October 21, 2005

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China racism redux

Back in April I had a post about racism in China after the controversial comments made on Sina about Condi Rice. A reader has sent the following thoughts on the issue:

I don't think scientifically justified racism is special to Chinese people but, as I understand it, it is is still taught in schools.

As I understand it the education system in China teaches that the Chinese 'race' evolved from "Peking Man" (Homo Erectus) an ancestral hominid. The overhwelming evidence is that all of us are derived from Homo Sapiens who evolved in Africa and migrated from there around a 100,000 years ago. We may look different but, under the skin (as it were), we are all the same. I guess the Peking Man view taught in China reinforces the racism described. It's a worry and it would help if the syllabi in Chinese schools and universities could be brought up-to-date. The "monkey" taunts probably come from stupid stereotypes but it's likely that these is reinforced by tainted 'science'.

Is this still taught in Chinese schools?

posted by Simon on 10.21.05 at 11:29 AM in the China people category.


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not really, while chinese have an "instinct" to ascribe many good things to chinese inventions, there is nothing in the textbook to hint that chinese is superior to other races.

the discrimination of certain races/countries in china is more based on their economic status, calling that a "racism" is mere ignorance.

a few years ago the AWSJ introduced a book written by a western scientist, in which eastern asians (chinese, japanese, etc) are ranked above whites and blacks in terms of IQ and some other attributes. most of my chinese friends and colleagues regard such a "theory" a bullshit.

posted by: bingfeng on 10.21.05 at 12:06 PM [permalink]

that may be true, although i do think China still is widely tolerates discussions based fundamentally on racial Darwinism and social eugenics popular in the West during the 1920s and 1930s. I need not remind anyone of the consequences of the popularity of that movement in Germany.

Of course, I think beliefs about race in China are significantly more mild compared to anything Huxley or Goebbels wrote down. But it is definitely there among the 'lao bai xing', although bingfeng and his friends may be more enlightened.

Next year being a World Cup year, get ready for another tiresome discussion (in China) of why the Brazilians are going to win it because the have the benefit in their gene pool of African athleticism and white intelligence...

posted by: HK Dave on 10.21.05 at 01:21 PM [permalink]

Bingfeng, whether there's a sense of racial superiority or not, it seems pretty clear that China officially teaches that they evolved separately from the rest of humanity.

China's Evolution Controversy

And if you believe you're not even the same species as other people, couldn't that lead you to think they're lesser animals? Just a little?

posted by: davesgonechina on 10.21.05 at 05:57 PM [permalink]

At least they're teaching evolution, not intelligent design.

posted by: Simon on 10.21.05 at 06:05 PM [permalink]

And if you believe you're not even the same species as other people, couldn't that lead you to think they're lesser animals? Just a little?


in history, it's not chinese but some other people that usually "believe you're not even the same species as other people", in that sense, perhaps you are right

posted by: bingfeng on 10.21.05 at 09:51 PM [permalink]

bingfeng, I'm not saying no one outside of China has ever made racial slurs against Chinese people. They certainly have. I take issue with you overgeneralizing and saying that it's usually other people treating Chinese people as a different species - blood of the Yellow Emperor ring a bell? China has a rich tradition of believing they come from better stock than the rest of humanity, same as everybody else. So please get out of your glass house and come talk to me in the garden.

We're *were* talking about Chinese textbooks, as the link I gave above indicates, teaching Chinese people they come from an original ancestor different from that of the rest of humanity. That would, in effect, make Chinese people a different species. I just chatted with a friend in Xinjiang who basically said yeah, she kinda believes that (she hadn't thought too much about it before).

posted by: davesgonechina on 10.22.05 at 01:26 AM [permalink]

my understanding of evolution theory: the only difference between these different views is, how many times removed we are as cousins?

posted by: sun bin on 10.22.05 at 03:59 AM [permalink]

i think the sina article on dave's post is pretty accurate.
(replace dot with a real dot - was censored by simon )

this is a guide for teachers (in chinese)
it has made the careful distinction of location vs genetic linkage, with texts such as "ancient human kinds living inside the border of our country"

it also said,
"china is one of the area where human kind originates" -- note the definition of human kind included all homo-xxxx (i.e. homo erectus). the east african valley is now widely regarded as the source of homo sapien. but we have no conclusion on other homo species yet, AFAIK.

posted by: sun bin on 10.22.05 at 04:37 AM [permalink]

Hey Sun Bin,

that teachers guide link is giving me some kind of Microsoft database error. Let me know if there's another place to read it.

The homo-xxxxx point is well taken. The sina.com article I link to, and your teachers guide presumably, show that there is certainly awareness on the Mainland of competing theories here. And you're right that the most robust theory for single origin, the mitochondrial Eve hypothesis, is only little more than a decade old.

Part of what Simon's reader has raised here, however, is also the social and racial ideas at play in China as well. Social Darwinism had a significant impact on the development of Chinese nationalism, and clearly Peking Man does link to these issues - if not in reality, then certainly in the minds of many Mainlanders, for example my friend I just talked to. As you mentioned, we're all cousins. Chinese are certainly cousins to, say, Ecuadorians. But my friend, who is by no means uneducated, couldn't say whether she thought we are or not, and I suspect that will not be an uncommon reaction among many Chinese mainlanders.

I think there are several things at play with this issue: that the average person in any country is probably going to express a poor understanding of evolution; 20th century China certainly had some less than stellar ideas of race tied to major revolutionary movements (in the US eugenics and social darwinism was tied to standardized testing - remember that the next time you run into the SAT, GRE or MCAT); and as my friend said, the teacher told them what the textbook said - then moved on without discussion.

posted by: davesgonechina on 10.22.05 at 05:32 AM [permalink]

there seems to be some activex/flash control on that site. i couldn't even do copy/paste. (consider using firefox to view)

here is another site
the official tone (as i see from almost all searches) is that they are call "ancient humans living within borders of our country". i think this heading is given by Ministry of Education (listed as Chapter 1 history for 7th grade)

The 'glory' is claimed by the statement that "we have the highest number of such sites found within our countries among all countries in the world" :)

Some older history texts (historians do not understand evolution thoery) were confused to call them 'our ancestors'. I think this incorrect depiction has been replaced in recent years.

posted by: sun bin on 10.22.05 at 06:38 AM [permalink]

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