Being Chinese

SiblingsI was born in Changsha, the capital city of Hunan province in China. Da Yi (big aunt), my mother’s 1st younger sister, named me Xiao Ping (small peace), because China was relatively peaceful, a respite from turbulent political movements in previous years.

I grew up with the teachings of Chairman Mao Zedong, which helped me to:
• develop a strong sense of pride for being Chinese
• be persistent to achieve seemingly unachievables
• fight for the underdogs and pursue meaning in life

China had suffered great international humiliation since the first Opium War (1839-42), where Britain forced China to import opium, cede Hong Kong, pay a large indemnity and sign the first of many humiliating treaties (in the coming years) with other foreign imperialist powers such as France, Germany, Russia, United States and Japan.

Chairman Mao led the communist party and its army established an independent and sovereign China on October 1, 1949, and on that day, standing on the Tiananmen Gate, announced to the world: “The Chinese people have stood up!” 

My mother’s parents cherished this new China and forever left behind their traumatic experience of being bombed by Japan’s warplanes and brutalized by Japanese soldiers. The new China instilled in me that Chinese people deserve respect and are a great people.

However, my pride of being Chinese was severely tested after I came to Canada in 1988.At Canadian Parliament

When my airplane descended in Toronto that night, I saw a sea of lights on the continent below. I thought I was in a future world. That night, I took a shuttle bus to the commerce court in downtown Toronto. As I waited for a taxi to take me to my hotel, the narrow streak of the sky over two rows of high-rise buildings made me feel ghostly alien. In my hotel suite, the spotless white toilet and bathtub surprised me. As I strolled nakedly to the queen bed, I felt I was in heaven!

The West was far more advanced than China in wealth, technology and civil manners. I began to learn to say “thank-you” more often than ever before. I began to refrain from spitting. I began to feel comfortable admitting mistakes.

I also began to be keenly aware of the low social status of Chinese people in the West, as evidenced by the dirty Chinatowns, the contemptuous depiction of everything about Chinese in the media and my experience of being looked down by some Westerners.

My pride of being Chinese, however, did not waver. In 1989, during the pro-democracy movement, Beijing became a utopia society where burglars vanished, colliding cyclists said “sorry” to each other instead of quarrelling, residents selflessly helped the demonstrating students. I saw the spirit of my people; that spirit is capable to achieve what the West has achieved.