Translator's words
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:
[2]  ‘China has almost ended urban poverty - a promising start for the SDGs’, Overseas Development Index, 19-08-2015, see:
[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:
[5] Tianya Forum > International Watch (天涯论坛 > 国际观察), 2017-07-14, see:
[6]  ‘International student statistics: UK higher education’, UK Council for International Student Affairs, see:


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