I am writing this editorial on International Women’s Day so without much prompting, my mind shifts gear into thinking about Chinese women. As a Chinese woman living in a global world, I am sad to say there is not much to celebrate on this year’s International Women’s Day.
The news tells us there is much violence against women. All over the world. The crimes against women in first and third world countries are horrifying. Women still do not get equal pay even in so-called first world countries like Australia & the USA. Besides the economics, Australia is woefully far behind when it comes to politics. Our first woman Prime Minister was booted out and our first woman Minister of Foreign Affairs has just resigned! As for Chinese women in Australia, we are invisible in the media, except for one or two like Senator Penny Wong. A Chinese in terms of her ethnic heritage, a lesbian and a senator, she is a woman to be respected and I admire her greatly. So for our Chinese young girls who are looking for a role model in Australia, or in the world, it is a challenge.
Perhaps, women in China fare better, you may say for after all, Chairman Mao proclaimed that the women of China held up half the sky! I am being ironic here. When he died, and the Cultural Revolution was exposed for what it really was – it was women who suffered most. When China opened up to the West, the one child policy came into being in 1979, again it was girls and women who had it bad for the ancient practice of female infanticide was immediately resurrected and widely practised. I read the book “The Good Women of China” and was appalled that so many thousands of Chinese women went through such horrors in modern day China.
So on International Women’s day 2019, what have been achieved for women in general? Where is the equality for women? Perhaps these are not the right questions to ask. Perhaps the questions should be: Do we want equality as women? Why would women want to be equal to men anyway? Perhaps we should go for equity. Equity means that individuals are treated according to their needs. I don’t have an answer and not many people do for centuries. However, what I do know is that many young Chinese women do not discuss equality amongst men and women. I do not think they are even very concerned about such an issue. They feel free from the constraints of the gender trap. If feeling is the same as social reality, then perhaps we can say the gender trap no longer exists in China.
Unfortunately, feeling is not the same as the actual reality hence China, for all its super power status, still have women trapped in traditional bondage especially in the rural areas. Much like the rest of the world. Until the world’s women populations are freed from such bondage and its attendant violence perpetuated by men, I can only wish everyone an Unhappy International Women’s Day!!
Recently while training a group of young Asian Australians on cross-cultural communication skills, I was jolted out of my brain when one of them asked this question:
“How is it that when I (“I” is a Vietnamese Australian in his 20s) talk to my students’ parents (Asian Australians), I feel uncomfortable, kinda of awkward?”
My on-the-spot reply to Steven and the class:
“This is because your unconscious culture is Vietnamese, shaped by the Confucianistic ethic which your Vietnamese parents had acquired, and in turn passed onto to you and shaped your own unconscious culture. It is a hierarchical culture. Meanwhile, you were brought up in Australia. The predominating culture of Australia is egalitarian. The hierarchical culture (derived from your family Confucianistic ethic) conflicts with the egalitarian culture of Australia which is derived from the Tall Poppy Syndrome as well as the Christian principle: In the eyes of God, all men are created equal.
Therefore when communicating with your Asian Australian customers, you are indecisive as to whether you should treat them in a hierarchical or egalitarian way. If you revert to the Vietnamese child in your unconscious, the hierarchical way would direct you to behave more formally as you are younger than your Asian Australian customers. However, the Australian adult in you is also pushing you to behave more informally and treating these customers as your equals. Hence the Vietnamese child and the adult Australian in you are having a little struggle in your unconscious”.
This Q & A with Steven and his colleagues leads me to contemplate on the Us and Them dilemma confronting all of us Asian Australians no matter which ethnic background we come from: Chinese, Vietnamese, Indians, etc. When we talk about Us, who do we mean ? By the same token, when White Anglo Australians use the word “we”or “us”, who do they mean? The other day, some Chinese Australians were discussing this question and one of them said: “When people in Australia use the word “Australian”, they mean White Anglo Australians. Asians don’t use the word “Asian” to refer to ourselves. We usually say Chinese or Vietnamese.”
All these words and ideas are food for further thought indeed especially now when there is so much talk about diversity and inclusion and multi-culturalism, “that we are many but we are one” as the song goes.
We, the Chinese people, can have many shades of yellow, in other word. We speak over a hundred dialects but have only one language. Chinese people all over the world have only a hundred surnames yet these can sound different from dialect to dialect.
So you want to know me and I am Chinese. Where do you begin? You may wonder.
The language, the people or the food? The word Chinese, like the Chinese people themselves, can have many meanings. We, the Chinese people, can have many shades of yellow, in other word. We speak over a hundred dialects but have only one language. Chinese people all over the world have only a hundred surnames yet these can sound different from dialect to dialect. Contradictions and paradoxes, that is what we are, the 1.4 billion of us in China and the 26 million plus (no one really know the exact figure) of “overseas” Chinese found outside mainland China, dispersed all over the planet.
Another interesting fact about Chinese people is that not all of us can really understand one another if we do not speak Mandarin (or another common language such as English). Now, here the drama starts. If two Chinese people from two different dialect groups, for example, Cantonese & Hokkien, speaking only their respective dialects and not in Mandarin, they will not understand each other. They are much like a German and French person trying to communicate in their respective languages. However, unlike the German and the French person, this Cantonese and Hokkien duo can understand each other if they write in Chinese characters and even then, this can be challenging if one of them write in simplified characters and the other uses the traditional form. Those who use the simplified Chinese characters are mainland Chinese usually born after the 1950s.
We have many cuisines but all of use chopsticks if rice is served in a bowl. It is very rare that Chinese will use chopsticks if rice is served on a plate. There are many different Chinese cuisines varying from northern China to the south in Guangdong, Shenzen & Hong Kong. Most people out in the West, like Australians, are familiar with Cantonese cuisine such as sweet and sour pork, fried rice, etc and these dishes are often bland without chillies. In Northern China, in cities such as Xian and Chengdu for instance, this is not the case. Hot peppers are used very often in the diverse dishes, challenging our nostrils with every mouthful. Peking Duck from Beijing and san choy baofrom Hong Kong, these two dishes are as different as a Beijing man and a Cantonese man. In the same vein, note another interesting fact. In spite of these differences all Chinese people share the same birthday.All of us turn a year older on Chinese New Year day in the lunar calendar. Another critical similarity lies in all Chinese psyche no matter what our differences and contradictions are: our unconscious culture is driven by the san jiao: three teachings. These three great teachings are Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism. Understanding what these three teachings are and how they are connected to the Chinese psyche will enable us to manage Chinese in all social and business encounters, such as marriage and negotiations.
Yes, we Chinese are full of contradictions and paradoxes. That make us challenging to know. Perhaps a workshop may help.