Sunday, October 18, 2009

China Thoughts, Part I

Leon asked me last month (while we were driving to "meet" the major of Guangzhou here in Los Angeles) what I liked about China. I had written that sentiment in a post that wasn't even about China; it was about crazy K-pop antis in Korea. He said this because I am usually critical of China (mostly the CCP) in my posts. I really dislike the communist government but it frustrates me even more that the local people I meet in China don't care about politics. Anyway, I've been thinking about that question quite often and I'm saddened that I don't have an answer.

Even though I wasn't born in China, that is really my home since that is where my family comes from. My dad was born in Chengdu due to the Sino-Japanese War while both my paternal grandparents are from Zhejiang province (like a lot of the KMT). I'm less clear on my mom's side of the family since they've been in Sarawak (Malaysia) for so long, but they're Teochew from northern Guangdong province. I bring this up because often I feel very un-Chinese, especially when I'm in China surrounded by millions of people that look like me, yet I don't feel American/Canadian though I've lived in North American for 32 years. Sometimes I boast that I have passports from three countries (USA, Canada, Taiwan), but that also means I have no home, no roots.

I've been thinking about this more since I read Factory Girls by Leslie T. Chang. She's an ABC (American born Chinese) journalist working for WSJ based out of Beijing, and the book is about migrant factory workers she met and befriended in Dongguan over the course of several years. Part of the story however, is the author's own journey in discovering her family history. It resonates with me because it's so similar to mine (or what I think is mine). My family's history of migration is both unique and common. It is true that most people in the world never leave their ancestral home for generations, but almost every Chinese family that "emigrated" from China => Taiwan => USA/Canada has the same basic story.

I guess a part of me blames the Chinese Communist Party for making me a homeless person. My family, and millions of others, were on the losing side of the Chinese Civil War and as a result, lost everything we couldn't carry with us and were exiled from our homeland. Even now, I only know the name of the city/village where my grandfather is from and nothing else. When a Chinese person asks me where I'm from originally, I'm supposed to say 象山浙江 (Elephant Mountain, Zhejiang) though I've never been there (neither has my dad) nor even find it on a map.

Here's an excerp from Factory Girls:
The Chinese today have a troubled relationship with their past. On the surface, they take pride in it--China has five thousand years of history, one is constantly reminded as an American--but there is an aversion to going much deeper than the level of a Qing Dynasty television soap opera. Why did a great civilization collapse so rapidly when confronted by the West? What made people turn so readily on each other--in workplaces, in villages, in families--during the political movements of the 1950s and 1960s? And how could they pick up their lives afterwards as if nothing had happened?

The last question is easiest: through forgetting. <...>

The past seemed to consist of only painful stories. <...> So much suffering suggest that there will be a historical accounting one day--but the instinct against introspection runs deep in this culture. Perhaps for a long time to come, China will feel the way it does now: a country that is at once tethered to history and unmoored from it, floating, free.

Unmoored... that's how I feel. Sigh... one time I asked Leon if the KMT had won in 1949, would we be living in mainland China today? Would our lives be different? Better?

No comments: