Does Gary Locke speak Chinese?

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Yesterday's Bloomberg News ( ) carried an article by Adam Minter entitled "New U.S. Ambassador Sparks Emotional Debate in China".

Minter quotes "Wang Xiaosheng", a business columnist with the Guangzhou-based Southern Metropolitan Daily (said to be China's most important independent newspaper):  "I am afraid that [Locke's] understanding of China is much less than former ambassador Jon Huntsman, a white man who speaks fluent Chinese, due to the fact that Gary Locke speaks only a little Cantonese and no Chinese at all."

This sounds very strange, as though Cantonese were not a Chinese language.  Of course, by "Chinese" Wang means Putonghua (the official national language of the People's Republic of China [PRC]).  Well, it's even worse than that.  Not only is Locke unable to speak Mandarin, he doesn't speak Cantonese either, but apparently only a smattering of Toisanese / Hoisanese, a Cantonese topolect that is itself often considered as a separate language from the Cantonese of Hong Kong and Guangdong (Canton).

The situation regarding the name of Locke's ancestral topolect, 台山话 / 台山話 [hɔi˨san˧wa˧˨˥], is rather complicated.  What is not in question is the importance of this topolect among the Yue (or Cantonese) languages, since many Americans of Chinese descent hail from the area in Guangdong where it is spoken.

The ambiguity of statements like that of Wang Xiaosheng can be avoided by referring to Putonghua 普通话 / 普通話 as Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM) and Hanyu 汉语 / 漢語 (the group of languages to which all forms of "Chinese" belong) as Sinitic.

The controversy over Gary Locke's Chineseness began months ago when President Obama nominated him to be the ambassador of the United States of America to the PRC.  In an LA Times article dated March 10, 2011, Barbara Demick quoted an anonymous contributor to an Internet forum on public affairs who called Locke "A fake foreign devil who cannot even speak Chinese."

It seems to me that the question is not just whether Gary Locke SPEAKS Chinese, but whether Gary Locke IS Chinese.  And even if he did speak "real Chinese" language, would that make him a "real Chinese" person?  As Arif Dirlik, who called the Bloomberg article by Adam Minter to my attention, put it, the question of Gary Locke's "Chineseness" is "blowing their [VHM: referring to the people of the PRC] minds".

If you ask me, Gary Locke is no more Chinese than I am Austrian, even though I've been to Pfaffenhofen, my father's hometown, a few times and speak a bit of German (but no Pfaffenhofenese).



48 Comments

  1. Vance Maverick said,

    August 19, 2011 @ 9:31 am

    You don't quite let on whether you know that you're opening a can of worms here. Just to spell it out: it might not matter to people in China, but clearly US assimilation of immigrants has varied somewhat according to origin. The descendants of Austrians can become simply white, to put it bluntly, but the descendants of Chinese cannot. I'm sure you and I agree that they are equally American, of course. But I imagine that to Chinese-Americans, for example, the selection of a Chinese-American as ambassador to China means a lot.

  2. Alan Chin said,

    August 19, 2011 @ 10:04 am

    Thanks, Victor. Let me preface my remarks by saying that I don't know the details of Locke's level of fluency in any language other than English. However, when you say: "he doesn't speak Cantonese either, but apparently only a smattering of Toisanese / Hoisanese," — that's almost impossible for an American born-Chinese (ABC) such as Locke or myself.

    Because, although Toishanese isn't fully mutually comprehensible to standard Cantonese speakers (about 30-60%, depending on who you ask), I've never heard of any Toishanese speaker, including one who has only a "smattering," who doesn't have some level of standard Cantonese comprehension, if not ability to actually speak it.

    Even in the assimilated American linguistic culture, any contact with Chinatowns, restaurants, radio, TV, films, etc. is going to involve hearing Cantonese. Growing up in Seattle and Washington state, presumably Locke would have had at least peripheral contact with this world of the public Cantonese-based Chinese-American community.

    He was born in 1950, a time in which Toishanese was the dominant topolect in American Chinatowns, as the vast majority of Chinese in America at that time were Toishanese. By the 1960s, standard Cantonese had taken over due to the huge influx of immigrants from (or transiting through) Hong Kong. Locke, if he is like others of this generation that I know, may understand far more Cantonese than he might be able or willing to speak.

    That is not the same as fluency, nor does it imply any commentary on "Chinese-ness" — this is just my anecdotal note on the close relationship between standard Cantonese and Toishanese. The cultural realities of standard Cantonese being the "correct" form of Cantonese means that Cantonese speakers have trouble with Toishanese speakers, but much less so the other way around.

  3. michael erard said,

    August 19, 2011 @ 11:52 am

    @Vance, Mair is talking about what PRC media make of Locke's Chinese-ness, not perceptions in the US.

  4. Mucus said,

    August 19, 2011 @ 12:15 pm

    "It seems to me that the question is not just whether Gary Locke SPEAKS Chinese, but whether Gary Locke IS Chinese."

    Well, I'm not sure whether his appointment is really "blowing" anyone's minds or just exposing existing differences in viewpoints. I think there are just as many viewpoints in China on who is "Chinese" as there are in America over who is "American," perhaps even more due to the population differences and the unique position of Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macau.

    In the US, you have people that take a generous view (anyone who ever had American ancestry is American), a legal view (anyone who has citizenship is American), and the "Real American" view that even excludes many urban areas (and in some cases, the President).

    So in China, when you're talking about "fenqing" (i.e. the " anonymous contributor to an Internet forum on public affairs" in the article), you're really just talking about the equivalent of the "Real American" crowd. This crowd debates whether Chinese celebrities are traitors when they take up Singapore citizenship or whether people in Hong Kong with multiple passports are sufficiently patriotic.

  5. Outis said,

    August 19, 2011 @ 1:41 pm

    Leaving out the question of Locke's Chinese-ness: I remember reading that, during the US-China negotiations on copyright issues in the '90s, the US team initially had a Chinese American leading the talk. But apparently seeing an ethnic Chinese working and representing America was so irksome to the Chinese that the man had to be replaced.

    Regardless of Locke's qualification, I'm not sure if he would be well-received in China.

  6. y said,

    August 19, 2011 @ 1:57 pm

    A NYT article suggests that Locke is making an impression in China because he carries his own luggage.

  7. GeorgeW said,

    August 19, 2011 @ 1:58 pm

    Apparently, mundane acts such an official carrying his own bag and ordering his own coffee offends some in China as well.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/18/world/asia/18china.html

  8. mike said,

    August 19, 2011 @ 2:16 pm

    If it's ok to just throw in anecdotal discussion here … my brother-in-law has lived in China for nearly two decades and is as fluent in, er, Putonghua as a foreigner is likely to get. ((I'm assuming that Putonghua is what's casually known as "Mandarin" — ?) I asked him once about Chinese attitudes toward ethnic diversity in their sprawling country, and he said (I report only his opinion) that the basic attitude is that you're "Chinese" if you speak the language, i.e., Mandarin. My impression was that it was something like the U.S., where one's ethnic origin is ultimately less important than one's participation in the dominant culture, of which the primary marker is English. Of course, this is all complicated by the issue of Chinese attitudes toward Chinese-Americans, whatever those might be.

  9. B.Ma said,

    August 19, 2011 @ 2:31 pm

    How did 吴向宏 become "Wang XiaoSheng"?

  10. slobone said,

    August 19, 2011 @ 2:39 pm

    I wonder if attitudes in China are changing? If I recall correctly, when they were first opening up their economy to Western entrepreneurs, Americans of Chinese descent were especially welcome. Has nationalism grown to the point where not being "real Chinese" is actually a handicap?

  11. peter said,

    August 20, 2011 @ 2:26 am

    "It seems to me that the question is not just whether Gary Locke SPEAKS Chinese, but whether Gary Locke IS Chinese."

    I understood that Chinese law treats all ethnic Chinese persons, no matter where born, and no matter how many generations distant from an ancestor born in China, as Chinese citizens.

  12. Christopher Sundita said,

    August 20, 2011 @ 4:00 am

    When Gary Locke was Washington State Governor, he went on a trip to China in 1997. I recall an article in the Tacoma News Tribune at time that he was asked by a reporter if he spoke Chinese. His reply was "Siu siu" (very little). That's Cantonese, right?

    –Chris

  13. JQ said,

    August 20, 2011 @ 4:53 am

    peter:

    Incorrect. See here, here and here for a starting point.

  14. Claw said,

    August 20, 2011 @ 4:56 am

    @Christopher: Yes, that's Cantonese for 少少.

  15. JQ said,

    August 20, 2011 @ 4:58 am

    slobone: real Chinese
    Without getting too political most overseas Chinese from before the PRC-era would consider themselves to be the "real Chinese" and not the communist authoritarians who currently rule over their ancestors' homeland. Interesting how they have perverted the language so that being Chinese is equated to supporting the communist party. Well, there are some Tea Partiers who would say that Obama is not a "real American".

    Christopher Sundita: "小小" means "a little bit" rather than "very little", which is more accurately represented by "好小".

  16. Katie said,

    August 20, 2011 @ 7:42 am

    FWIW, it seems the strongly predominant view in China is that Chinese heritage = Chinese. Or at least, when they inquire about my husband, I'll tell them that he is 华裔美国人 (Chinese-American), and almost inevitably, the response is something like "Oh, he's 中国人" (Chinese). Although maybe 中国人has broader implications than I realize.

  17. Cai Wen said,

    August 20, 2011 @ 10:15 am

    Seems to me if you look Chinese and are in China, Putonghua speakers expect you to speak Putonghua, regardless of where you grew up. I do not look Chinese, and many Chinese are impressed when I utter simple sentences. At the same time, my Chinese-American friends, who speak better Chinese than I do, are criticized for not speaking more fluently. There is an interesting interaction going on between a non-native speaker's race and the standards native speakers hold them to.

    Also, Gary Locke's Chineseness is tied to his ability to speak Putonghua specifically, when at least some southern dialects (possibly including Toisan…?) have been far more linguistically conservative than MSM, and have preserved many more features of historical standards. What I'm trying to say is, for "Wang Xiaosheng," being Chinese is being tied to the political reality of modern China, rather than being tied to China's ancient history… but I guess that's not really linguistics.

  18. Victor Mair said,

    August 20, 2011 @ 12:40 pm

    @JQ

    Thanks for the links to Chinese immigration laws, but it would be helpful for those of us who are not familiar with them if you could direct us to the relevant rules and regulations.

  19. Alan Chin said,

    August 20, 2011 @ 8:24 pm

    OK, here we go: on "Chinese-ness" : once again, this really depends on what kind of "Chinese" you yourself are, as many posters have already noted. I would start with some regional and cultural differentiations as well as political ones that I know of, other regions I know less:

    1) Cantonese attitudes: home to HK as well as a large percentage of origin for the diaspora, I would speculate that Cantonese of whatever variety have a fairly broad definition of who or what is Chinese, but based entirely around blood and ethnicity. That is, HKers are Chinese, overseas Chinese are Chinese, people of mixed race parentage are Chinese. And language matters less because we don't speak Mandarin anyway, and Taiwanese, Singaporeans, Malaysians, are all Chinese. Interestingly, Tibetans and Uighurs aren't Chinese, neither are various minority groups, though they better follow orders. This is really defining it as "Han Chinese" with an optional imperial element.

    2) Overseas Chinese attitudes, in the US: I do think that the more "assimilated" a Chinese-American might be, the less they might see themselves as "Chinese" — though there's room for the hyphenated category. This is purely about cultural identification, so yes, the better the language skills, the higher the identification.

    3) Attitudes in Beijing: Many educated Beijingers I met either also have the third distinct category of "Overseas Chinese" 華僑 or consider overseas Chinese to not be Chinese at all. Any language skills, even fluent and literate, makes you a "friend of China" and someone who loves his/her "roots" but any "Chinese-ness" you might get is earned and awarded to you, not inherent. This is an attribute of the "contemporary nationalism" that gets talked about these days.

    Diaspora and overseas Chinese have a long, if under-reported, influence on mainland politics, culture, and history. Eugene Chen of the KMT barely spoke any Chinese, being Trinidadean overseas Chinese if I remember right, and Sun Yatsen himself spent a lot of time in Hawaii and the USA.

    Equivalent current science fiction scenario (been reading Chan Koonchung's The Fat Years, so bear with me): China implodes in total political / economic collapse (you pick the options) — in turmoil, Gary Locke or somebody like him emerges as a new leader of China. Stranger things have happened in the real world. My point with this outlandish fantasy is that — Gary Locke could in China, a typical other-kind-of-American like Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama or Michelle Bachmann — could not!

    That's the wonderful thing about identity. It is whatever you say it is, and can convince enough people of. Hitler was an Austrian, Stalin a Georgian, and Winston Churchill half-American.

  20. slobone said,

    August 21, 2011 @ 2:26 pm

    @Alan Chin, Don't forget Madame Chiang Kai-Shek, she was educated mostly in the US and had a pronounced Georgia accent when she spoke English. Don't know what kind of accent she had in Chinese.

  21. Keith M Ellis said,

    August 21, 2011 @ 4:58 pm

    "Stalin a Georgian"

    I don't think that example is much like the two others. Within the USSR, Stalin was never anything other than Georgian; he certainly wasn't considered Russian. Maybe Americans and other foreigners didn't/don't know the difference, but the Soviets were always very aware of national/ethnic identities, even when they claimed they weren't; and, in any case, Stalin being Georgian was a big part of his identity and his personal and political history.

    I don't know much about Hitler; but I think that although he was definitely Austrian, in the context of the geography where he grew up and the general sense of ethnicity specific to that place and time (but not exclusively so), Hitler was quite credibly German, too, ethnically.

  22. Bob Violence said,

    August 22, 2011 @ 12:44 am

    @slobone: I would assume a Wu accent, since (like her husband) she originally came from Shanghai, although her father was a Hakka from Hainan. You can hear her speaking Mandarin in this clip, although I'm not versed enough in Chinese accents to identify a particular one. There's one commenter claiming her accent has some specifically "American" features, and I think it's safe to say her Mandarin was far from standard and possibly not even fluent.

  23. Victor Mair said,

    August 22, 2011 @ 6:19 am

    @Bob Violence

    Thanks for the clip. For those who don't want to wait in suspense, Madame Chiang starts talking at 2:49.

    I have seen this video before. There are so many striking aspects to it that I may write a separate blog about them.

  24. SeekTruthFromFacts said,

    August 22, 2011 @ 12:50 pm

    @peter, JQ

    "I understood that Chinese law treats all ethnic Chinese persons, no matter where born, and no matter how many generations distant from an ancestor born in China, as Chinese citizens."

    While, this is not true now, it was true under the Qing Empire.*

    @Victor Mair:
    "I have seen this video before. There are so many striking aspects to it that I may write a separate blog about them."

    Pray tell!

    *Sources:

    http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=jzuKi8RWYy0C&pg=PA171&dq=Qing+nationality&hl=en&ei=VZJSTuyWJoSN4gTeyvW5Bw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CC8Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=Qing%20nationality&f=false

    http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Dqawo0Kpvz0C&pg=PA250&dq=Qing+nationality&hl=en&ei=VZJSTuyWJoSN4gTeyvW5Bw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=5&ved=0CEMQ6AEwBA#v=onepage&q=Qing%20nationality&f=false

  25. Army1987 said,

    August 23, 2011 @ 7:09 am

    Why is referring to Mandarin as "Chinese" considered any weirder than referring to Castilian as "Spanish", by the way?

  26. Bob said,

    August 23, 2011 @ 6:21 pm

    –should be an topic of another BLOG–
    Gary Locke's beautiful wife speaks MSM, since she was borned and grew up in Taiwan. Gary has been too busy to learn MSM all these years…
    btw, "Mandarin" (court language) is used in Taiwan; while "Putonghua" (common language) is used in PRC -People's Republic ….no more imperial phases…

  27. peter said,

    August 23, 2011 @ 6:30 pm

    Re JQ at 4:53:

    I may be incorrect on the actual written law in PR China (as reported in Wikipedia), but if so my ignorance of current Chinese law appears to be shared by the Chinese authorities. From yesterday's Sydney Morning Herald:

    http://www.smh.com.au/national/another-australian-hits-chinas-legal-wall-20110822-1j6s0.html

    ""The common feature in all of these cases is that they are ethnic Chinese," said Donald Rothwell, professor of international law at the Australian National University.

    Professor Rothwell said it was unlikely that Chinese authorities were targeting Australians, but it was clear that Chinese authorities "really make no distinction" between Chinese nationals and ethnic Chinese with foreign citizenship who return to work in China."

    And from am editorial today:


    The second attitude is that Chinese officials still regard overseas Chinese as Chinese subjects whatever their passport, and whatever assurances to the contrary given by Beijing over the decades to countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia that ethnic Chinese minorities do not comprise a fifth column."

    http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/editorial/black-hole-of-chinese-law-20110823-1j882.html

  28. Kyle Church said,

    August 24, 2011 @ 5:56 am

    I've been living in China a few years and these are my observations:

    1) Putonghua = something like the Queen's English. The proper Mandarin that practically nobody speaks. Mandarin seems to be a foreign concept rather than a Chinese one.

    2) Guoyu (in Guangxi anyway)/Hanyu/Zhongwen/"Chinese" = Anything that is reasonably intelligible to someone who understands the northern dialects (all mainlanders, nowadays). That is to say, anything that is not so regional that is can't be understood by non-locals. So something similar to Putonghua but with a bit of an accent or some regional slang is still Chinese, but southeastern dialects/languages/whatever are just "fangyen", a word that can be equally applied to a slight accent, except a slight accent is "Chinese" whereas Cantonese is not, even though the speakers and definitely considered Chinese. It is very confusing for an outsider but they seem to have no problem with it.

    3) Chinese have a very strange and complicated attitude about overseas Chinese. Most overseas Chinese I've met who come back to learn about their heritage or whatever end up in tears or feeling very foreign and out-of-place after a few months. It seems to me that a lot of the locals want their foreigners to be foreign and exotic to the extreme, and they want their Chinese to follow the extremely strict normative rules of Chinese society. People who fall somewhere between the extremes (including white and black people who aren't particularly entertaining or energetic) tend to be treated with extreme disappointment by absolutely everyone.

  29. Alan Chin said,

    August 24, 2011 @ 7:26 pm

    @Kyle:

    Guoyu and putonghua are the same thing: Mandarin, except that Guoyou includes the official Taiwan variant whereas putonghua is a Communist term applying to the mainland. What you mean by your first point is either the Beijing "prestige + proper" variant, or when newscasters read out loud written MSM (modern standard Mandarin).

    To say that Cantonese is not Chinese gets to the heart of the national and cultural debate. Cantonese see themselves as fully Chinese, the language is distinct but so is Fujianese, Hakka, and all the other Sinitic languages, all of which are mutually incomprehensible for the most part. This is distinct from topolects within each language. Cantonese is certainly the most "powerful" non-Mandarin Sinitic language with the most advanced written forms due to the diaspora, the autonomous influence of Hong Kong, and the region's outsize historic role.

    Your point on overseas Chinese is doubtless true for ABCs who don't have much legacy language skills — but that is just one kind of overseas Chinese — Singaporeans, for example, who are another kind of overseas Chinese, tend to be very comfortable living and working in China.

  30. Kyle Church said,

    August 25, 2011 @ 7:05 am

    I think I got some weird regional variant on the term. When I was in Guilin, the locals assured me that everyone spoke Guoyu but not good Putonghua, but that in Nanning and Hunan no one spoke Guoyu, just fangyan (probably an exaggeration!, though I found Guilin people chatting with each other easier to understand than most Jiangnan people speaking Mandarin, for example). I think that might just be a weird freaky local use of the term, because I've never really heard it up where I live (that was my first time farther south than Hangzhou, embarrassingly). One person I met from Hunan also used "Baihua" to mean Chinese as opposed to a minority language, which is something I've never heard before either.

    Here in Jiangnan, they seem to use fangyan equally for the Mandarin-with-an-accent-and-a-few-odd-words cities (Nanjing, Zhenjiang, most of Jiangbei) and definitely-not-Mandarin cities, even though the locals recognize the huge intelligibility differences. Always strikes me as quite odd and confusing as a non-Chinese. I guess I'm more used to Europe, where nowadays it seems they're starting to redefine every traditional dialect as a language.

    Fair enough on the ABCs. Come to think of it, most of the foreign-born Chinese I've met were short-termers who didn't speak much Chinese, never planned to stay long in the first place, and who drifted towards native English speakers socially, so my picture is probably quite skewered.

  31. Ponder Stibbons said,

    August 26, 2011 @ 8:33 pm

    Kyle and Alan:

    I'm not sure about the not being comfortable in China thing being limited to those ethnic Chinese with poor Chinese language skills. Singaporeans are already extremely uncomfortable with mainland Chinese living in Singapore. Language is not the issue, behaviour is. And the one person I know who lived in China for a while had excellent Mandarin but could not stand the behaviour of the mainland Chinese in Shanghai. Probably most of the Singaporeans who work in China are self-selected to be those who find mainland Chinese less objectionable. But I don't think it's about language skills.

    For what it's worth, as a Singaporean living in America, I tend to avoid mainland Chinese because I feel a social pressure to 'act Chinese' when I'm around them, which is uncomfortable because I consider 'Chineseness' (whatever that is) to be a very minor part of my identity. (This is less of a problem in Singapore because the mainland Chinese there understand how different Singaporean Chinese are from them, and have adjusted their expectations.) I also get vibes of 'we're from an older culture so we're better' from mainland Chinese, and I note that I am not the only one who feels that way. I feel more comfortable around Hongkongers or Taiwanese.

  32. jakeinKM said,

    August 27, 2011 @ 8:00 pm

    As one that first visited China nearly 30 years ago, and lived in China for a decade, studied Mandarin at UCLA and in China and has traveled to more than 80 cities and regions in China, I can quite confidently state there is no common spoken language in China.

    Many Chinese, when looking at my white face, just know they cannot understand me no matter what comes out of my mouth. An in all honesty, I often do not have a clue as to what they say. I often resort to writing in 汉字 to communicate. It is amazing how much verbal communication improves when they realize I know a little Chinese.

    While touted as the language most spoken in the world, I recall an article lamenting that only 54% of Chinese are fluent in putonghua. The reason is that, like the UH's RP, putonghua is the language of the educated. Most Chinese, educated or not, slide right into the local patois. Often locals, especially in markets, will switch from the local dialect to something must closer to putonghua in response to my accent.

    As for being Chinese or not, a Taiwanese immigrant to the US, colleague was having trouble with her US born and raised teenage son. After listening to her litany of complaints and plea for suggestions, I told her, "You look at your son and see a Chinese and expect him to be Chinese. Really, he is an American and you need to treat him like an American kid." In my experience, six kids, five born in Asia and all part Chinese, acculturation occurs quite early and they become Americans courtesy of public schools. Gary Locke is an American that looks Chinese.

  33. Poi Uy said,

    August 28, 2011 @ 12:21 pm

    Who, or what, is a "real Chinese" ? Are Tibetans "real Chinese" ? Are Mongolians "real Chinese" ? Is Hu real Chinese. Are Taiwanese "real Chinese" ?

  34. Gareth said,

    August 29, 2011 @ 9:50 am

    I'll be quite happy for an ethnic Chinese person who can't speak Mandarin to be famous in China. It will help people understand that the ability to speak/read/write Chinese is something which is learnt, it's not genetic.

  35. Jirou He said,

    September 4, 2011 @ 6:34 pm

    Seems the question "Chinese's definition of what is a Chinese" has stirred broad discussions here. I am a Chinese and I'd like to bring some historic flavor (compared to Europe) to this topic. It is not the laws but culture and history that determines the way Chinese perceive who are Chinese (which you may feel confused with)
    China has been occupying a very large land for thousands of years.
    1) This lengthy span, though sometimes China broke into several kingdoms, still saw a continuous and firm recognition of Chinese language and "Confucious" philosophy (moral criteria related to it) among a majority of people living there.
    2) Wars, conflicts happened from time to time, not out of culture or religion, but out of political andf financial interests in most cases. Though there were wars against Viatnam and Korea, they are just a negligible part of China's history.
    So ordinary Chinese have long taken it for granted that people with the same look are supposed to behave same way and speak the same. They are, to Chinese, 3 factors in Trinity. Rarely did they have a chance to intereact with foreigners.

    One aspect of Chinese culture is the emphasis on family members' bond with their families and root in the hometown. It was a traditional practice for an ancient Chinese who had worked in another place long (literarily known as "travelling son" to his family) would return to his hometown after he retired no matter how far his workplace was or what he did.

    In contrary, none of the aforementioned factors exists in Europeans and their descendants in America. There had been a dozen of countries, diversified cultures and religons in ancient Europe. Even for an ancient European, it was rather normal he/she met a guy even with the same look who behaved a different way. Colonization made the mixture of different cultures and ethnics more common for Europeans, which never happened in China's history.

    Now put Gary Locke into the context
    1) He has the same look as Chinese, which is pretty misleading.
    2) Since he is the desendant of Chinese immigrants, which makes him perfectly fit the image of "travelling son" in the traditional context.

    A rationale Chinese would not take 2) seriously. However, it can not be avoided emotionally and culturally.

  36. leung frankie fook-lun said,

    September 20, 2011 @ 6:32 pm

    I once wrote an article in the Asian Wall St. Journal: To Be or Not To Be: Overseas Chinese. The nationality of Chinese can be problematic under Chinese Nationality Law which does not actually define what Chinese means. Operationally defined, any one who carries a Chinese Passport is by nationality Chinese. What about the millions of Chinese living in Hong Kong, Macao or Taiwan who are Chinese but also can carry a foreign passport of British, European Union (Portuguese) or People's Republic of China. Ambassador Locke is ethnic Chinese but he is a citizen of the USA. In a conflict of nationalities situation arises, people who can be considered dual citizens may create a problem.

  37. Sai said,

    September 26, 2011 @ 11:18 pm

    In his own eyes at least, Gary's got to be American. Why else would he add an 'e' to what his surname must sound like in any kind of Chinese? I don't know of any system that would transliterate a Chinese name, never mind whether it's Cantonese, Toisanese or Mandarin, by adding a silent 'e' at the end. Does anyone?

  38. Michael Rank said,

    October 2, 2011 @ 5:18 pm

    Victor Mair said There are so many striking aspects to the clip of Mme Chiang that I may write a separate blog about them. Yes please!

  39. leung frankie fook-lun said,

    October 16, 2011 @ 11:11 pm

    don't decide one's nationality or national orientation by the skin of one's color. Knowing China is one thing. Serving America's interest is another. Looking chinese or not is absolutely irrelevant. Many Americans who are caught as spies for countries such as China are white anglo-saxon males born in USA.

  40. Jake Chen said,

    October 30, 2011 @ 3:04 pm

    "I am afraid that [Locke's] understanding of China is much less than former ambassador Jon Huntsman, a white man who speaks fluent Chinese, due to the fact that Gary Locke speaks only a little Cantonese and no Chinese at all."

    I wonder if Adam Minter can actually understand the Chinese article and who did the bad translation- I read it and it was actually a very enlightened piece on evolving Chinese racial attitudes. The author states how a few decades ago, the Chinese people would have expected a Chinese-American to share China's values and interests (that there is an unbreakable racial bond), but now more people accept that he grew up in America and is fully American, regardless of his Chinese heritage. From my reading, the author brought up the fact that Locke speaks a little Cantonese and no Mandarin not to disparage him but to show that he (and his parents before him) are assimilating. There is no value judgment, just a statement of the fact that Locke does indeed know less about Chinese culture and language than his grandparents from China did.

  41. leung frankie fook-lun said,

    November 14, 2011 @ 8:38 pm

    Being an ambassador is not a one-man show. Neither is he on a one-man crusade. The ambassador is a messenger for the US government. He has a bunch of subordinates, linguists and intelligence officers helping me. Whether he speaks the language like Chairman Mao is totally besides the point.

  42. leung frankie fook-lun said,

    November 14, 2011 @ 8:39 pm

    Being an ambassador is not a one-man show. Neither is he on a one-man crusade. The ambassador is a messenger for the US government. He has a bunch of subordinates, linguists and intelligence officers helping him. Whether he speaks the language like Chairman Mao is totally besides the point.

  43. Frankie Fook-lun Leung said,

    May 17, 2012 @ 12:32 pm

    Gary Locke's grandparents emigrated from Taoi-shan, a part of Guangdong province. Their native tongue is Taoishan and not mandarin or cantonese. Many of the present generation of Taoishan Americans, like Gary, can speak Taoishan but they can't read Chinese.

  44. Frankie Fook-lun Leung said,

    June 28, 2012 @ 9:58 pm

    Gary Locke seems to be the most criticized U S Ambassador by the Chinese media. He tried to be folksy and did things like a common citizen does, like flying coach class and buying coffee at Starbucks with coupons. Yet the Chinese press think that he pretends to show to the Chinese bureaucrats that how easy he can mix with the masses whereas the Chinese Mandarins are aloof and live a high life.

  45. momk said,

    September 20, 2012 @ 7:34 am

    China is a lot different from austria, or any white country. it's the same with japan. a lot of japanese migrated to brazil, but then a lot of them migrated back to japan. they do not forget who they are. with China, a lot of Chinese migrated to indonesia, and malaysia, but they go back by the millions. most white people, when they immigrate to another country stop speaking their original language. not so with Chinese. Chinese people have been in indonesia for hundreds of years, but they still have Chinese schools there. obviously there are Chinese people who just become thai, but in america makes it difficult for a Chinese person to become american. black people have been in america for at least a hundred years, and they are routinely segregated. a Chinese person in america for a few decades isnt going to be welcomed with open arms. hispanics make up something like 10% of the u.s population, but you cant tell by watchin their movies, or tv. it's as if theyre invisible. gary locke is very much white washed, but he is not representative of your average Chinese american.

  46. David said,

    November 26, 2012 @ 12:10 pm

    In English, saying that "Gary Locke speaks only a little Cantonese and no Chinese at all" does indeed sound strange (and if anything, it seems to imply that Cantonese isn't even a variety of Chinese, which would starkly oppose the PRC's treatment of all non-Putonghua varieties as "dialects" of one unified Chinese language), but that's not an accurate idiomatic translation of what was said. The actual language used by Wu Xianghong (whose name the article originally mistransliterated as Wang Xiaosheng) is that Gary Locke "略懂广东话但基本不会汉语" (lǜe dǒng Guǎngdōnghuà dàn jīběn bú huì Hànyǔ) or "has a marginal understanding of Cantonese but does not know Hanyu at all."

    Hanyu, literally "[spoken] language of the Han Chinese people," is one of several terms used to refer to the Chinese language (which itself is ambiguous in English), along with Zhongwen ("Chinese [written] language") and Zhongguohua ("speech of China"). Zhongguohua is used by linguists to refer to the collection of language varieties spoken in China, namely those in the Mandarin, Cantonese, Wu, Min, Gan-Hakka, and Xiang families.

    Zhongwen, prescriptivists argue, refers to the written Chinese language, which has largely used the grammar and word choice of Standard Mandarin (Putonghua) since the turn of the 20th century, but which can be read aloud using the pronunciation of other Chinese varieties since the script is logographic. In reality though, Zhongwen is often used to refer to spoken Chinese, which for some speakers means any spoken variety (synonymous with Zhongguohua) and for others it means Putonghua. In Standard Cantonese, the morphologically equivalent term to Zhongwen (pronounced Zungman) is often used in this latter sense but to refer to their own language, i.e. Standard Cantonese.

    Traditionally, wén refers to written languages and yǔ to spoken languages. Thus, Hanyu is the spoken equivalent of Zhongwen. It is sometimes used to refer to the collection of spoken Chinese varieties (synonymous with Zhongguohua) and sometimes to refer to Standard Mandarin. In the original Chinese of Wu Xianghong's essay, the contrast of Cantonese and Hanyu makes it unambiguous that Hanyu refers to Putonghua. As for Wu's use of Guangdonghua to mean the Cantonese family (Yueyu) rather than the prestige lect spoken in Guangzhou, Hong Kong, and Macau, I'll save that for another discussion.

  47. David said,

    November 26, 2012 @ 12:22 pm

    Kyle Church, I don't think speakers generally differentiate between Putonghua and Guoyu. I've gotten the sense that the former is much more common in the PRC, the latter is much more common in Taiwan, and both refer either to Standard Mandarin or to dialects in the Mandarin family that are mutually intelligible with the prestige dialect. Wikipedia supports this view and also says that speakers in the Philippines, Malaysia, and Singapore prefer the term Huayu (华语). Throughout the rest of the world, Chinese speakers use the three terms interchangeably.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standard_Chinese

  48. David said,

    November 26, 2012 @ 3:19 pm

    Correction: I translated "略懂广东话但基本不会汉语" as "has a marginal understanding of Cantonese but does not know Hanyu at all" since I had the article's translation in my head, but that's not quite accurate. It *would* be if the phrase used 根本 instead of 基本, but that's not the case here, so the article's translation and mine were wrong. The phrase actually means "has a marginal understanding of Cantonese but essentially doesn't know Hanyu," leaving open the possibility that Gary Locke knows a few words or phrases. I know that doesn't change much, but I'd like to set the record straight!

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