3rd September 2015

I remember many years ago watching an International football match where China were one of the teams. The commentator, whose name escapes me was silly enough to say that the Chinese players all looked alike to him. Well of course the morally  self-righteous heavens opened. I particularly enjoyed *The Sun* of all newspapers, lecturing this poor man on his racist attitude.  

A couple of years later I read some Social Psychological research that suggested that this wasn’t simply can’t be bothered casual racism.The study suggested that the further an ethnic group were away from your own (yes I know that phrase raises all sorts of questions but we haven’t got all day) the more difficult it was to distinguish one from another. Anyway fast forward to me arriving here. I tried, I really tried to remember the faces and names of my students but God it was hard. Chinese names just are difficult. The Chinese characters are simply impossible to understand without a lot of study but even Pinyin often doesn’t sound as it is written from an English Language point of view. Most of my students though had English names. And the students understood my difficulty,  much to my embarrassment. Regularly some nice little student would look mournfully at me and say “You don’t remember me do you?”.  I lied sometimes.  “Of course I do” but felt ashamed of myself for doing so. And some of them actually said that it was OK. Chinese people knew that Westerners had difficulty identifying them. There’s a strange mirror-image in Chinese Culture here. To Chinese people we seem to be not people from other different Countries but simply Foreigners. Waiguo ren. Sorry I don’t know the clicks for the tones. I’m writing this on an IPad, they must be here somewhere. 

But, and this is the point I want to make here. I simply CANNOT BELIEVE now that I thought Chinese students and indeed other Chinese people looked alike. I went to the local Plaza today. Probably saw maybe ten thousand people with different eyes, noses, ears, complexions, you name it. 

So what is it ? I don’t think it’s just me. Maybe the mind has some way of initially editing a particular look. Initially we see hair colour and eye shape first although God knows they vary. There’s a Mongolian student here at FJUT and I KNEW he was Mongolian before I was told. What cultural crevice in my mind did I use there ? Something to do with Lenin I think. I vaguely remember something about him having Mongolian features. 

I’m sad to say that I discovered recently that there is a thriving market in China for an operation  to construct an eye fold to make Chinese people look more Western supposedly. I wonder whether as Chinese cultural power increases, that in a few years time there will be a thriving market for Westerners to make themselves look more Chinese?