What are we allowed to say?

We regularly hear generalized comments about different national groups, Americans, Germans, Japans, and just about everybody else.


Here in this video newsreport we see a group of Chinese workers in Montreal who were told  they “ate like pigs” by a supervisor who was berating them for dirty conditions in the company kitchen. Now it seems to me that if I were the supervisor I would have called the employees together and said “we really need to clean up the kitchen, what can we do? Who is going to take charge of this? This is important, I am relying on you.” or words to that effect.


This supervisor sounds like a somewhat unpleasant individual, full of his power. But now 5 years later this group of Chinese employees claim to still be traumatized by the event and are seeking $150,000 or more in compensation, and want an apology to the whole Chinese community, ( I am not sure if that refers to the Chinese in Montreal or in the world).


Is this not somewhat out of control? If I think of all the times that I heard categorically negative statements about foreigners, while living in Japan, or when I hear Chinese people on radio talk shows in Canada talking about how Canadians are all lazy and stupid, I do not really feel traumatized. But then if I had a chance at a few thousand dollars in compensation I might get traumatized pretty quickly.


1 comment on “What are we allowed to say?


Steve you seem to have raised the point that Chinese people, compared to Westerners, appear to be more sensitive and "vulnerable" to negative comments on the group they belong to. Very interesting point! I have heard this comparison from other authors. Personally I tend to attribute it to two factors: 1. The Chinese culture is a collective one. A Chinese (and other East Asians) is a member of his/her group first, as opposed to an individual. So the intuitive reaction to a negative comments (even on his peers) is often "it’s unacceptable to insult my people". Negative comments on a few Canadians, by contrary, won’t hurt the feeling of other Canadians so much because each individual is though of as a different case. 2. China’s recent history is a bullied and traumatized one, not the least because of the foreign domination through 1840s till 1940s. The nation’s response to the sad history is a collective fear of being looked down upon. Being put to an extreme, this sentiment becomes the cause of an over-exaggerated vulnerability to racism. I still remember my elementary school textbooks were full of such Chauvinist sentiments, statements like "落后就要挨打" – The weak will be taken advantage of.

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