Yes, there’s racism in China and Japan

Lou Jing with her mother on the Chinese talent show that made her a lightning rod for discussions of race in China.

I know I spend a lot of posts writing about the ongoing racism and stereotypes that Asians face in the United States. That’s my passion, and it’s important to me. But I’m also aware that racism exists all over the world. At its worst, that’s why genocide still goes on, after all. And, I’m sad to say, racism is rife in Asia, even (especially?) in Japan, the country of my birth and family roots. It’s a tribal instinct to separate people by ethnicity, and we just have to constantly work at rising above those instincts in the 21st century, when we live in a much smaller and much more intertwined world.

My mother, who was born in Japan and moved to the U.S. in the mid-1960s with my two brothers and I when my father (himself Japanese but born in Hawai’i) was transferred stateside for his federal government job, is about as old-fashioned as they come. She’s been in the U.S. for over 40 years, but she’s still FOBish (“Fresh Off the Boat”) in a lot of her values, even today. When I called my parents to announce that my first wife — who was European American — and I were going to get a divorce, her first comment wasn’t anything sympathetic. She said bluntly, “See? I told you you should marry Japanese.”

Thanks mom, for the support.

So I was saddened but not exactly surprised to follow the controversy in China over Lou Jing, the Shanghai-born college student who’s shown in the video above, singing on “Go! Oriental Angel,” China’s version of “American Idol.” Lou (pronounced “LOH”) is mixed-race. Her mother is Chinese and her father, whom she’s never met, was African American. She’s a beautiful young woman, and a talented singer (her favorite performer is Beyonce). That’s a picture of Lou with her mother on the TV show, above.

But she’s such an unusual sight in China that the TV show labeled her “Black Pearl” and “Chocolate Girl,” and the media picked up on her inclusion in the show and made her a national racial sideshow. In a cultural switch from the “You speak such good English” line that Asian Americans get in the U.S., she’s grown up hearing people ask how she can speak such good Chinese. “Because I’m Chinese” is her answer, of course.

Following her appearances on the TV show, the Chinese blogosphere became filled with hateful comments aimed at both mother and daughter, venting outrage that her mother would have sex with a black man and calling Lou all manner of names and telling her to leave China (she will if she gets her wish for post-graduate study in the U.S.).

There are a lot of different ethnic groups in China, and they don’t all get along, as witnessed by the recent violence between ethnic Uighurs and Han in western China. But the majority of Chinese — 90% — are descended from the Han race. Although some Chinese are tolerant, many apparently are not.

CNN has a good video report with accompanying text about the racial issues that Lou Jing has sparked in China. Here’s a video of Lou performing on “Go! Oriental Angel”:

In the end, Lou didn’t make it to the finals of the program, but she exited with a graceful and hopeful message of tolerance. “I think I’m the same as all the girls here, except for my skin color,” she said to the national TV audience. “We share the same stage and the same dream. I’ve tried my best, so no matter what happens, I’ll hold onto my dream.”

Unfortunately, many children of Asian immigrant parents that I’ve spoken to over the years know just how tribal our root cultures can be. Growing up, we were told by our parents that we should date or marry people from our own community. If we dared to be with someone who’s not “one of us,” our parents had a list of acceptable alternatives starting with other Asians.

My mother was resistant to my older brother’s Korean wife at first (having a grandchild goes a long way towards building bridges). For most Asian Americans I’ve talked to who aren’t Japanese, Japanese mates hovered pretty low on the scale of acceptable mates — a ripple effect from Japan’s imperialism leading up to World War II. Caucasian mates are close to the top, though not ideal. African Americans are often at the bottom.

That’s the cultural mindset that many Asian American kids who are either immigrants or first-generation children of immigrants are raised within. Most of us break those rules because America is simply such a multicultural place. Hell, there were no Japanese girls at my high school, and no other Asians, for that matter. Japanese Americans in particular have had the highest out-marriage rate of any Asian population in the U.S. since the 1970s. It seems we’d rather marry anyone but another JA, even if our parents or grandparents would prefer we find a “good Japanese wife/husband.”

So I shouldn’t have been shocked at my mom’s response when I got divorced from my first wife.

Japanese Only sign from a business that excludes foreigners.In Japanese society, those traditional, tribal, racial lines are still vividly drawn. Koreans and Chinese are the largest foreign population in Japan but they’re discriminated against, even if their families have been in Japan for generations and have gone to great lengths to assimilate, for instance by changing their names to be more Japanese.

A sign that reads "Whites Only" from before AmericaDavid Aldwinckle, a white American professor who moved to Japan, married a Japanese woman, adopted a Japanese name, Arudou Debito and switched his citizenship, works tirelessly on behalf of foreigners who are being discriminated against in Japan, often bluntly with signs that say “Japanese only” (an eerie echo of the American South in the 1950s and early ’60s, when businesses would post “Whites Only” signs to keep out blacks).

A Wikipedia entry on Racism in Asian notes in its section on Japan:

Japanese society, with its ideology of homogeneity, has traditionally been intolerant of ethnic and other differences. It is safe to say that there has been a strong sense of xenophobia since it has opened borders to foreigners. For example, the Dutch sailors landed on the Japanese shore were characterized by their “butter-like” body odor, hairiness, and unsophisticated behavior. Those who were identified as different might be considered “polluted” —- the category applied historically to the outcasts of Japan, particularly the hisabetsu buraku, “discriminated communities,” often called burakumin, a term some find offensive —- and thus not suitable as marriage partners or employees. Men or women of mixed ancestry, those with family histories of certain diseases, and foreigners, and members of minority groups faced discrimination in a variety of forms. In 2005, a United Nations report expressed concerns about racism in Japan and that government recognition of the depth of the problem was not total. The author of the report, Doudou Diène (Special Rapporteur of the UN Commission on Human Rights), concluded after a nine-day investigation that racial discrimination and xenophobia in Japan primarily affects three groups: national minorities, Latin Americans of Japanese descent, mainly Japanese Brazilians, and foreigners from “poor” countries.

As Japan’s demographics shift and the country’s population leans more toward the elderly and the workforce suffers from years of low birthrates, foreigners — starting with Nikkei, or descendants of Japanese emigrants from countries such as Peru and Brazil but also laborers from other Asian countries — have increasingly found work in Japan. But many of these new immigrant workers find themselves shut out from mainstream Japanese society and end up being discriminated against and living in ethnic ghettos.

When the economy tanked and these low-level workers lost their jobs, the government in early 2009 began paying Japanese Peruvians and Brazilians to return to their homelands instead of receiving social services and unemployment benefits. Japan has its own rabid anti-immigration agitators like some talk-show hosts here in the U.S.

Which brings me back home, and the numbing fact that ignorance, prejudice and hatred is alive and well all over the world. I may rant and rave about how Asians are treated here in the U.S., but I have to acknowledge that people of all colors face the same treatment, and sometimes much worse, in other countries including Japan and China.

That just means those of us who write about these topics just need to keep it up, and never give up trying to change peoples’ minds and educate the ignorant.


I’m posting some links that help me think things through. If readers have sites or articles they’d like to share, send them long or include them in a comment below, and I’ll be happy to add them to the list. I hope this list of resources will be helpful, informative and thought-provoking over time.

One article that gives me hope and offers some perspective on U.S. attitudes toward immigration is from, of all place The Economist, a generally conservative, London-based magazine. The longish article, about why people from all over the world still dream about coming to America, is oddly titled “A Ponzi scheme that works” (see the last line for the reference) but its subtitle says it all: “The greatest strength of America is that people want to live there.”

Here are some links to stories about Lou Jing:

“Lou Jing and racism in China,” Hyphen Magazine

“Could a Mixed-Race Contestant Be a Chinese Idol?,” TIME magazine

“Shanghai ‘Black Girl’ Lou Jing Abused By Racist Netizens,” China Smack

Here are some links to more about racism in Japan:

Facts and Details has an interesting rundown of quotes and anecdotes, but there’s no way of telling how recent this information is (much of the cited material is from four or five years ago).

“Racism in Japan” is a blog post by Kelly Yancey, a white man who lives and works in Japan.

“Race and Racism in Asia – Race And Racism In Japan” – somewhat academic but useful historical overview

The entire website run by Arudou Debito is worth exploring if you’re interested in the issue of race and prejudice in Japan.

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25 Responses to Yes, there’s racism in China and Japan

  1. a very interesting post. it went beyond posting a video. i really feel like i learned a little about Japanese culture from your post. i can’t help but compare it to the similar situation in Korea. an exchange student at my college at told me about the racism that non-Koreans Asians face in Korea (Europeans don’t seem to have too much difficulty, of course).

    but it’s a little mind boggling to see Lou Jing. it just proves how hard it is to unlearn racism.

  2. Gil Asakawa says:

    Thanks, bitter.sweet… It’s kinda hard to strike the right tone when it comes to criticizing Japan or Japanese mentality — even though there’s an awful lot to criticize. But yeah, I feel badly for Lou Jing. I trust she’ll fir in when she comes to the US for grad school.

  3. Terzi says:

    Whilst not wanting to excuse racist attitudes in Asia (mainly NE Asia apparebtly) I think that a little perspective is in order.

    I grew up in the UK in the 70’s and 80’s, my family migrated there in the early sixties. The reports from China and Japan make racism there seem somewhat benign. Police brutality toward minorities and racial attacks against minorities in the post-war period in Europe (and of course the U.S)were endemic. Of course, it isn’t nice that people express hateful attitudes on the internet (doesn’t that still happen in the U.S.A too?), but it’s a world of difference from having to live with the spectre of racial violence in your normal day to day living.

    A little perspective goes a long way. The fact that, in the case of the mixed race girl in China, there were many epxressions of acceptance does actually speak volumes for the tolerance of a people that have had little exposure to people of colour.

  4. Gil Asakawa says:

    That’s a very good point, Terzi — thanks for the perspective.

    And yes, you’re right. There’s hate speech online and offline in the US, and every day, there are racial slights and incidences. There’s violence too — just a few weeks ago, 24 students at a Philadelphia high school were beaten, and some injured, and Asian students protested by boycotting the school for a few days. Every once in a while, there are still hate crimes that result in death (an African American man was chained to a pickup truck and dragged to his death in Texas a few years ago, for instance). So that level of hate is still there, though less so. But for thos who still feel that way, the hatrted is simply hidden under a veneer of acceptance, and can come out pretty easily.

  5. Simon Tsui says:

    I agree Gil. While we Asians suffer from racism and discrimination, we too are as racist and prejudiced as the next person. Racism exists not just in the United States alone but anywhere that has a minority population.

    I grew up in a predominantly black and hispanic neighborhood as a minority, and experienced enough racism throughout my childhood. I know of racism’s damaging effects and I would never repeat it myself.

    The buck has to stop somewhere. We have to teach younger generations, that everyone is different and we could all get along with each other. We should treat people as we would like to be treated.

  6. George Niles says:

    There are over 50 minority ethnic groups that the Chinese officially recognize, however, Japanese and Caucasian are not one of them. Hmmmm, I wonder why.

    There’s a Japanese version of Lou Jing: Jero (Jerome Charles White, Jr.) is a enka singer who is American-born of African-American and Japanese descent. He is the first black enka singer in Japanese music history. Enka is traditional Japanese singing.

  7. Gil Asakawa says:

    Hi George, thanks for the reminder — I’d written about Jero, almost exactly a year ago.

    I don’t know how much prejudice Jero has faced since he moved to Japan. He may have a bit of an advantage of being seen as an American first, then hapa second. I don’t know that he thinks of himself as Japanese-Japanese either, the way Lou Jing does because she was born and raised there.

    He also is a pretty amazing singer, so he seems to be accepted on the strength of his talent, which is good. But you’re right — when he goes on TV or performs anywhere, he’s a novelty at first until people hear him sing, then they can’t believe how good he is at enka.

  8. Mark says:

    As sad as it is that hateful comments were said about Lou Jing, I can see how she would get so much attention. Living in the US, it’s easy to forget that not every country is as diverse as ours. I’m half hispanic, yet no one, hispanic or otherwise ever expects me to speak Spanish because I just look white . I find this odd, as Spanish is a very popular language in the US…

    I also speak Japanese, which takes many Asian people by surprise. Sometimes it surprises them so much that they assume I must be half Japanese, seemingly assuming that my language ability must be tied to heritage, and not to personal effort.

    Anyway, I love reading articles like these, though nobody seems to believe me when I mention incidents like these, or the many ridiculous Japanese anti-foreigner incidents, because, well…most people I know who don’t speak Japanese themselves see japan as ‘anime paradise land’ or some other ridiculous idea (upon hearing that I liked Japanese music, someone asked me if they had ‘real’ music genres, or if it was all ________[he proceeded to poorly imitate traditional Chinese music])even some that have visited there in passing don’t see the difference between actually living in Japan and just passing through as a visitor.

  9. Gil Asakawa says:

    Thanks for your comment, Mark. It’s very true that whenever foreigners speak Japanese (especially if it’s spoken well), it shocks Japanese people. I just get jealous because my Japanese is lousy, and based on a child’s vocabulary. But my mom, for instance goes “Hehhhh?” when she meets a “gaijin” who speaks Japanese, as if she can’t imagine someone who’s not Japanese being able to learn its intricacies.

    Thanks also for pointing out how visitors or tourists to Japan see a different society than someone who lives there.

  10. Luke says:

    Wow, this post really hit the spot. I’m glad I stumbled upon this on GoogleReader.
    As an American of mixed-Chinese and Japanese descent that has spent time in both Japan and China I’ve always noticed Sino-Japanese enmity but have never been able to take a side. I’m still a college student but have spent a number of childhood summers in Japan and the last two summers working internships in Beijing and Shanghai. Unsurprisingly, the response that I generally receive in Asia from the locals is one of incredulity. Not only is mixing the bloodline something that is at times looked down upon culturally (after all, Takeshi Kaneshiro’s parents did send him to international school), but it could also be a political risk (see 2005 Anti-Japanese riots).
    I have, however, noticed that the xenophobic sentiments held by some members of both groups tend to differ. For example, mainland Chinese have an extremely different view towards overseas Chinese (huaren) than the Japanese have of (Nikkei-jin) overseas Japanese. While Japanese may pay Japanese-Brazilians to leave the country to avoid having to pay them benefits, Chinese actually welcome Taiwanese/Hong Kongers/Overseas Chinese with open arms. In fact, one of the most vital sources of this Chinese economic boom was the Foreign Direct Investment (90% until 2001) of a large, economically-sophisticated Chinese polity overseas that would be willing to invest in the China but was not actually in China. Even with a California accent, a Japanese last name, and mixed blood, some still want to consider me “Chinese”.
    Finally, I agree, Gil, that America is a place of well, apathy and lenience towards these issues. My Chinese grandmother was a teenager in Southern China during the second Sino-Japanese and for a while didn’t have the most favorable opinion of Japanese people. After spending a good 30 years in the United States, she eventually allowed her mother to marry my Japanese-American father. Admittedly, my grandparents were living in internment camps while atrocities such as the Rape of Nanking were occurring. However, most Chinese people won’t fathom the distinction between a Japanese and Japanese-American (perhaps for the reasons above, though hopefully the endeavors of Mike Honda may change that). In any event, many of her friends are Caucasian and she actually wants me to find a nice Japanese wife. I doubt she’d be like that if she stayed.

  11. Gil Asakawa says:

    Hi Luke, thanks much for the thoughtful and knowledgeable comment! There’s a lot more that needs to be written about intra-Asian racial issues, and racial attitudes about foreigners in Asia. So, do you live in the US now?

  12. Luke says:

    I go to school in Southern California but am currently trying to establish a career in Asia through China at the moment. I can’t explain why, but for my entire life I’ve always had an enduring– perhaps even irrational–longing to go to Asia and China seems to be my best bet.

    I’ve certainly had my fair share of exposure to the aforementioned xenophobia- heated cab drivers with belligerent cab drivers in Beijing, even hostility between me and Chinese nationals here in the states at times. Life’s not easy. Whatever.

    In any event, I’m thinking of starting a blog myself and really enjoyed reading this post. Keep up the good work!


  13. Carol says:

    A very interesting and true post. I’m Chinese Latin American, and my parents wouldn’t ever accept me marrying someone not-chinese, they even told me they would even forget they have a daughter if I did.

    As I can read in here, there are racism issues in US, but at least, people are less ignorant like they are in Latin America, because at least there’s a huge mix of ethnicity there, but in Latin America, they think every Asian is Chinese, and say all asians are the same (Chinese) and that just pisses me off.

    By the way, I didn’t know the attitude japanese people took towards other countries’ japanese decendants, in China, people don’t consider me, or other chinese born in other countries 100% chinese, but at least we are not outcasts. Although lately I’ve been realizing that some 1st generation young chinese inmigrants look at “us” (chinese latin americans) with unpleasant eyes, and some think we are not as intelligent as they are, and try to make fun of us with some comments, but since my chinese is good, I just shut their mouths with a non-bad-words insulting reply.

    A big problem we have in this world is ignorance…

  14. Gil Asakawa says:

    Great comments, Carol. It’s good to learn about Asians in Latin America.

  15. donald says:

    White people starts racism in early 20 century. Japanese people in America sent to camp during the Worl War II. Chinese people sent to build railroad in America, Black people were slavery in America during that time. So if China has racism ,please don’t feel strange, this problems will get better as time goes on. Lou Jing’s future in China is great. A person wants to be famous can’t avoid insulting comments as well as accepting the harsh critics, that’s what you have to pay for to be popular, specially she represents China girls. Shnaghai accept her because she is shanghainess. But other part of China most of people first time see her.

    Regarding Racism. If you are famous or successfull or very rich. People are less racism towards you. They all want to be your friend.

  16. ewk don says:

    I think there are two issues to define.
    First is becoming overswamped by another ethnicity in the home country
    and the second is Actual discrimination and prejudice despite a very low immigration rates of the foreigner.

    1. Personally as an asian hongkong person grown and educated in australia.
    I can relate to the ‘overswamping’ problem, I don’t want any country in any place in the world, all of a sudden swamped with a massive migration of people, and wiping out the indigenous population. I don’t think this is racist at all, I think the indigenous population has a right to their land, their jobs, their country. I think this is probably whats happened in malaysia, and the united states, where poor border control, and poor imigration management lead to greater polarization, sects, and extremism . I think there should be a proper proportion, perhaps 5-7% of the countries birth rate, shud be the maximum quota for imigration.

    2. If the immigrants are a very small percentage of the population, but they are still negatively discriminated against, then it’s something that we indeed should stop, and re-educate our population about. I have a small inkling that the reason why europeans are so popular in asia, is because they are rarer, and more different. I recall an african american man who spoke japanese, and he was a sensation and regular tv show panelist in japan, although he had no skill.

  17. Janice Ma says:

    I am caucasian American (well, except for a DNA test which showed me to be a little bit Japanese, Berber and Native American) and my husband is Chinese. We have been married for 50 years. I have always been very upset by the Chinese racism towards Koreans and also by an incident which happened in our family because of it. So I just had a DNA test done on my husband who is ostensibly northern Chinese. SURPRISE!!! He is also part Korean, Mongolian, Japanese, Native American and European! I sent the results to everyone in the family. The results made my day!!! LMAO

  18. Gil Asakawa says:

    Thanks for your comment, Janice. I wish racism didn’t exist at all, much less among Asians. Good for you for having him take the test and sending out the results!

  19. MALO says:

    Great article! Honestly, had no idea how big of a role (what we consider to be) racism, actually plays in asian culture. I wouldn’t have believed it if i hadn’t tried to travel to Thailand and experience it myself. Apparently dark skin isnt exactly in fashion over there either. I wrote a book about it.

  20. Gil Asakawa says:

    Looks like an interesting book — thanks for posting your comment!

  21. JO says:

    This is a long post but I feel compelled to give you the perspective from the other side. As a Caucasian living in Asia for more than a decade in several different countries I can’t tell you how many time I have experienced passive and ‘in your face’ racism. It happens often and sometimes on a daily basis. I haven’t lived in the pricey expat communities. I’ve lived in regular neighborhoods where sometimes I’ve been the only non-Asian. These are some of my experiences.

    Something was stolen? Hmm, must be the foreigner. Walk down the street — get dirty looks or people spitting on the sidewalk after you pass. Want to date a local girl? Forget it, she’ll be called a whore everywhere you go (a book should be written about this — it’s truly awful). Want to live in a certain apartment? Nope, only Asians can live there. Want to go to a restaurant? “Sorry, we don’t have that.” Funny, seems no one else has trouble getting food. Why is that I wonder? Thailand police even stop and search Whites and Blacks on the street and demand urine samples — has that ever happened to you?

    I’ve had groups of guys (nine at the most) surround me and wanting to fight. My crime? I’m not Asian. If it weren’t for the fact that I’m twice as big as they are and willing to fight I probably would be another statistic. In fact, if you read about the routine attacks on non-Asians you would be shocked. Most papers never report on them or if they do they say it was the foreigner’s fault leaving it to expat websites to report what really happened. Anywhere else these would be hate crimes. But Asian countries don’t have hate crime laws so if it happens, well, too bad. Even if you filed a complaint it would be ignored. Non-Asians just learn to accept these things which is wrong because they would never be tolerated in any Western country.

    I’ve been called ‘devil’, ‘ghost’, ‘dog’, ‘it’, ‘animal’ and any other name you can think of. People point, stare, laugh and make snide remarks even in my presence. I’ve been barred and kicked out of stores, ignored, overcharged, and refused service so many times I’ve lost count. These things have happened to me in China and Southeast Asia, both as a visitor and even in places where I lived and worked. Can you imagine what it’s like having to ask your Asian coworkers to stop calling you ‘ghost’ or ‘it’? Seriously, think if that happened to you.

    But no one admits its racism. Instead they assume it was you: “What did you do?” or “Our people aren’t like that, you must have done something wrong,” and my favorite “It must be a cultural misunderstanding.” Hmm, is not being Asian a cultural misunderstanding? I guess so.

    The level of ignorance of racism in countries like China is inexcusable. Nothing is ever taught about it and if you ever mention it they just deny it outright. Not many people know that the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989 weren’t originally for democracy. Initially people began protesting against foreign students in China because they saw a group of African male students speaking with Chinese female students. Only later did democracy protesters join.

    Here’s the problem with complaints of racism by Asians and Asian Americans posted by ‘Donald’:

    “White people starts racism in early 20 century. Japanese people in America sent to camp during the Worl War II. Chinese people sent to build railroad in America, Black people were slavery in America during that time.”

    Well Donald, your statement expresses all of the ignorance and revisionism I have been hearing from Asians for years. The Chinese have been enslaving both Chinese and non-Chinese for thousands of years. And let’s get something clear, the Chinese were NOT ‘sent’ to build railroads in the US. Actually, Chinese laborers built a very small portion and that was only in the West (you can thank the Irish for building the railroads). The Japanese barred ‘foreign devils’ (Caucasians) from entering Japan for centuries, enslaved European and American serviceman — as well as dark skinned Asians — during WWII, and even now there are ‘Japanese Only’ signs in stores in Japan. Ideas of racial and cultural ‘purity’ never died after the war, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise

    And for the record, 94% of African slaves (around 11.5 million out of 12 million total) were sent to Latin America, NOT North America. And European slaves (Irish and Scots) were the first slaves to the Americas and were still enslaved until the 1800s. And German Americans were also sent to internment camps during WWII — no one ever told you about that, did they?

    I read an article by a Japanese journalist who said that Japanese believe racism is something uncivilized countries do. Since Japanese think of themselves as civilized, they don’t think anything they do is racist. The same thing can be said about China and every Asian country I’ve been to (and I’ve been to a lot). They just believe whatever they do — no matter how bad it is — it’s never racist.

    If a White or Black person went to ANY Asian country they would experience more racism on any given day than any Asian would in the US. Plus, as some have already posted, in the US it is unheard of for a parent to say “You can’t marry a person who is not the same race as you” but it’s common in many Asian countries. I have asked more than one Chinese person if they would ever marry a foreigner (non-Asian) and all say the same thing “My parents would never forgive me.”

    The US is a heterogeneous society full of people from all over the world. If you immigrate to the US you automatically become an American the minute you become a citizen. You can run for political office and have exactly the same rights as anyone who was born there. A Caucasian (or Black person) could NEVER have that in Asia. They would always be an outsider and treated as such no matter how long they lived there, how well they spoke the language, or how integrated they were.

    I’m totally sympathetic to Asian people in the past experiencing difficulties in the West (mine did — they arrived as slaves). But to say that the US is more racist than Asia — or even as racist as Asia — is wrong, just plain wrong. The US has made more strides in civil rights than any other country.

    General Eric Shinseki (Japanese ancestry) was the US Army Chief of Staff and the Army’s highest ranking officer — he was in charge of the ENTIRE US ARMY. Immigrants from Vietnam and Cambodia have become Congressmen. Gary Locke (Chinese ancestry) was governor of the state of Washington and Secretary of Commerce. And there could never be a Barak Obama in Japan, Korea, China or any other Asian country. You’re deluding yourself if you think otherwise.

    Don’t get me wrong, for the most part I have enjoyed living in Asia. It hasn’t been all bad otherwise I would have left, but it certainly has been an eye-opener. But when I saw this site and what everyone was saying I felt compelled to give you the other side and let you know what I’ve experienced over the years in Asia. I really believe if Asians could experience the everyday racism non-Asians experience they wouldn’t dare complain about anything in the US.

    Is America perfect? No. Is America less racist than Asia? Absolutely.

  22. Gil Asakawa says:

    Hi JO, I absolutely agree with you. I don’t personally know China or other Asian countries besides Japan, but I do know Japan and I know lots of Caucasian American expats in Asia who have experienced outright racism. Not that everyone in Asia is racist but the societies have condoned a sense of racial superiority for centuries because they’ve been (and most still are) homogeneous. I don’t read much about lynchings or violence against Caucasians, but violence between Asian ethnicities is certainly racial (Japanese against Koreans or Chinese in the past, or Han Chinese against Uighurs today come to mind). Some day I’ll probably write more about this issue, but for now I have my hands full studying and thinking about racism in the U.S. For now, you might want to check out the work of Arudou Debito, who is a Caucasian American who moved to Japan, married a Japanese woman, teaches at a Hokkaido University, legally changed his name to a more Japanese version (his name is David Aldwinckle) and writes extensively about racism in Japan. He’s a columnist for the Japan Times, and here’s his website and blog: Thanks for writing your thoughtful comment.

  23. channamasala says:

    I can’t seem to reply directly to the comment about Takeshi Kaneshiro, but as a long-term expat in Taiwan (I am not sure I can quite yet say I’m an immigrant as the length of my stay is undetermined as yet) I *can* say that Takeshi is extremely popular in Taiwan and doesn’t seem to suffer any backlash for being “half Taiwanese” in his career (obviously I would not know about his personal life). You can call him by his Chinese name (Jin Cheng Wu) or his Japanese one and there’s no negative connotation to either one.

    That is not to say that there is no racism in Taiwan. Certainly there is and it’s multidirectional. The aborigines dislike the Hoklo and the nationalists (Taiwanese of Chinese descent who came to Taiwan in 1949 and so are not Hoklo, Hakka or aborigine). The Hoklo used to persecute the aborigines, now attitudes are improving but there’s still a lot of “they’re good at singing and dancing and they drink a lot” condescension going on (but if you bring up the fact that the problem of alcoholism in aboriginal populations, which is a real issue, is rooted in the feeling of hopelessness that comes from a cycle of unemployment and discrimination that was started by the Hoklo, people do get it. They just don’t think about it deeply enough without a bit of prodding). The Chinese (the 1949 diaspora and some of their descendants) treat the Hoklo and Hakka like “country people” and have been known to openly refer to them as hicks, not to mention laughing at the Hoklo assertion that they may be Chinese ethnically but they aren’t culturally. The Hoklo by and large would have preferred it if the nationalists had never come, despite the fact that many of their children and grandchildren (and, of late, great grandchildren) see themselves as just as Taiwanese as anyone else. The Hakka feel like everyone’s out to get them (less true now than before, but there is still the condescending “they’re frugal and good with money” stereotype). SE Asian laborers and anyone of African descent is treated fairly poorly, and permanent residency and citizenship laws are set up specifically to keep them from getting either, rather like Hong Kong. They’re seen as poor, dark-skinned lazy troublemakers or just plain inferior. We white folks are treated pretty well (racism in terms of preferential treatment) but still face discrimination in other ways (for example, any Taiwanese can get a foreign passport and keep their ROC citizenship, but a foreigner without Taiwanese roots cannot get ROC citizenship without giving up their original citizenship. We are not eligible for pension programs, and it’s very hard to get any job that isn’t teaching English, although some manage it).

    Japanese are quite well-liked, Taiwan may be the only country in Asia that looks favorably on Japan. Koreans not so much, thanks to the bad press Korean companies get in Taiwan over their business practices (not that the Taiwanese companies are any better, honestly). You could even go so far as to say that many Taiwanese are Japanophiles. Chinese are looked down upon as dirty, uncouth and impolite (for some perspective, remember that a.) China is still trying to annex Taiwan and the Taiwanese rightfully resent that and b.) Taiwan has recently had an influx of Chinese tourists who, honestly, DO violate local etiquette in some very visible ways – something that would probably be more readily forgiven if not for (a).)

    And of course there’s self-hating racism: “Taiwanese are not creative, they don’t think critically like Americans!” – except they are no more or less creative, and they do think critically just like everyone else.

    This all feels vvery unique to Taiwan – more diverse than Japan or Korea but more homogenous than the USA, and unlike China, a democracy where minorities ostensibly have a say (in practice, they have about as much as anywhere else, which is not much).

  24. channamasala says:

    I want to add – there isn’t really a problem with being harassed as a foreigner (I’ve even participated in protests without a problem) and as a white foreigner, nobody would think “somebody stole something, it must have been the foreigner”. But, they would, and do, think that of the many SE Asians in Taiwan.

    Probably the most glaring instances of racism I’ve come across as a white foreigner in Taiwan have been fairly mild, as racist incidents go. Having to convince someone on the north island of Matsu to rent us a car – “foreigners can’t drive here! It’s too hard, and if they wreck the car they can go back to their country and not pay their share!”, being treated at work like half the time you get special treatment, and half the time you’re seen as a child to be babysat and certainly not involved in any real decisions, and very occasionally you get someone who goes all “you can’t understand our 5000 years of Chinese culture, if you don’t like our _____, then go home!” – not thinking that hey, Taiwan’s a democracy, a lot of Taiwanese don’t like _______ and speak out against it, just because I agree with them and not you doesn’t mean I “don’t understand your 5000 years of culture” or whatever. And a lot of Taiwanese would be offended by that phrase as well as they don’t see themselves as Chinese!

  25. Gil Asakawa says:

    Wow, thanks for your comments! I’ve learned a lot!

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