experiences’. (Said 1979:1) Orientalism is therefore a Eurocentric and hegemonic discourse that ‘can be discussed and analyzed as the corporate institution for dealing with the Orient—dealing with it by making statements about it, authorizing views of it, describing it, by teaching it, settling it, ruling over it: in short, Orientalism as a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient.’(Said 1979: 3) In this light, it gives us a picture of how the civilization of the East is raped and distorted in Western discourse. Easterners, in the eyes of the Westerners, are like a sheet of sands, quite undisciplined, and lack the agency to represent themselves, just like the peasants during French Revolution.

2. Said’s analysis, all-inclusive and ambitious as it is, is still based on the Western philosophy, as his sense of Orientalism is ‘based on an ontological and epistemological distinction made between the Orient and … the Occident.’(Said 1979: 2) In other words, the Occident was able to manage the Orient in every possible way. West is the center while East is the periphery; West, advanced, East, backward; West, civilized, East, autocratic. While his work pioneered the study of postcolonialism, the book itself is incomplete as a study on Orientalism, because it concentrates only on the Near East and left the Far East and Southeast Asia in the cold. While emphasizing the importance of Western hegemony and agency, the book does not examine the resistance by Eastern countries, for example China, which was able to withstand being fully colonized.

New Voices / post-colonial times

3. J.V. D’Cruz and William Steele’s new work, Australia’s Ambivalence towards Asia: Politics, neo/post-colonialism, and fact/fiction, might be viewed as an attempt to fill the gap left by Said, with an emphasis laid on the deconstruction of Anglo superiority in the Australian and in the broad Asian post-colonial environments. In other words, it shows the continuation of Western Orientalization of Asia and the new colonialism in Western discourse that is sugared under the veneer of universalism and liberalism, especially as they are manifested at present. Early on in the book, the authors state quite explicitly that ‘in this book, we point to prime egalitarian values (such as that of equality, which in one form should issue as racial and cultural non-discrimination) formally upheld, indeed, flaunted in principle by Western governments, yet flouted in practice even against their own Indigenous people in Australia, the US and elsewhere. We are not intentionally concerned to mount a defence of any Asian country. Rather, we show up the hypocrisy of those in the West who purport to be wildly post-colonial in rhetoric while practicing insidious forms of racism; and we view this kind of hypocrisy against an Australian, and generally Western, historical and cultural backdrop’.

4. The book, consisting of seven chapters, gives us a very convincing account of the imbalance that is still at play in Eastern and Western cultural relationship. The general argument of the book speaks convincingly to at least this reader in Shanghai. The authors lay bare the hypocrisy that is vested in Anglo universalism and Anglo liberalism; and if reference to the existence of this hypocrisy comes as a surprise to Anglo Australians, they should know that it is something immediately recognizable to outsiders and certainly to this Australia-watcher in China. While maintaining the mutual inclusive stance in opposition to Western exclusiveness, the authors do not encourage a resistance-only stance, because that would fall into the same trap as Western epistemology and head towards another extreme. What the authors do is to debunk the psychology of Anglo superiority and call for mutual inclusiveness in today’s multicultural world, and this call for mutual inclusiveness shows the open-mindedness which corresponds to the Confucian maxim that in human relationships: a gentleman seeks harmony but not uniformity, as harmony promotes coexistence and co-prosperity. Throughout the book, it is uplifting to see the authors reaching for potential alliances by dedicating the volume to iconic contributors to postcolonial explorations such as Syed Hussein Alatas in Malaysia, Ashis Nandy in India, Henry Reynolds in Australia and the late Edward Said in the US, as well as by paying tribute to a cluster of Australian writers who have contributed towards a more enriched understanding of the Other within and outside Australia. Furthermore, D’Cruz and Steele specifically note the unique hybridizing contribution that Asian-Australians bring to Australian culture.

Missionary Mentality / Anglo Superiority

5. Ambivalence argues that the colonial stance in White Australia is not diminished, but rather clothed in new robes. It is a relay of racism that starts from England and then passes to the settler colonies of the United States and Australia, or what the authors call ‘Anglophone countries’. What is at work is their sense of Anglo superiority, which is based on Western binary opposition that considers all non-conforming forces as heresy and almost non-existent, and if existent then to be branded as evil and destroyed.

6. What is Anglo superiority? Samuel Huntington, who published Clash of Civilizations in 1996, recently made no bones about the superiority of Anglo cultures in that ‘America’s Anglo-Protestant culture has combined political and social institutions and practices inherited from England, including most notably the English language, together with the concepts and values of dissenting Protestantism, which faded in England but which the settlers brought with them and which took on new life on the new continent.’ (Huntington 2004: 17) The Anglo-American culture, according to Huntington, is not only unique, but also universal. Anyone who wants to become successful and wealthy must conform to Anglo-American cultural values and take English as their language.

6. The views of L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of the Church of Scientology, and best-selling author, could be seen as an elaboration on the same theme:

The Anglo-American civilization was the first new civilization since the Roman Empire. All civilizations between the last collapse of Rome in the 4th Century A.D. and the present moment were some fragment of the Roman Empire or its conquerors. ... Anglo-American mechanization has even driven the Chinese from their background and into European pants and hats. In India and Burma and Buenos Aires we see the cinema, the automobile, the clock, the booklets and the rifle created by or modeled upon Anglo-American industrial might.
...

We are, therefore, confronted within our own nations with strikes, crimes, upsets, juvenile delinquency and problems beyond count. We are confronted at the same time with rebellious Indians, Burmese, and Sinhalese and Chinese and Arabs. (Hubbard)


The late Ron Hubbard’s Church of Scientology has more than a fringe following in the West, notably with followers in the business and film industries.

7. Anglo Australians, whose cultural values originate from English and Protestant epistemology, act as a servile follower of Britain and America. As historical outcasts from England, Australians feel like second-class citizens in comparison to the English and are suffused with an inferiority complex. As a result, Australia draws itself close to Britain and America for its support while at the same time, as Nandy says in the preface to the book, it ‘has displaced its self-hatred on to others who symbolise Australia’s discarded self. White Australia has to look at the Asian and indigenous Australians as well as its Asian neighbours as inferior and fearsome, for it has itself felt inferior, and it has feared its own self—socially, culturally and morally.’ (D’Cruz and Steele 2003:3) Australia, together with America and Britain, form a kind of Anglo triad, with Britain characterized by its high colonialism, the United States global adventures, and Australia defensiveness (D’Cruz and Steele: 2003:34). When Britain was on top, Australians conceived of themselves as British, and when Americans succeeded Britain as the superpower of the world, Australians closely followed the footsteps of the Americans. Before his election as prime minister in 1909, Alfred Deakin said that whiteness is Australia’s only link to America. With this policy in mind, White Australians follow closely the steps of Britain and the United States in a series of military actions that are targeted towards Asians, from the Boxer Rebellion in China, to the conflicts in Malaya, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Afghanistan and Iraq. A joke circulating in China is about the Australian soldiers who were acclaimed heroes during the Opium Wars, when, in fact, they did not actively participate in those Wars, because before they reached China the war had already ended, and they died on their way back to Australia.

8.This Anglo coalition, feeling superior and representing the progress of civilization, always maintains a missionary mentality. Anyone who fails to conform to the so-called universal values is designated as their opponent. But at the same time, Hegel’s master-slave metaphor always haunts their mind, with always a phobia of the Other who might overtake and replace them; the reference to the Chinese as Yellow Peril is an example. Psychologically speaking, since ‘it is impossible to prove the necessity of one’s own cultural system, one must have recourse to the Other. As every inquisition, holy war and colonization has demonstrated, the best way to persuade oneself of that substance is to force others to acknowledge it. Conversely, the most potent weapon of colonization is the exposure of the senselessness of the subjugated nation’s cultural symbols.’ (Chaitin 1996: 5) This colonization, however, meets frequent resistance from the Chinese. Those familiar with modern Chinese history would not have any difficulty in recognising the Missionary Mentality vs. Boxer’s Mentality engagement in Sino-Western encounters. To the Westerners, Asians are inferior, and always a potential threat, mysterious and intractable. In 1887, a newspaper in Hawaii utilised the phrase ‘Anglo-Saxonizing machine’ to describe the American effort to convert ‘all sorts of men into ultimate English men’, but the Chinese, according to the newspaper, ‘seem… likely to prove the most refractory to the moulding influence of our Anglo-Saxon civilisation’ (Williams 2003: 23). This recalcitrance on the part of Chinese challenges in every possible way the very superiority of the Anglo culture and becomes a potential threat to them, and as a result, almost at the same time, both the United States and Australia enforced laws limiting the entry of Chinese immigrants. This restrictive policy continues to this day, and the Tampa incident in Australian waters in 2001 is an example of that phobia and rejection of the Other. As a robber baron in the new world, Anglo-Australians have to maintain their legitimacy in the control of the land they occupy. One way is to negate the existence of native people. As a result, they use the term terra nullis to negate the very existence of the indigenous people there, and the ‘terra nullius doctrine, by implicitly reducing Aborigines to the level of something like fauna, was not only grossly racist, it was also racist in a way that spared any necessity for its practioners even to defend their own racism; the people being thus treated ostensibly had not existed as such.’ (D’Cruz & Steele 2003:24) The other way is to boast that its superiority is universal and represents the progress of civilization. Meanwhile, the Aborigines and the Asians are reduced to fair game for representation.

Representation / reality


9. In the subtitle of the book, the authors use ‘fact/fiction’ to question the legitimacy of Anglo representation of Asians. In chapters five and six, the authors offer an in-depth analysis of how Asians ‘must be represented’ in the Anglo discourse. Since Anglo whites feel they are superior and Asians lack the agency to represent themselves, it is the self-appointed task of Anglo whites to give a ‘true’ account of Asians, which is one that consolidates the stereotype the West has of the East. In D’Cruz and Steele’s analysis of Blanche d’Alpuget’s novel Turtle Beach, we see that the ‘Asian characters are repeatedly depicted as knowing, or looking as if they know, things by non-rational means…. In the case of Chinese, knowledge … appears to stem from some mixture of instinct and habitation.’ (D’Cruz and Steele 2003:224) The Asians are usually endowed with animal traits: Chinese are geese (men) or ducks (women and children). Indians are large waterfowl or beasts. Either Malays or Chinese can be monkeys; Chinese or Vietnamese can be dogs; but only Malays are frogs. Even with animals, Anglo-Australian animal species are of a higher stock than their Asian counterparts. Apart from animals, Asians are inscribed with passive metaphors, lacking agency—the Asian as machine and the Asian as child. From the list of examples given by the authors we note that the Chinese are often represented as dolls, like:

Chinese dollies and young executives jumping and bumping, not sweating a drop.

Chinese girls in pairs clickety-clacked past, as slick and pretty as dolls.

A Hakka nurse, as neat as a doll.

These people were the new Asians, the economic miracle-workers. A perfectly painted doll jabbed.


10. This masculine and conqueror stance is seen almost in all the Anglo writings and becomes therefore an Anglo phenomenon. According to Amy Ling,

Two main stereotypes persist for the Asian woman in America; they are polar extremes, roughly parallel to the whore/Madonna or to the ‘mad woman in the attic’/ ‘angel in the house’ dichotomies for white women. At one end of the spectrum is the Dragon Lady, a female counterpart to the diabolical Fu Manchu. With her talon-like six-inch fingernails, her skin-tight satin dress slit to the thigh, she can poison a man as easily as she seductively smiles and puffs on her foot-long cigarette holder. An ‘Oriental’ Circe, she is as desirable as she is dangerous. At the opposite end of the spectrum is the Shy Lotus Blossom or China Doll: demure, diminutive, and deferential. She is modest, tittering behind her delicate ivory hand, eyes downcast, always walking 10 steps behind her man, and, best of all, devoted body and soul to serving him.’ (Ling 1990: 11)

This Manichean view of Chinese women places not just Chinese women, but the whole Asian world into a disadvantageous position, which not only satisfies white fantasy, but also maintains their sense of racial superiority and domination, and this racial stereotype functions as a fetish that alleviates the Anglo anxiety by making Asian representation ‘an arrested, fixated form of representation’ that denies ‘the play of difference’ (Bhabha 1994: 75). According to the authors, this ‘quasi-documentary technique’ behind the fact and fiction debate becomes a means by which Anglo representation of Asians is justified. As a Chinese reader, I feel this warning is very significant as some of us are unfortunately not sufficiently accurate and clear in representing our own culture to others. The commercial success of Zhang Yimo in the West, for example, can only reinforce the western stereotype of Chinese culture and set off their superiority.

11. ‘East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet’. Never? The colonial mentality of Kipling should be kicked off the stage as we embrace a new multicultural world, and the very collaboration between the two Australian authors of Ambivalence, one from East, the other from West, is an attempt to deconstruct the Anglo superiority. Both authors sincerely hope that ‘modern and newer Australian myths would have to reflect a vastly complex cultural mosaic of peoples inhabiting the land, and then Australian would have to demonstrate that its values have been derived by consensus from the various cultural groups that inhabit its space, for, in truth, it has taken all sorts of peoples to build modern Australia.’ (D’Cruz 2003: 291-292) In the present world characterized by the demand for multi-polarity in politics and cultural values, we need to be mutually inclusive, not mutually exclusive, and we hope that this ambivalence can be replaced by the appearance of multi-valence in the interaction among people from different cultures so that each can maintain its own subjectivity.

 

WANG Guanglin, Ph.D, is a Professor of English at School of Languages, Shanghai Institute of Foreign Trade. He is the author of Being and Becoming: On cultural Identities of Diasporic Chinese Writers in America and Australia (Tianjin: Nankai University Press, 2004). E-mail: wang62toys@yahoo.com

Bibliography

Bhabha, Homi (1994) The Location of Culture. London and New York: Routledge.

Chaitin, Gilbert D (1996) Rhetoric and Culture in Lacan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

D’Cruz, JV, and William Steele (2003) Australia’s ambivalence towards Asia: Politics, neo/postcolonialism, and fact/fiction. Clayton, Vic: Monash Asia Institute/Monash University Press.

Hubbard, L. Ron (1956). PAB No. 81, ‘Purpose’, 24 April 1956. Online at: http://www.solitarytrees.net/racism/anglo.htm

Huntington, Samuel (2004). ‘Dead Souls: the denationalization of American elite’, The National Interest, issue 75, spring.

________ (1996) The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Ling, Amy (1990). Between Worlds: Women Writers of Chinese Ancestry, New York, NY: Pergamon Press.

Nandy, Ashis (1983). The Intimate Enemy: Loss and Recovery of Self under Colonialism. Delhi: Oxford University Press.

---- (2003) ‘Foreword: The need to have inferiors and enemies’ D’Cruz, JV, and William Steele, Australia’s Ambivalence Towards Asia: Politics, Neo/Post-colonialism, and Fact/Fiction.

Said, Edward (1979). Orientalism. New York: Vintage Books.

Williams, Michael (2003). ‘Anglo-Saxonizing Machines: Exclusion America, White Australia’ Chinese America: History & Perspectives.


© borderlands ejournal 2004

 

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