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Outrage Over Chinese Graffiti in Egyptian Temple


CNN has reported that a 15 year old Chinese tourist defaced the 3,500 Luxor temple in Egypt by writing "Ding Jinhao was here" on a sculpture.  After a huge Internet backlash in China, the young man's parents issued a public apology.  The report, however, expresses that some Chinese citizens are concerned that this act is an embarrassment for the Chinese "race", particularly in a moment when China is calling on it's nation's tourist to behave better.

The racial and national politics of this story are amazing.   After reading the CNN article, a friend said, "This has nothing to do with the fact that homeboy is Chinese...the Romans did this all over Egypt and that was pretty gross, too."

Not so fast.  Can we really compare a 15 year old to Roman conquest?  And doesn't the fact that this young man is Chinese have everything to do with the public attention focused on this event?

 

The Romans were engaged in a practice of systematic conquest and oppression, and what this 15 year old did, while reprehensible, is not part of Chinese conquest or any systematic attempt to destroy records of Egyptian humanity.  If anything it's the opposite.  The defacing was the act of an individual.  This individual act however has been attached to the collective responsibility of the Chinese people--simply because of the race and nationality of the actor.  This attachment seems systematic, and could be potentially oppressive.
There is concern amongst the Chinese that people of the world will believe that this one act represents all of China. This resembles a global apartheid of racial expectation. The Chinese make up the majority of the world, but when one person acts it can be seen as "representing the [Chinese] race".   Despite our smaller population size relative to China, we have no sense of such collective identity/representation in the US.  Generally, with the exception of a few privileged liberals, Americans are not embarrassed when their fellow citizens behave badly overseas.  When has the US recently called on its national tourists to behave better? Yet despite their global population numbers, the Chinese are subjected to (and participate in) a racial politics of acceptability. 

 

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