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PERSPECTIVE

To Be Chinese in America

In examining the love-hate bond between her homeland and the U.S., an author feels a part of both worlds.

April 30, 2001|ANCHEE MIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

My husband says that Americans don't want enemies, but history, politics and misunderstandings sometimes get in the way of what the people want. The Chinese people are no different. The Chinese love to eat, spend time with nature, sing opera and recite ancient poems. The nation respects scholars more than anything. The Chinese people, like all of us, want what we have in our home--peace, love and harmony.

Still, the incident with the U.S. spy plane has caused a stir throughout China. On one hand, the Chinese people fear that the U.S. spies on China to promote Taiwan's aggression toward the mainland. The mainland Chinese believe that the leaders in Taiwan plan to take back the power one day. Young people from China ask me, "How would you like someone to set up a telescope right by your garden and look into your bedroom 24 hours a day?"

On the other hand, some of the common folk, especially the elderly, feel a sense of safety having a U.S. military presence in Southeast Asia--they have never forgotten the terror of Japan's invasion of China in 1937, which cost a great loss of life. Not to mention the threat of Russia to the north.

China insisted that the United States apologize for its actions to show the world that it could stand on its own feet, that it is able to demand respect from the most powerful country in the world. In my view, it was more of a psychological need, the root, ironically, being a lack of self-confidence.

As a Chinese American, I feel part of both worlds. It was frustrating for me to watch the U.S. crew members being detained, although I was sure that their lives would not be in danger. The Chinese people are more interested in impressing Western tourists than detaining U.S. military personnel.

But this time, the government was supported by the Chinese people because so many fear that the United States wants to make Taiwan its military base to control China in the future. Before the spy plane incident, the Chinese people in general didn't have the same high respect for China's President Jiang Zemin as they used to have for Mao Tse-tung. But now praise for Jiang has soared. People were surprised and pleased to discover that he had "a strong backbone."

Recently, radio, television and the front pages of Chinese newspapers have quoted President Jiang's loud cry: "We don't want to make enemies with the USA." He was also ready to use force to keep the anti-American youth in control.

Nevertheless, people have their own way of thinking. It was sad when I heard my neighbors and relatives talk about "preparing for the worst," which means having China's favorite-nation status taken away, to expect the cancellation of President Bush's visit in the fall and to lose the U.S. as a partner in trade.

Taught to Hate, Even as a Child

Westerners are not aware of the price the Chinese people have paid to come to the realization that Americans are not our enemies. I grew up during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) and was taught to hate Americans. My childhood fantasy was to go to Vietnam to fight the Americans and die a martyr. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that one day I would be living in California and be married to a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam veteran. It was no joke when we talked about how to deal with any flashbacks.

The history of the Chinese people's love-hate relationship with Americans could be traced back a hundred years. We have loved Americans because they were the only people of power who didn't invade us in the 19th century. Thirteen countries have sliced out sections of China like pieces of pie to be devoured. The Chinese emperor was forced to give Hong Kong to Great Britain and Taiwan to Japan as war compensations.

During World War II, we loved the Americans because they helped defeat the Japanese. But after the war, we hated and feared them. We hated America for backing Chiang Kai-shek, who fled to Taiwan after he lost the civil war to Mao's Communists in 1949. Mao told us that the U.S. was going to help Chiang Kai-shek to counterattack. In the '50s, Mao was a living god to the people, and his words were our bible.

In the early '60s, when I was a student in elementary school, I, along with my classmates, made bricks after school. We were building underground bomb shelters, getting ready for the U.S. to attack. When the Vietnam War started, Mao called upon the nation. "When the lips are gone, will the gums survive?" he questioned. To us, Vietnam was our lips. Mao convinced us that after America finished slaughtering Vietnam, China would be next.

We lived in fear that what had happened in the 19th century was about to happen again. We practiced combat. As a teen, every morning I got up at 5, took a wood stick and aimed it at a body made of straw with a U.S. soldier's helmet on its head. We watched films in which Americans poked out the eyes of pregnant Vietnamese women.

I believed that America was evil until one day in 1972.

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