Thursday, July 30, 2009

Pleasing the Dragon

By Chip Tsao | published Jul 30, 2009

Faced with a rising Oriental Kingdom equipped with an increasing self-confidence about who’s going to be the global boss in the 21st century, westerners are going to have to adjust their mindset if they want to maintain a convivial atmosphere with the average Chinese citizen during a casual chat that spans the usual topics such as Chinese food and Jackie Chan movies.

If your Chinese business friend is a male in his mid-30s, dressed in Armani, originally from Beijing but speaks fluent English with a Bostonian accent, holds an MBA from Harvard, and works for Citibank’s Shanghai branch, then we should all know by now that it would be a big mistake to start off with political topics such as Tibet, or to inform him that you are sympathetic with Richard Gere, and then assume that you’d still get along with him.

No, you would only draw the most furious patriotic fire and you’d have to kiss that contract for a shopping mall in Chongqing goodbye. Twenty years ago, a little knowledge of a few broken Putonghua phrases such as “ni hao ma” along with the basic skill of using chopsticks would qualify you as a loyal friend of the Chinese people and earn yourself an approving grin at the banquet table. Ten years ago, you had to impress your host with a brief condemnation of Chris Patten. As time goes by, it is axiomatic that familiarity breeds contempt. You need to dig much deeper.

If you’re American, you could start with a “it’s-taken-us-200-years-to-get-to-where-we-are” confession, and convince your Chinese friends that what they have achieved in just 30 years is a miracle. You could tell them about how Abraham Lincoln launched a civil war to keep the southern states in a unified motherland. George Washington was a great statesman, you could say, but so was Chairman Mao, and do be sure to let them know you agree with the notion that China would fall apart if its people are allowed to elect their leader through universal franchise. They would be eager to get you to confirm that the Chinese are not educated enough to adopt democracy. Your lecture would be keeping in line with what your Chinese friends believe, but you’ve still got to be careful not to sound too anthropological when explaining why they are unfit for democracy. But don’t worry, the Chinese would never think you’re a racist.

If you’re a Brit, tell them you support the idea of offering compensation to the Chinese people for the Opium War. If you can, draw upon the theatrical talents of Stephen Fry or Ian McKellen and be sure to make your statement with tears welling up in your eyes.

In either case, never ever let your hosts know that you are a fan of Zhang Ziyi. Then you’re playing with fire, because the Chinese-born Hollywood movie star is widely considered nothing more than an in-bed gweilo pleasure machine.

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