Being Blasian in Asia

Over the past few weeks, media in the West has been quietly a-buzz over a story in China that has sparked a heated racial debate, particularly on Chinese websites and forum boards. A young Shanghainese woman, by the name of Lou Jing was recently a contestant on an “American Idol”-style show called (and I can’t believe this is the official translation, but it underscores how different race relations are in different parts of the world) “Go! Oriental Angel”. Shocking for some of the show’s viewers, Lou Jing’s mother is Shanghainese while her father (whom she has never met) was African-American.

Apparently, Lou Jing performed on the show “Go! Oriental Angel”, and was only eliminated before the Top 12. Yet, throughout her appearances on the show, the show’s hosts referred to Lou Jing as “Chocolate Girl” and “Black Pearl”, sensationalizing her race. This sparked online curiousity and debate over Lou Jing’s background, forcing Lou Jing’s mother to appear on-stage in a segment to address Lou Jing’s childhood and her absentee father. Meanwhile, online comments ranged from supportive of Lou Jing to intensely derogatory, with some of the worst forum comments condemning Lou Jing’s mother for miscegenation and likening Lou Jing to a bastard child born of bestiality. One comment read:

Sure enough, the blacks started to “Dyeing” China Black.

Another read:

Cannot believe of right now part of the Chinese people adore the blacks also! No wonder the Chinese in foreign countries sucks!

And a third:

Bastard + wild species how is that Chinese?

 The online hullaboo was fueled by an online post written by someone claiming to be Lou Jing, claiming that Lou Jing was born of an extramarital affair between her mother and her father.

In an interview Lou Jing did with NetEase, and later translated into English by the folks at China Hush, Lou Jing denied writing the original post, and addresses some of the race debate sparked by her appearance on the show. What is truly surprising about Lou Jing’s relationship with her identity as a bi-racial woman is how she seems to have so little of a relationship with her identity as bi-racial. When asked about potential racial discrimination Lou Jing faced growing up in a place where more than 90% of people are Han Chinese, Lou Jing responded:

There is no inconvenience as a child. Now it is quite inconvenient, particularly after participated in this competition. I do not recall any childhood memory of inconvenience. As the old saying says “When god closes the door on you, at the same time he opens another window for you.” Normally, when I go out occasionally other people would say something, most of them with good intentions. But there are people with not so good intentions, they would insult me. But just a few words, I listen to them and let it pass. I think, it’s just annoying, as long as people around me all are very good to me and that is enough.

Yet, Lou Jing is clearly aware of her appearance differing from her peers, but she seems to find nothing wrong about being racialized throughout her childhood and during her stint on “Go! Oriental Angel”, when hosts and judges routinely used racialized nicknames. In fact, in her interview, Lou Jing remarks that one childhood nickname, “Little Black”, was used only by her closest friends. She perceived nothing racial about it:

Netease: Another nickname is “Little Black”?

Lou Jing: Yes, this is coming from skin color, only my close friends call me this, normally no one else calls me that.

Netease: Isn’t calling you this “racial”?

Lou Jing: Not racial, because we are close, normally middle school and high school classmates that are close to me and sit around me in class call me that. But they are weird, when they heard other people calling me that, they would say “Who told you to call her that? This is our exclusive name for her.” It’s like that.

Netease: Were you angry?

Lou Jing: First time I was then I got use to it. Because when we were little, classmates were very close, also when we were little, we had good intentions. Other people gave me nickname I also gave them nicknames.

Overall, I’ve been loathe to talk about this story, mainly because I feel the attention being drawn to Lou Jing’s tale in the West is fueled, in large part, by fascination of racism elsewhere in the world. It’s as if America is shocked to discover that race problems occur throughout the world (or more specifically, that China contains people who aren’t Han Chinese and that these people have trouble ‘fitting in’), yet delight in the discovery of racism abroad as if to soften the fact that racism occurs domestically. After all, when’s the last time that the only Black kid in a school of Whites got front-page coverage on CNN? Yet, with all of the coverage that has been aired on Lou Jing, I feel an undercurrent of glee in labelling China as racist — as if the statement were being made “hey, Yellow people hate Black people, too!”

Secondly, I’m somewhat disgusted to see that even here, in this story of a bi-racial half-Black half-Chinese woman in Asia, who has triggered a necessary (if uneasy) debate on race relations in China, we still have the tired stereotype of the absentee Black father. I mean, whatever happened to good examples of Black fatherhood?

That being said, it is kind of weird to see how different race is in China; although there are echoes of the same issues that are raised here in America. People are quick to categorize Lou Jing as either Black or Chinese, but have difficulty seeing her as biracial. Meanwhile, all Lou Jing wants to do is to emphasize her “Shanghai”-ness while pooh-pooh-ing some of the racism she has faced because she has confused “racism” with “malignment”.

But, I do want to say this: biracial, Black or Asian, Lou Jing certainly doesn’t deserve to be touted up as some kind of a martyr to racial equality and understanding in China. No one could withstand that pressure, least of all a girl who still seems to be just beginning to discover her unique racial identity and heritage. Instead, how about we just have a global race relations discussion, not limited to one country? How about we, as a global community, recognize that we are colourstruck and go from there?

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