Love thy country?

A Whole New World

Jessie-Qian-full

If I had a penny for every time someone asked me about my opinion on the ongoing protests in Hong Kong, I would have, well, more or less a dollar. That’s still 100 pennies and a good deal more than I care to answer.

Here’s the thing: I don’t actually represent what China has to say. If I did, I would be the ambassador, and I wouldn’t have to live in a college dorm while surviving precariously on meal points.

It was almost amusing when I introduced myself last week in front of a bunch of solidly Chinese people as “a Beijinger from New Zealand,” and they quickly pounced upon me to perform my duty in denouncing the ongoing “illegal dissidence” in Hong Kong (I had really only meant to borrow their power strip.) Or when someone anonymously emailed me on my Daily Californian email address, telling me — nay, educating me — on the various “oppressive” regimes that China has instigated over the past 50 years — as if I haven’t lived in China for 10 years before I came to America.

The problem with aligning myself to any country is that others immediately expect me to be patriotic. I am expected to have expressed devotion and support to any one of “my countries” without question and to obviously carry all my countries’ values with me. My own views on anything are never going to be taken into account — not when there are border disputes and flag burnings. With people demanding patriotism or answers for my countries’ actions, I feel trapped. I feel the pressures of entire countries laid across my back, when all I ever wanted to do was to denote a certain longing for my hometowns, for my relatives and for my old friends.

I love China, and I loved living in China. I love the barbecued sticks of lamb, squid and scorpions (yes, scorpions) that you can find on every street corner on a winter morning. I love the way Beijing streets cut the city into little squares, making the city a maze to navigate through. I love the old man living beneath my grandpa’s apartment, making crickets and moths out of dried plant stems. The memories are coming back now, and it’s all a bit much when I realize it’ll be another month before I’ll be able to fly back.

I love China, but that doesn’t mean I have to love everything — or anything — that the country does. I have no love for the anti-Japanese sentiment that rears its grotesque head every October, when Japanese flags are publicly burned, and restaurants are emblazoned with PRC flags and the sign stating, “No Japanese or dogs allowed.” All these are carnage left over from an ongoing war that started with the Japanese invasion of China more than 60 years ago. I understand the Japanese war crimes, but I also feel the unnerving resemblance China’s October bears towards Germany during World War II. Should I comply to smashing Japan-made cars in the streets with all the other overzealous Chinese “activists,” or do I have better things to do with my life?

Frankly, I don’t believe in patriotism. I don’t believe that by saying “I love China” or “I love New Zealand,” I have an innate responsibility to burn Japanese flags or to kick Australians in the groin. The blind adoration of a country puts a barrier between “us” and “them” straight away, in a way that is neither healthy nor constructive. If you take an American infant and place it on Chinese soil, let it be raised by only Chinese parents, it will grow up speaking Chinese, knowing only Chinese customs. Nevertheless, we treat people from all nations as if they are the products of genetics rather than creatures with their own minds. I have never pledged allegiance to a Chinese flag, and I don’t intend to start doing it now just because that’s what my long Chinese ancestry might dictate.

I choose to not be patriotic to either New Zealand or China. That doesn’t mean I can’t cheer wholeheartedly for the All Blacks during the Rugby World Cup next year. I can still long for my Beijing streets without feeling restrained by others who are so ignorant as to lump all the values of my countries onto me and expect me to act like it. I don’t have power over how the countries that I grew up in are represented in the media, I cannot control how they conduct policies, and I cannot represent what groups of people decide to proclaim with their so-called nationalism. My love for New Zealand and China has never come with conditions.

Therefore, do not assume absolute patriotism from anyone coming from a different place than your own, just as we shouldn’t assume that all people practicing Islam are sympathetic toward terrorism or that all Christians are allies of the Westboro Baptist Church. Never lump people together based on preconceptions, because no one person is responsible for what their country does.

Leave your pressures and semantics at the door, and just let me love in peace.

Jessie Qian writes the Thursday blog on issues of internationalism. You can contact her at [email protected].