What Has Been Lost in Contemporary China?

‘There lies a sleeping giant. Let him sleep! For when he wakes he will move the world.’  Never has Napoleon Bonaparte’s famous remark about China been more apt than today. Almost half a century after the Cultural Revolution, China has undergone a metamorphosis that even Gregor Samsa in Franz Kafka’s novel of the same name would find startling. As of 2011, China became the world’s second largest economy[1]; it is making great strides in scientific and technical innovation (the world’s largest amphibian aircraft, the AG300; or the disconcerting efficiency of online payment platform Alipay, spring to mind); and it has lifted millions out of poverty, predicting to eliminate it entirely by 2020[2], among countless other achievements. The sleeping giant has been awake for quite some time now, and, from an outside perspective, one can only watch this nation’s breakneck development with dumbfounded amazement. And yet, inevitably this amazement is tinged with an incontrovertible anxiety, a deep-seated concern that this hulking, gargantuan superpower – which has proven its reluctance to play by the rules of international law time and time again – is up to something sinister. It’s a reasonable concern to have, despite China’s ever-increasing relevance on the global stage, since knowledge of China and its culture in the Western world, beyond kung-fu, Peking duck and disquieting human rights issues, is scarce, to say the least. 

As businesses and corporations – aware of China’s economic growth and understandably eager to be a part of it – obsequiously pander to the sensibilities and demands of this vast nation, it has dawned upon many that now is the time to learn about China. Hollywood blockbusters shoot scenes (many of which are only included in the Chinese release) in Shanghai with egregious product placement for Xiaomi or Baidu, and even Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has undertaken the Herculean task of learning Mandarin as part of his largely unsuccessful attempt to infiltrate the Chinese market. This superficial admiration conceals not just a total lack of understanding but also a deeply condescending disdain for actions and behaviours that have shaped worldwide perception of the Chinese people over the past half a century. 

This disdain is, at least in part, understandable. In this book of popular social science, Professor Lixing Chen discusses in detail the ‘appalling behaviour of countless Chinese tourists’, behaviour that seems entirely at odds with stereotypical images of sagacious, wispily bearded monks reciting scriptures and practising Tai Chi. Indeed, the materialistic, profligate lifestyles of fuerdai (富二代), or ershizu (二世祖)[3], the nationalistic fervour described all too clearly in Professor Chen’s article about the 2008 Olympics and the insular tendencies of Chinese exchange students on university campuses are but a few examples of behaviours that have become deeply entrenched in contemporary Chinese culture and society. However, any kind of social phenomenon must have its roots somewhere, and in this book Professor Chen does a remarkable job of dissecting these issues, providing well-researched and insightful reasons behind them. If the West is going to continue its relationship with China, it is vital that we understand how these issues came about and work to fix them, instead of simply bemoaning their existence and holding the Chinese at arm’s length. One must understand the Chinese if one is to do business with them, and books like this are essential for providing knowledge of not merely the history of this ancient civilization, but also its current state of affairs.

As someone brought up in a cross-cultural household to an English father and a Chinese mother, I can say with utter conviction that miscommunication and lack of understanding are the Achilles heel of multiculturalism. Providing children with the richness of experience that comes with multiple cultural heritages is truly a blessing, but only if both parents (as representatives of their respective cultures) have the mutual respect and understanding required to effectively and fairly transmit both heritages to their child. This piece of biographical information is more than a thinly-veiled attempt at discrediting my parents; it serves as an all too apt metaphor for postcolonial power structures and the current state of relations  and tensions between China and the West. On both sides, far too many assumptions are made and preconceptions formed about the other, when really these assumptions and preconceptions are often based on little more than conjecture, prejudice and, worst of all, ignorance. 

This is something to which I, along with many other ethnic mainland Chinese brought up in the UK, have fallen victim. Thanks to the reputation China has garnered because of the Cultural Revolution, many Western-born Chinese children grow up loathing their identity, many even coming to believe anti-Chinese rhetoric. Offhand schoolyard jokes about eating dogs or communism first used by a young Chinese child to ingratiate themselves with their White peers can quickly turn into a far more insidious brand of self-loathing; it is not uncommon to find that the most flagrant proponents of Sinophobia are none other than BBCs (British-Born Chinese) themselves. 

Zhang Zhe published an article last year entitled ‘A Million 2nd Generation Chinese-Americans: Faces untouched by violence, hearts scarred with pain’, which used the death of Michael Deng during a fraternity hazing ritual at Pi Delta Psi as a starting point to illustrate the plight of millions of ABCs (American-Born Chinese)[4]. While this article describes a fairly extreme case, there is further evidence of anti-Chinese prejudice affecting ABCs in their daily life, explored in a recent article by an anonymous 30-year-old Chinese man who immigrated to the United States with his parents at the age of seven published an article entitled ‘A Chinese American Who Speaks the Amazing Truth about Immigration and Sensation to the Global Chinese’. If one can endure the article’s repetitious prose, lack of academic rigour and acrimonious rhetoric, the author does manage to produce a few thought-provoking points. He describes the struggles ABC (American-Born Chinese) children face as a result of their generally poor Chinese language abilities, significantly hampering communication with their parents. Consequently, they find themselves unable to effectively articulate to their parents the various microaggressions and ‘psychological persecution’ they are faced with in Western society, taking the form of: ‘1) permanent cultural barriers; 2) inescapable treatment as “second-class citizens” (especially boys) 3) A multitude of unavoidable career obstacles (i.e. the “bamboo ceiling”)’[5]. Despite the anonymously-submitted article’s shortcomings, it does provide a pertinent case study of the hardships suffered by many Chinese children growing up in the West and integrate into mainstream Western society.

This is one of the reasons I jumped at the chance to translate this book. As more and more ethnic Chinese in the UK grow disillusioned with their identity and succumb to willful ignorance and uninformed prejudice, anti-Chinese sentiment will continue to spread and take root in Western national consciousness – after all, who’s there to speak up against it? The mainland Chinese exchange students who, despite their ubiquitous presence in Western higher education (numbering over 91,215 at UK universities alone[6]), largely restrict their interactions with non-Chinese to reluctant seminar discussions and email exchanges? One can be forgiven for having doubts. We have arrived at a critical juncture in history, a turning point that will decide whether humanity makes it through this century stronger than ever before – or whether we shall condemn ourselves to extinction, doomed by our unwillingness to understand and learn about the other members of our own species. It is attitudes like this that caused Brexit in the UK; the election of Donald Trump in the US; and the rise of the alt-right and extremism across the entire political spectrum. Is China’s seizing upon these events as proof of democracy’s failure really that surprising? To put it simply, the translation and dissemination of literature like What Has Been Lost in Contemporary China? is not just beneficial, but imperative. 

With What Has Been Lost in Contemporary China?, Professor Chen has crafted a remarkable piece of literature, using her keen sociological insight, prodigious knowledge of Chinese culture and her own personal background to paint an incisive, riveting portrait of China’s wholly unique circumstances. It is clear from page one that this is a work fuelled by far more than mere academic curiosity. Professor Chen writes with a passion and ferocity that reflect the discontent of millions across China, her unquenchable love for her motherland and equal resentment at its current state pulsating through every passage like a pounding drum, each strike echoing with the pain of her experiences growing up during the Cultural Revolution. As a translator, I could not ask for a more rewarding source text. I sincerely hope this translation finds its way into the hands of many, be they school or university students, academics or interested members of the public. I have included translator’s notes and comments throughout to ensure this book’s readability in non-academic circles or with those less well-versed in Chinese culture. I am indebted to Professor Chen, not merely for affording me the opportunity to translate this book, but for opening my eyes to things I had never even thought about before and broadening my perspective on China-related topics of which I previously had only scant knowledge. I can only hope this translation does the same for its English-language readers.

Neil M. C. Clarke, Translator, King’s College London
December 2017


[1]  ‘China overtakes Japan as world’s second-biggest economy’, BBC News, 14-02-2011, see: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-12427321.
[2]  ‘China has almost ended urban poverty - a promising start for the SDGs’, Overseas Development Index, 19-08-2015, see: https://www.odi.org/comment/9803-china-has-almost-ended-urban-poverty-promising-start-sdgs.
[3]  Terms for Chinese nouveau riche.
[4] Zhang Zhe: “One Million U.S. Second-Generation Chinese People — Have Faces that Haven't Been Bullied, or Have Psychological Injuries”, Western Reference, 2017-10-21, see: http://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/fg6YyqBMxsR5D6qzL-0f6A.
[5] Tianya Forum > International Watch (天涯论坛 > 国际观察), 2017-07-14, see:  http://bbs.tianya.cn/post-worldlook-1790796-1.shtml.
[6]  ‘International student statistics: UK higher education’, UK Council for International Student Affairs, see: https://www.ukcisa.org.uk/Research--Policy/Statistics/International-student-statistics-UK-higher-education.



英文 常诚(本书译者);译者:陈立行(本书作者)

        “有一个沉睡的巨人。让他睡吧!因为如果他醒来,会震撼这个世界。” 拿破仑·波拿巴关于中国的这句名言从来没有比今天更为贴切。文革结束后的近半个世纪,中国经历了“神奇般的变化”,让即便是卡夫卡的《变形记》中的格里高尔·萨姆萨也会感到惊讶。2011年,中国成为世界第二大经济体[1];科技创新(世界上最大的两栖飞机AG300;网上支付平台支付宝等令人不安的效率,不断刷新人们的记忆)正在大踏步前进;在无数的成就中,它已经使数百万人摆脱了城乡贫困,预计到2020年将完全消除这些贫困[2]。沉睡的巨人现在已经醒来了很长一段时间了,人们只能用惊讶的眼神从外面看着这个国家惊人的发展。然而,不可避免的是,这种惊讶中带有无可掩盖的焦虑与深深的担忧。这个庞大的超级大国,已经一次又一次地证明它不愿意按照国际法的规则扮演他的角色 。尽管中国对世界舞台上的参与与关联日益增加,但西方世界对中国文化的关注与了解,除了功夫,北京烤鸭以及令人不安的人权问题之外,可以说是微乎之微。

        企业和公司意识到中国的经济增长,急切地渴望成为庞大的经济体的一部分,苦心揣摩这个庞大的民族的感觉和需求,很多人已经意识到现在是到了必须了解中国的时候了。好莱坞大片在上海拍摄(其中许多内容仅包含在中国发行)带着令人倒胃的小米或百度的广告,脸书的首席执行官马克·扎克伯格(Mark Zuckerberg)开始了学习普通话的艰巨任务,也改变不了尝试中国市场的失败的结果。对中国的这种肤浅的示好不仅掩盖了他们对中国的不完全的理解,也流露了过去半个世纪以来世界对中国人行为的绅士般地蔑视。




        张哲去年发表了一篇文章,题为《百万美国华人:百万美国二代华人:长着没受过欺负的脸,或有着心理的伤》。在一个亚裔学生专属的组织兄弟会(Pi Delta Psi)因邓俊贤(Michael Deng)欺凌致死引发出数以百万计的ABC(美国出生的中国人)的困境。尽管这篇文章描述的是一个极端的例子,但是最近,一名七岁时与父母一起移民到美国的30岁的中国男子发表了一篇文章,题为《一位美国华裔说出了移民的惊人真相,轰动全球华人》,为反华偏见对 ABC日常生活中的影响提供了进一步证据。如果读者能够忍受这篇文章内容重复、缺乏学术严谨和偏激的言辞,会看到作者确实提出了一些发人深省的观点。他描述了ABC(美国出生的中国人)儿童面临的困难,因为他们的汉语能力普遍低下,极大地阻碍了与父母的交流。从而无法有效地向父母阐述他们在西方社会所遭受的各种微观攻击和“隐形的心理迫害”,表现为以下形式:“1)永久的文化隔阂;2) 终身摆脱不了的二等公民待遇(特别是华裔男生)3)消除不掉的种种事业障碍。”[4] 尽管这是匿名发表的网文,但它确实提供了一个有关第二代华人在西方成长并融入其主流社会的困境的案例。

        这就是我想翻译这本书的动机之一。随着越来越多的英国华人对自己的身份的幻灭,屈服于无知与偏见,反华情绪会不断蔓延,乃至在西方国家的意识中扎根,最后谁能反驳呢?尽管中国大陆来的留学生在西方高校中无处不见(仅在英国大学就有超过91,215人[5]) ,但大部分的中国留学生不愿意与非中国人互动,不愿意参加研讨会,不愿意和西方人交换电子邮件。这些疑惑似乎可以被人们原谅。但是,我们我们已经到了历史上的关键时刻,这个转折点将决定人类要么在本世纪比以往任何时候都更强大;要么会因为不愿意理解自己的物种中的其他成员而自判死刑。正是这种态度导致了英国脱欧;唐纳德·特朗普在美国当选;以及整个政治范围内的右翼和极端主义的抬头。中国以这些事件来证明民主的失败是否会真的令人吃惊呢?一句话,像《当代中国失去了什么?》(伦敦:全球中国出版社,2016年)这样的作品的翻译和传播,不仅有益,而且势在必行。


【英文】本书译者 常诚 英国伦敦国王学院
【中文】本书作者 陈立行 日本关西学院大学


[1] 中国超过日本成为世界第二大经济体,BBC新闻,2011年2月14日,见:http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-12427321
[2] “中国几乎已经结束了城市贫困 - 这对可持续发展目标来说是一个有希望的开端”,《海外发展指数》,19-08-2015,见:https://www.odi.org/comment/9803-china-has-almost-ended-urban-poverty-promising-start-sdgs
[3]  张哲: “百万美国二代华人——长着没受过欺负的脸,或有着心理的伤”,《西洋参考》,2017-10-21 见: http://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/fg6YyqBMxsR5D6qzL-0f6A
[4]  天涯论坛 > 国际观察 2017-07-14,见:http://bbs.tianya.cn/post-worldlook-1790796-1.shtml 。
[5] “国际学生统计:英国高等教育”,英国国际学生事务理事会,见:https://www.ukcisa.org.uk/Research--Policy/Statistics/International-student-statistics-UK-higher-education 。

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