‘Banana’ man Gary Locke


China’s state-run news agency farewell fingers up to Gary Locke was of course poorly representative of the general evaluation of the ambassador among the Chinese people. In fact, the general response in China according to many reports, including Western ones, have been of appreciation, primarily for his efforts to raise awareness on pollution. 

The interesting thing about this scathing assessment is its indication that a racial discourse still colours China’s nationalism. It has referred to Locke as “yellow-skinned white-hearted banana…”, capable of “inciting evil winds, lighting evil fires” (raising issues about human rights issues in Tibet and Xinjiang), incapable of “understand[ing] Chinese law” and “particularly likes to gesticulate profusely and criticise indiscriminately Chinese domestic affairs.” And lastly, it reminds Locke of the furious manner in which his ancestors would have reacted to some of Locke’s diplomatic initiatives which have clearly damaged China’s softpower credentials before the hawking eyes of the Western liberal world, the skeptical minds of China’s timid neighbours and the curiosity of its partners in Africa.

Gary Locke is Chinese American,  a huaqiao 华裔,who in many people’s hearts and minds are still Chinese. Expected of him is not so much a direct devotion to making China a stronger nation, but at the very least not to aid a Western power to apply salt on the nation’s weak spots, such as human rights issues. Many 华裔 and 华侨 around the world still have kinship ties everywhere in the mainland in what could, for lack of better phrase, be described as multilayered, perpetually changing relationships. There was a time when under the threat of Japanese military advance in the Asia-pacific theatre of WWII, social organizations in Hong Kong drew on kinship and racial ties to elicit donations from overseas Chinese communities in Southeast Asia for relief on the motherland.

Betrayal might be a strong word (perhaps not for the most patriotic) to describe the emotions that some might have felt at the sight of a Chinese-looking person advancing the interests of the U.S., which from the Chinese perspective in so many ways has been a mountain to overcome. But words such as ‘banana’ and allusions to his ancestry flipping over in their graves indicates fondness for racial solidarity vis-a-vis West.

For instance, one could sense in the mainland’s demand for genetic possession claims of successful Chinese diasporas in the U.S. this kind of racial solidarity. Jeremy Lin who has made as many headlines about his basketball performance as racial issues in the U.S., has also gained wide popularity in China, as the son of the motherland who has gone on to succeed in the U.S.. The complicated identities of diaspora communities make it pointless to determine whether he is more Chinese or American. That is up to the individual in question. But in China, he is claimed as essentially Chinese; the environment of his upbringing, and more importantly Lin’s own self-identification are in this instance immaterial and unimportant compared to the fact that Lin is one of the most shining aspects of Chinese people. Another theme that emerges here is competition along racial lines, and that is why this post would like to suggest underlying many Chinese’ worldview is a Spencerian view that different races are competing each other for survival。


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