Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Quintessentially Chinese: Money, Money, Money Edition

We Asians, particularly those of smokey-yellow skin, are apparently businesspeople to the core. This is our stereotype. My friend Tariq Kamal wrote, "the Chinese vote for whoever is good for business." Many Malaysian-Chinese families I know are apolitical, unruffled by the prospect of moving to other shores if it means a better life. It would explain the scores of Chinese I meet here who come for the paper degree in order to secure good jobs for their future.

The stereotype implies that there is no artistry in the Chinese, no passion, only a focus on wealth management. Our racist stereotype for Singaporeans (predominantly Chinese) is that they're materialistic, kiasu (always wanting to one-up another, snobby). In the Malay Dilemma, good Dr. Mahathir used evolutionary psych (and we know we're in trouble when a politician uses evo psych but this made sense to me) to point out the difference between the Chinese and Malay work ethics: the Chinese had to work hard in order to survive, because a ton of really awful shit goes down in China every so often, apparently, so when they came to Malaya, they brought their work ethic, and thrived as a result; on the other hand, the Malays didn't really have much else to do but plant the paddy fields and watch the rice grow, apparently, so when the Chinese came, the Malays were outclassed.

I'd lol but this has been a bit of a sticking point for me for a while not, because it is not entirely true that the Chinese have no artistry. I mean, did you guys see the freaking Beijing Olympics? Let me assure you that that is not the only Great Chinese Show on this good green earth of such resplendence. Of course, it's not too difficult to pull it off because China has got a ton of bodies to spare.

But anyways, back to the stereotype. I was telling Ay-Leen the Peacemaker the other day about a little skit I had in mind, wherein our two characters would have a confrontation, pull guns on each other, and finish by saying, "of course, we both know... killing each other would be bad for business."

It's funny because it's true. Killing each other is bad for business. Can't get anything done if we're dead.

I laughed and I said to her, "the's so stereotypically Asian".

And then it kinda stopped being funny anymore. Although within the context of the skit, it would have been awesome and hilarious. So it got me thinking.

Chinese in certain quarters are called "Jews of the East", purely due to the money-grubbiness of our yellow hands, because we certainly aren't being persecuted leftrightcenter (OK, so the Japanese went to Chinese shores and the Rape of Nanking happened and Chinese were persecuted in Malaya and that shit was horrible and evil but on the whole it's been mostly Chinese hating on each other) -- and still, in the end, I'm not sure what the problem is.

Sooooooooo, we like monies. What's wrong with that? Lots of people like monies. Monies does useful things, you know, like, fund our hobbies or enable us to go to school without taking out student loans (yes, privilege, natch!) or retire comfortably or support our children when they go to school.

Sooooooooo, we're workaholics? Well, I'm not sure why this is our fault. If we didn't work, we would die. Way back when? Literally. Vita activa, my friends, is for some, not all, but still, very much for some.

Sooooooooo, we're hardworking and industrious and - this is a problem? I mean, if you fucking made us take leave and promised us we're still have a job we'd probably take that leave, you know. This is a baseline because many of us don't have a choice!

And this doesn't even only apply to Chinese - it can apply to so many other people in the world. Some people... just like working. I don't know, maybe we should just quit having expectations on Having It All, and just focus on Having What We Want.

Hmmmm...

2 comments:

  1. Personally, it's okay to be all those things but...

    When people start imposing their culture, beliefs and practices on others, it is NOT okay.

    When people start thinking that their culture is more superior because of their work ethics, their love for money and then demean others as being lazy, that's not okay.

    I get caught in the middle all the time because of the nature of my relationship(s) and family structure (Chinese married to angmoh and such). =.=

    Being all those things is fine but as long as it's not forced upon others and done within moderation.

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  2. Eeesh, the longer I take a look at that article, the more uneasy I feel about some of the generalizations I made in it.

    I mean yes, didactic tone, explicit statements on the variability of truth... the longer I look at it the more inadequate the article seems to be for anything other than introduction--

    And not even then! What kind of ideas would anyone get out of it that would hamper further understanding down the road?

    Anyway. Enough neurotic wibbling... now is the time for stereotypes.

    I've discovered that Mahathir's stereotypes of both Malays and the Chinese are, while rather egregiously inaccurate (oh, so the makcik who sells kuih every morning is lazy? D'you think farming is so easy?), are incredibly seductive. Gotta credit the British Empire -- they don't build memes like that anymore.

    I think the stereotype is not so much about being hardworking or "liking money" (see: UMNO local politicians), but a belief that for the Chinese, money and financial success are central -- everything else is recast in those terms and seen in that lens.

    So yes, you can be artistic -- there's no problem with that. But you have to be artistic and successful, make money maa, or else what's the point? And you can have a degree in English Literature, if it means that in the end you become a successful novelist, or else what's the point leh? Why you spend so much of your father's money? And you can accept government positions, and yes, incidentally you can be a champion for justice and equality and transparency, but where are the contracts? Don't be like the DAP laa, those people are weird.

    Like that, you know? And the exceptions -- the DAP, the mainland Chinese during the Beijing Olympics, the exceptions of the rule who don't want to get into a career because of the monetary rewards, but for a lvoe of the profession itself... you can dismiss them as "strange" and "weird", or you can easily assume that that desire for money or financial success is hidden behind all of that idealism.

    See, for me and, say... Tiara? We can be idealistic and stupid and want things because it is right or we like doing this or it feels good, damnit. But you? Or Eleraine (hi Eleraine, it's been a while!) Nooooo lah! Sure got money motive behind it all. You know la, the Chinese!

    It's bad enough that to everyone, you lot are soul-less automatons who see the world in nothing more than accounting statements, and weigh everything by cost-benefit analysis, but it's even worse when the ones who buy this stereotype are members of the Chinese community themselves, as I'm pretty sure Eleraine can tell you, and my Chinese friends who want to buck the trend tell you.

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