Sometime in the 1870s, a Chinese man named Ling Fu was brought before Judge Cornelius Hanford in Seattle’s courthouse, accused of not having the proper citizenship papers. Facing deportation, Ling Fu argued that he did not need to carry papers: he had been born on Puget Sound. To test him, Judge Hanford quickly shifted his inquiry into Chinook Jargon, which had become nearly as common as Whulshootseed or English in Puget Sound country. “Ikta mika nem? Consee cole mika?” (What is your name? How old are you?), he demanded of Ling, who in turn replied, “Nika nem Ling Fu, pe nika mox tahtlum pee quinum cole” (My name is Ling Fu, and I am twenty-five years old). Clearly surprised, the judge responded, “You are an American, sure, and you can stay here.” He then turned to the bailiff and decreed, “Ling Fu is dismissed.”
From Native Seattle by Coll Thrush, as quoted here.
James Fallows got worked up over David Brooks’ ignorant musing about Chinese and Asian collectivity. The product was this excellent paragraph, which follows part of Brooks’ words.
If you show an American an image of a fish tank, the American will usually describe the biggest fish in the tank and what it is doing. If you ask a Chinese person to describe a fish tank, the Chinese will usually describe the context in which the fish swim.
These sorts of experiments have been done over and over again, and the results reveal the same underlying pattern. Americans usually see individuals; Chinese and other Asians see contexts.
This is the kind of thing you can say only if you have not the slightest inkling of how completely different a billion-plus people can be from one another. Beijingers from Shanghainese, Guangdong entrepreneurs from farmers in Sichuan, Tibetans from Taiwanese, people who remember the Cultural Revolution from those who don’t, people who remember the famines of the Great Leap Forward from people who’ve always had enough. The guy across the street from his brother. His daughter from his wife. People hanging on in big state enterprises from those starting small firms. People who stayed in the villages from those who came to the city for jobs. Christians from Buddhists. Hu Jintao from Jiang Zemin, Olympic weightlifters from Olympic tennis players, Yao Ming from Liu Xiang, Wen Jiabao from Edison Chen — and while we’re at it, Filipinos from Koreans, Japanese from Chinese, Malaysian Chinese from Malaysian Malays. Lee Kuan Yew from Kim Jong Il. People from Jakarta from people in Seoul. Hey, they’re all “Asians”.
Francis Fukuyama, the U.S.-born political scientist who made his name by declaring another discipline, history, to be so over in End of History and the Last Man, does not work much with Japanese issues, despite what some people assume based on his name.
But he learned something about establishment Japanese nationalism when he had The End of History translated into Japanese. His publisher chose Watanabe Shoichi [jp], an ally of Tokyo Governor Ishihara Shintaro, to be translator. Fukuyama describes his revelation:
In the course of a couple of encounters, I heard him explain in front of large public audiences how the people of Manchuria had tears in their eyes when the occupying Kwantung Army left China, so grateful were they to Japan. According to Watanabe, the Pacific War boiled down to race, as the US was determined to keep a non-white people down. Watanabe is thus the equivalent of a Holocaust denier, but, unlike his German counterparts, he easily draws large and sympathetic audiences.
Remind me to screen potential translators later in life for holocaust deniers! But in this column, Fukuyama’s greatest insight is this: “The legitimacy of the entire American military position in the Far East is built around the US exercising Japan’s sovereign function of self-defense.”
Fukuyama makes some pretty odd assumptions in the column, including that the United States government would prefer that Japan not revise Article 9, but this observation certainly seems to support that idea.
Japanese Foreign Minister Aso Taro is in rare form, even for his inflammatory self. Making a case for the potential for Japanese diplomacy in the Middle East, he asserted that skin color would be a major advantage:
“Japan is doing what Americans can’t do,” the Nikkei business daily quoted the gaffe-prone Aso as saying in a speech.
“Japanese are trusted. If (you have) blue eyes and blond hair, it’s probably no good,” he said.
“Luckily, we Japanese have yellow faces.”
Folks on the CNN website posting a Reuters story picked a photo of Aso looking particularly pugnacious, and to add insult to injury, they fought back by spelling his name wrong in the caption!
Photo in context after the jump.