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Friday, August 5, 2022

When Chinese cultural pride gets confused with Chinese nationalism


From Edward Fong

I’m a Malaysian raised in a Chinese cultural environment and it should therefore surprise no one that I’m proud of my heritage of Chinese cuisine, the tales of Chinese heroes long gone, and the history of the Chinese in this country.

Lately, though, I have come to wonder if some members of the community have mistaken cultural pride for blind nationalism, a fanatical devotion not to the country where they were born and currently live, but where their ancestors happened to live in the past.

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China has lately been much in the news, what with Beijing’s sabre-rattling over Taiwan and fears of a Sino-American conflict brewing.

Take a dive into the comment sections under Malaysian news reports on these matters and you might discover something interesting.

Scores of commenters of Chinese ethnicity can be found leaping to China’s defence, commonly arguing that China has done no wrong or something along those lines.

If you look deeper, you will see that most of these commenters are Chinese Malaysians, not Chinese nationals.

Why are they going all-out to defend China?

Not that it is wrong to have a personal opinion about a foreign country, especially a superpower, but they certainly seem unusually fervent in their support.

I have a theory about why these people seem so attached to a country they may have never visited in their life.

In Malaysia, the national identity of Chinese Malaysians has previously been called into question by ultranationalists. Remember “pendatang” and “balik tongsan”?

It is likely that many of these people do not feel like they belong in a country where they are sometimes treated like second-class citizens.

Hence, they instead look towards the home of their ancestors, which has apparently overcome the odds to become an economic superpower with military might to match.

To complicate matters, Chinese news outlets are quite talented at influencing minds to see China as a utopia of sorts, with the ruling Communist Party solely responsible for this success.

With Malaysian politics regularly showing its ugly racist head, I can see why some Chinese Malaysians would instead latch onto Chinese nationalism instead.

This does have an ugly side to it. These people often end up disregarding any fact or opinion that paints China in a bad light.

I remember reading comment sections when news of the Uighur internment camps first emerged and I remember how horrified I was.

The denial was bad enough, but some commenters said that placing people into internment camps en masse based on ethnicity was justified for security reasons.

I suspect that if any other country were to similarly target people of Chinese ethnicity, these same folks would be screaming bloody murder.

But it’s China and its government doing this to an ethnic minority. So all is forgiven and everything is “Western propaganda” and, if it’s real, it’s justifiable.

I don’t think I will ever forget one recent exchange in which a Chinese Malaysian much older than myself said I was a bad Chinese for not being loyal to my “motherland”.

That comment was in response to my criticism of the Chinese government’s heavy-handed approach to Taiwan.

It certainly took me by surprise. Malaysia is my motherland, not China. I was born and raised here and will probably die here.

But it’s more important to remember that criticism of one’s government is not disloyalty to one’s country. I criticise Malaysia frequently because it is flawed to the core. And so is China. No country is perfect.

I fear that some people may have misconstrued being proud to be culturally Chinese as being slavishly devoted to a foreign government that does not care about their existence.

When some Chinese Malaysians suggest that China should interfere in Malaysian affairs to protect the community here, they certainly manifest a delusion of the highest order.

There is some irony in the fact that these wannabe Chinese nationalists also frequently post on Facebook, which is banned in China.

The CCP does not represent all Chinese. It is a party that has survived a fraction of the time some imperial dynasties lasted. I owe no loyalty to a party that Dr Sun Yat-sen would be appalled by.

Am I still proud to be Chinese? I am. But I am also Malaysian and I am proud to be a Chinese Malaysian. - FMT

Edward Fong is an FMT reader.

The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of MMKtT.

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