This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Thursday, March 1, 2018

Racism in China

Racism has been an issue in the United States since the founding of the country. For that sad reason, we are familiar with the topic and race/ethnicity is routinely analyzed as an important demographic characteristic. At the same time, we generally lump all persons of Asian-origin into a single race/ethnic category, even though there is tremendous cultural variability within the Asian-American community. And, of course, we have to remind ourselves that the cultural differences are the only things that really separate people. Ethnicity as a cultural variable is real in a way that race as a biological variable is not. This latter point is important to keep in mind when reading an article in The Economist about racism in China.
Chinese officials often try to portray racism as primarily a Western problem. Yet there is a widespread tendency in China to look down on other races, especially black people. Two years ago a television ad for a laundry detergent showed a young Chinese woman luring a black man closer, triumphantly popping a detergent capsule into his mouth and stuffing him into a washing machine. At the end of the cycle, out came a fresh-faced Chinese man, over whom the woman swooned. Among the tens of thousands of Africans living in a neighbourhood of Guangzhou known as “Chocolate City”, many report racist slights.
The outraged response of many netizens in China to the African skit suggests a growing awareness at home that bigotry is a Chinese problem, too. It may be one that time will help alleviate. After all, America went from bans on inter-racial marriage to electing a black president in a mere four decades. And even those Chinese who acknowledge that China has a problem rightly observe that it is far from the worst offender. Myanmar burns Rohingya villages, Islamic State tried to wipe out the Yazidis, and Sudan until recently enslaved black Africans. Racism in China, by contrast, is seldom expressed violently.
But a problem it is, and one that is aggravated by the authorities’ efforts to suppress discussion of it (censors raced online to delete criticism of the TV sketch). The Communist Party fears that such debate may undermine its efforts to portray Chinese people as victims of Western racism during the 19th and early 20th centuries—a narrative of humiliation which the party regards as a crucial explanation of why it has the right to rule.
This is an under-appreciated demographic reality in modern China, and one that Westerners may confront in person as the Chinese government seeks increasingly greater influence in the global economy and global politics. No one can profitably ignore the country that for several centuries has had the world's largest population.

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