Most people I knew in my life were Hong Kong and Taiwanese people. To anyone knowledgeable about Chinese politics, this means that I was taught that Mainland Chinese people were classless and embraced Communism. “You shouldn’t trust Mainland Chinese people,” advised an uncle. “They’ll always want something. They’re not Chinese.” I had believed advice like this like I breathed air. I laughed at Mainland Chinese people. I repeated my uncle’s mantra to the choir of Hong Kong and Taiwanese people, who agreed. When I was in Beijing as a tourist, some little kid whisked a coke from me. He brought it to his mother, who patted him on his head and said “Nice steal. Good boy.”
So, I’d always seen Mainland Chinese people as roaches.
Then came Flushing.
When I first moved to New York, I’d planned on only living for a week in Flushing with plans to move to Brooklyn. Flushing is 90% China and 10% New York (and by that, I mean Korean New York). The homes were ugly, the people were lewd and the sight of Simplified Chinese everywhere disgusted my prejudices. I yearned to be around Asian-Americans. Then, I met my roommate, a wonderful 30-year old woman from Hangzhou who made me lunch. It was a good ice-breaker, we talked, we both didn’t know New York and next thing we knew, we’re dating. “She’s after your passport,” I was warned. “She’s only after you for your money.” came the Hong Kong/Taiwanese chorus. Turns out she was the rich one. Turns out, most of my neighbors were millionaires. Flushing is a ghetto of immigrant Chinese millionaires. You’d never know with all the pantsless children running around, though (I’m semi-kidding on this).
My former roommate and I, for complicated reasons, dissolved, but I’ve been living in Flushing for over a year now and my outlook of Mainland Chinese people has changed. I’ve been living with a Mainland Chinese family who’ve been overwhelmingly kind to me and the neighborhood folks have gotten used to this goofy Asian-American. Most of the immigrants here are only on their first or second year in America. Here are some observations I’ve made of Mainland Chinese people from the perspective of someone who was taught they were roaches. If I ever return back to my Hong Kong/Taiwanese family and friends, I’ll gladly inform them that I did not get robbed or my throat slit. In fact, Mainland Chinese people are immensely complicated, nice, but most importantly, doesn’t need other Asians to like them.
* Obviously, these observations are strictly based on my personal experiences and does not reflect an entire country of 2 billion people.
Observation 1: Mainland Chinese people already know they’re heavily discriminated by other Asians
They know all the stereotypes: greedy, calculating, manipulative, classless, Communist-loving. Yes, everyone loves Japanese and Koreans. No one likes the Chinese. Just like in all groups of human beings, there are Mainland Chinese who fit this mold. Mainland Chinese are exceptionally defensive and prideful when they’re labeled that. My former roommate, during a date, told me that when she went to Hong Kong, she was treated horribly and looked upon in suspicion. Hong Kong people called her names and made her feel like a roach. She was seen as, solely from her place of birth, a greedy, calculating, manipulative, classless and Communist-loving person. She swore she’d never go back to Hong Kong again. She, like many Mainland Chinese, doesn’t see Hong Kong as some Pearl of the Orient. She, like many, Mainland Chinese, sees places like Hong Kong, Taipei, Seoul and Tokyo as places rebuilt by the colonial West. The Mainland Chinese have chips on their shoulders. Now that they’re most of the richest people on Earth, far richer than the average American and far, far richer than the average other Asian, they don’t care about what others say. “Chinese will stick to Chinese,” my former roommate told me. “Everyone else can go to hell. Especially Taiwanese people.”
Observation 2: Mainland Chinese believe in practicality and morality is not always practical
The one thing my current roommates and random Flushing strangers I befriend tell me is that Americans are stupid. Americans are high up on being politically-correct all the time. Everyone’s trying to be a do-gooder when everybody knows no one’s a do-gooder and probably the person being the most do-gooder is the worst offender. In Mainland Chinese logic, being practical is nothing to be ashamed. People steal because they starve. People lie because honesty gets them nowhere. They don’t trust Americans because Americans fight to stand on a soapbox and declare their nobility; it reeks of shades of colonialism and Manifest Destiny. “I trust the liar who is proud they are a liar, rather than the so-called hero who is nothing but a thief,” declared my current roommate. More so, China became a powerhouse because of their hard work and practicality (i.e. morality-bending). Yes, they manipulated currency and yes, they took full advantage of bribing the Clintons into TPP, but that’s America’s problem. To the Chinese, that’s just being smart. To the Chinese, following Western rules will give a struggling economy. Like the Japanese.
Observation 3: To Western sensitivities, yes, they are classless.
I akin modern China like trailer trash Americans winning the lottery. Instant millionaires will still have kids running around the neighborhoods pantsless. Instant millionaires will have people wearing wife-beaters driving Mercedes. Your average Mainland Chinese person hawks loogies the way I breathe air. The place I live looks like it’s worth $40,000 but it’s probably worth $3 million. I live with a five person household sharing one bathroom. The bathtub has a washing machine installed on top of it. The male roommates walk around in their underwear in front of their wife and sister. My roommate is always pushing me to start a shady business where I marry people to trade cash for citizenship (of course I said hell no. But damn, would I have been rich). Mainland Chinese people love flaunting brand names, but all I see is flaunting insecurity. “Look at my Rolex.” “Look at my Louis Vuitton.” “I drive a Mercedes, what do you drive?” “Louis, why do you and most American dress like total slobs?”
My neighbors buy clothes that don’t match, they sing very loudly and off key (7 am in my neighborhood is very interesting. Everyone’s belting ballads as they shower). They don’t use parking spots correctly. And I’ll say it a third time, kids are running around pantsless.
But still, despite this, I think they’re good people because…
Observation 4: A Chinese good-heart is more trusting than an American good heart.
This is mostly an Asian thing more than just a Mainland Chinese thing, but it’s especially true with the Mainland Chinese. They are notoriously ride-or-die. Because Chinese culture was built stressing community over independence, most Americans don’t really understand friendship loyalty the way Chinese people do. It’s a different definition of loyalty, one that Americans might not agree and find distasteful (remember the practicality over morality thing?). When this family took me in, I was surprised that they made me one of their own. This was more important to me than how tacky they were dressed or how often they hawked loogies. I’ve been around people, mostly Americans of all colors, who were classy but wouldn’t help you. The Chinese sees helping one another as friendship, not how much space you’re given or how much they tolerate your beliefs. This is not right or wrong versus American values, but it’s a starkly different definition. It made me aware of my own American sensibilities and how prudish I often looked isolating myself from them. But it also made me despise my Asian-American friends and how often they ran away whenever I got in trouble. “Oh, you got into a car wreck, Louis? I’ll just give you your space and my silent, distant thoughts and prayers.”
Observation 5: Chinese men and women roles are akin to America in the 50’s
Mainland Chinese men are very…um…textbook masculine. Like, 1950’s Mad Men masculine. It’s not uncommon to see a Chinese guy chastise a woman in front of everyone and let her know her place. I’ve seen women chasing a boyfriend on the streets of Flushing, pathetically grabbing his leg begging him to take her back. My former roommate even said “men have a certain way they should act and women have a certain way they should act.” Women cook, clean and rear children. If they get jobs, they’re always under the supervision of a man. Any woman who doesn’t get married by 30 is a wasted woman.
Asian-American and mostly other Asian men (except for Korean men), in the Mainland Chinese perspective are wimps and slaves to Western feminism. They constantly laugh at Hong Kong men for being dominated by their wives (this is true, Hong Kong women are a dominating species. I would not mess with my mother). It’s normal for Mainland Chinese men to go out late in the night, drinking and smoking, going to bars, clubs, etc. because that’s their image of a successful masculine man. None of that “wimpy Netflix and Chill shit”. The fights that I observe in my current Flushing household are brutal. None of it, thank God, has so far turned into anything physical, but I quickly learned that when the man yells at a woman, the woman is expected to take it. A Mainland Chinese man always thinks he’s right (well, that’s like most men of any background, but I digress).
On the flipside, even though there are much more Chinese men than women (because of the former one-child policy), one might lead to the conclusion that men should be competing for women. That theory’s wrong; my former roommate explains this best: “Men who’re not rich are not counted as men, therefore there is a man shortage in China”. Modern-day China’s success came because of materialism; therefore, they worship materialism. Chinese women openly, proudly define a man’s value by how much the man makes. It’s a man’s job to buy a woman things. It’s a man’s job to provide. The bigger the brand, the better the husband.
Observation 6: Cooking and food is everything
Finding a Mainland Chinese person (or Asian person from Asia really) who doesn’t know how to cook is a unicorn. Most Asian-Americans don’t know how to cook. This, on the surface, doesn’t make sense. Why would immigrant Asians not teach their children how to cook? The same reason my parents didn’t want me to learn Chinese. Immigrants are often insecure that their children might not fit in with America, so they go to extreme lengths to not make them as Asian as possible. But this current crop of Mainland Chinese immigrants thinks differently. I’m learning from my teenage roommates how to cook. They cook like chefs. It seems like every neighborhood Mainland Chinese teen can make an entire menu that’d put Panda Express to shame. What’s even more amazing is that they can turn $15 worth of groceries into days of delicious food.
Observation 7: Christianity is spreading fast in China.
One of the biggest reasons (besides wealth) that entire pockets of America are becoming Mainland Chinese is because they’re escaping religious persecution. My entire block in Flushing is Christian. Me and the white guy who dresses like a monk that I see shopping at the convenience store might be the only Buddhists left here. China is becoming Christian as fast as America is becoming non-Christian. I’ve learned to steer clear from old Chinese ladies because I know they’ll share the Gospel. While America has always embraced individualism, secularism would inevitably dominate our culture. Meanwhile, Christianity and its appeal for hierarchy, family structure and obedience (a.k.a. collectivism) is an idea that’s found a very receptive audience in China.
Observation 8: Chinese teens learn to be American through pop culture
Being a teenager is the worst time to be an immigrant. Not only does a teenager have to go through the usual growing pains, they’re having to fit into a different society. So, it didn’t surprise me one day when the teenage boy I live with suddenly spouted N-word this, N-word that. “Every American does it,” he claims. Then he put his earphones on and resumed listening to his hip-hop. While most of his friends are Chinese immigrant teens, they tend to communicate with each other in English. “We only date American girls. No Chinese!” They lift weights, say “bruh” and “dude” and, like their fathers, walk around in their underwear. Meanwhile, the teenage Chinese girls dye their hair, karaoke to American pop music, wear cutoff jeans, say “like, totally.”. They speak a weird mix of Chinglish at home. There’s a unique subculture of Mainland Chinese teens loitering at 3am wearing goth makeup and squatting around with their phones. It’s a floating display of glowing iPhones at night.
Observation 9: They judge everything on money
One could argue that everything is about money and it wouldn’t be wrong from any culture. However, the Mainland Chinese have endured generations of poverty and much like rappers who’ve suddenly attained wealth, they’ll spend a great deal of time talking about their money. “How much do you have in your bank account,” is a normal conversation starter. This took some adjustment. I’ve learned that being honest doesn’t mean you’ll be judged. I’m very, very open in my average wallet size department. Mainland Chinese people love flaunting wealth; the more you gush about their bank account, the more they’ll spend. If they’re not overwhelmingly rich though, they’ll constantly, openly complain about money. This tells me something: no matter how many recessions or housing bubbles American endure, we will never get to the point where we’re so poor that money is all we’ll talk about after the recovery. We will never understand the pain of collectively watching an entire other half of the world take over a continent and the pride of rising above it. Only Africa, if one of the continent’s countries suddenly became the number one wealthiest country in the world, would understanding that level of pain. So, I don’t blame the Mainland Chinese for obsessively talking about wealth, because I know it’s not about wealth. Wealth solved their problem. It’s their middle finger to the rest of Asia and the rest of the world for calling them classless roaches.
Observation 10: They don’t like what China has become
Almost universally, every Mainland Chinese that’ve talked to me expressed a cynical fear for China’s quick wealth and materialism. They believe it’ll destroy the fabric of their society and the humble wisdom their ancestors taught them. As humans, there’s a universal truth of being blinded by wealth. I believe the Mainland Chinese people I’ve befriended are good people; I also believe they’re not happy, caught in a cycle of constantly chasing wealth. My former roommate pounded this opinion over and over to me: modern Chinese people don’t know how to stop, there’s always a chip on their shoulder. I then asked her to build a simple life together, one in America where we can just be happy with the little things. We can be equals, working our jobs, building something together. I respect her, she respects me. “No,” she eventually said. “I’m accustomed to a certain high way of living. I don’t think I can live that kind of simple life.”