China education

A Chinese student in the US speaks out on ‘patriotism’ after Maryland speech uproar

Do I love China more? Maybe not. Do I love China any less? Absolutely not, says Alex Shi after five years of living in the United States

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 May, 2017, 2:00pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 May, 2017, 8:03pm

Yang Shuping, a graduating senior at the University of Maryland, drew harsh criticism from many of her fellow Chinese classmates and from social media users in China recently when she delivered a commencement speech that praised the United States’ “fresh air” and freedom to speak one’s mind. The collective nationalistic rage, much of it expressed online, took many people by surprise. Do overseas Chinese students tend to be more patriotic than those who have never lived abroad? One such student gives the South China Morning Post her take on the issue.

Do I love my country more after living abroad? The answer is: I honestly don’t know.

Patriotism is too big a word.

Having lived in the United States for five years, I have politely corrected stereotypes, checked misconceptions, stated simple facts or semi-violently shoved books about China in my boyfriend’s face.

Do I love China more? Maybe not. I’m joyfully working with the most talented people, not worried about excessive office politics. My girlfriends do not obsess over losing five more pounds from their two-digit frames.

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Do I love China any less? Absolutely not. I am lucky to have been exposed to Western culture and have been surrounded by like-minded people; but nothing changes the fact that China is a country with so damn much history that any current issue has its historical roots, and there is always that much more you can dig into.

It’s growing. It’s improving. It’s doing many things wrong, but much fewer of them than it used to. Social and political problems do not get alleviated or corrected over the course of three or five years, especially in a country overwhelmed with a huge population and watched by the entire world as the biggest threat or hope.

I am by no means defending China for its faulty behaviour on issues such as human rights, freedom of speech or fair trade. I never deny there are problems in my homeland or reflect on my people abroad.

However, having been asked questions like: “Have you been living a depressed life as a woman in China?” or “Do people still travel by horse carriage?” or “Is the government bugging anyone and everyone to hear what they say?”, all I can say is, there might be circumstances where censorship infuriates me when my favourite reality show gets suspended.

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It is just another country with problems. If I sit down and think about the problems we have back home and the issues people are fighting for here in America, it’s not that much different. China sucks on some fronts and America on others. All I can do is provide first-hand information on the country I lived in for 23 years when I am tossed a question that stems from any media – news, online articles, rumours, movies or pure fantasy.

It makes no sense for me to try to completely change how someone who’s not Chinese thinks about China, no matter how strong my counterargument is. Hell, I can’t even ask people to understand, because, in all honesty, no one has to. I am in no position to ask for recognition or for an alliance or for any sort of acknowledgement of what my country is – even from my own countrymen and women. It’s a massive country – just like America -- only with four times more people. The base is too big to ask for similarity or agreement.

Beijing urges all Chinese to be responsible with public statements after outcry over overseas student’s speech

My country is not the greatest country in the world. It might never be the greatest country in the world. That won’t stop me from continuing to tell people what I experienced as a Chinese woman who’s been bossy and talkative her whole life; who has been defeated by body-image issues but has decided not to care; who hates it when the government tears down 100-year-old buildings in Beijing and who really loves the idea of having her knee problems checked out at home when she is able to go back for a visit, because it’s so much cheaper there.

I accept neither praise for being patriotic, nor the accusation that I am unpatriotic. Patriotism is just another label that leads to meaningless debates and glosses over the real issue our world suffers from: poor communication.

Patriotism – or attachment to a homeland – is derived from the notion of “fatherland”. Any added connotation it has is irrelevant. Its pure meaning has been lost in the fabrication of a world structure.

Alex Shi is a freelance photographer and a Master of Arts candidate for media studies at The New School in New York. Shi, from Beijing, is an oral history community trainer at The New York Public Library and teaches zumba dance in her free time.