My Other People’s Republic

Here goes an attempt to paint a geopolitical assessment of China in 900 whimsical words using lazy broad strokes. If you’re an Asian friend, it should hold your attention OK. If you’re not, just stick with me as long as you can. Surely you have Asian friends. Or I’ll bet a few shares of Alibaba stock you have some white friends who love Asian women.

Note I’m putting China and the rest of Asia in the same bucket. Chinese, Japanese, Koreans generally don’t want to sit at the same Benihana table to discuss imperial history. But no one else can tell the difference among us or cares to try. Public service announcement: If some racist hooligans are about to rough you up for starting the kung flu, clarifying you’re Vietnamese isn’t going to elicit an apology and send them on their merry way.

I’m intrigued and slightly nervous about how being Chinese in America will look and feel in the back half of my life. China wants a shot at the title from the back-to-back World War Champions (still the best Fourth of July shirt out there, especially when cut into a midriff).

A brief history of China in my mind would read like this… Beast Mode since basically the beginning of civilization. Absolutely flourishing while thumbing noses at the pagans in the rest of the world.

Then 100 years of humiliating decline starting in the 19th century. Everyone just kept nutting in their rice Chex cereal for a century, like the time I hustled back to defend a two-on-one break in a Riverside rec league and got dunked on with such disrespect I kept imagining the sensation of a ballsack resting on my forehead for weeks afterward.

There is an inferiority complex when that happens and an intensity behind the comeback. China is ready. China is coming. Our back-to-back impeachment champ was right to confront the surging Beast of the Far East if Uncle Sam still wants to play uncle and alpha to the rest of the globe.

China is going to be right up in our face for a long time. It’s hard to care much right now when the folks rampaging through the Capitol don’t look very Chinese. But there will come many times when what that Capitol stands for clearly is being challenged in a superpower standoff.

It was a peculiar and telling episode when NBA general manager Daryl Morey tweeted support for pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. The Chinese government was furious, and the NBA cowered with a lucrative ecosystem of sponsorships on the line. LeBron said Morey was misinformed and not educated on the situation at hand.

Now, LeBron got an education like none other growing up in front of 300 million people waiting to pounce on every misstep. But I doubt he joined the U.S.-Sino relations committee at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School. Morey went to undergrad at The Northwestern University, 2021 Citrus Bowl Champions, and then business school at MIT, where he made Hong Kong friends.

I’m not overly informed about China either and only as knowledgable as the Western media in my chosen reality. It doesn’t feel like QAnon’ing though when I say China is doing things at scale to the Muslim Uighurs that the most indignant BLM marcher or election protester couldn’t even comprehend happening here.

The Trump administration called it genocide this month, and the Biden crew is backing it up. That’s kind of a big deal. We should probably do something about it. But human rights issues have a way of detaching themselves from economic ones, especially when talking about a market of 1.4 billion people.

We can’t live with them; we can’t live without them. My 36-year-old former roommate appears to have developed an addiction to a social media platform for infants called TikTok, given the volume of content he puts on our group text thread that no one wants to click. If TikTok were shut down as a trade war casualty — which almost happened last year — I don’t see him getting up from that knockout. Better than opioids I suppose.

Things could get really weird at the top of the GDP food chain this decade. China’s No. 2 economy was the only major one to grow in 2020, which sounds awkward when the virus that decimated everybody else’s started on your watch.

Trump certainly wasn’t bashful about straight-up blaming the commies, and only about 74 million Americans voted for him. You figure if even 0.1 percent of them line up with the liberal-drawn caricature of hillbilly racist in camo, that’s a football-stadium army in America who won’t be holding the door for the Asian American walking into Walmart behind them.

Like I said, I’m only slightly nervous. All I see every day in this country is people who live by common decency, no matter what overconsumption of media would lead you to believe. Plus there is a much larger army produced by the aforementioned banana-vanilla love swirl, which really does create ethereal-looking babies.
But it’s only a matter of time before my son has his first moment feeling conspicuously Chinese in America, whether overt racism or just a little clumsiness in the crossfire of us-against-them. As the last four years have strikingly displayed, we do not excel at absorbing and expressing nuance.

My perspective has evolved a bit after 2020 and that fun first week of January. I still indulge in beautiful American condescension and just don’t see how any place on earth can be as good. However, I am more open to criticism.

I can see how an authoritarian government might deal with a pandemic better. I can see how the freedoms we enjoy might be more difficult to scale in a country with quadruple the population.

We try to slap at the heavy hand of the Chinese government. But given our Capitol was just overrun by — I don’t know what to call it, a mass — imagine if there were four Americas to govern. Maybe some narrower guardrails backed by force would be better than the alternative chaos.

When a U.S. State Department spokesperson crafted a flowery Twitter statement heralding the Hong Kong protests, her counterpart in the Chinese government replied with three poignant words: “I can’t breathe.”

Hey every country and person selectively overlook some degree of double standards, and I would rather take ours over China’s any mother blankin’ day.

I hope they do well though, and they do good. I have national pride, and I have ethnic pride. They are intertwined, just like the fortunes of the United States of America and the People’s Republic of China.

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