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An Examination of the Similar and Differing Views of Nationality Between China and the United States

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AN EXAMINATION OF THE SIMILAR AND DIFFERING VIEWS OF NATIONALITY BETWEEN CHINA AND THE UNITED STATES AS SEEN THROUGH THE EYES OF AN AMERICAN.

As I wracked my brain continuously for a suitable subject upon which to write this paper I contemplated all the aspects of Chinese culture I could see, hear, taste, or smell that offers a conflictive nature of similarities and differences. It was only natural that my mind was dominated by the physical aspects of the culture I saw: the pedestrian mind-set of the cars (they can go just about anywhere and always have the right of way), the ever-confusing Chinese business practice of grouping stores containing the exact same inventory together in tiny communities of light bulb or scooter hawkers all with the same prices, products and business goals, the views towards foreigners or the idea of an ideal vacation (Chinese group tourism vs. the American 'adventure vacation') and especially the conflicting & evolving roles of students, family members, and especially women in China. It was only after days of visually observing, of watching but not seeing that something struck me - Newton's epiphytic apple.

My paper subject had been in front of my very eyes for months, I had only not realized its significance because I was too busy trying to observe the culture I saw instead of absorb it. Absorb its habits, its peeves, its prejudices - What I mean is, I started to think like a Chinese person; to wonder why foreigners acted so strangely - travelled in packs, were very tight with money, always had Chinese guides with them, when it hit me.

Shortly after coming to Chengdu, the natural process of making friends weeded us into our separate cliques with whom we spent most of our time together. One member of our specific group of friends is the subject of this comparison (names have been changed to protect identities)- Katie - a twenty-something girl from Maryland who's switched majors more than anyone I've known. Oh and she was adopted from Korea by White parents when she was just a baby. She spent her entire life in the United States and has grown up virtually like any other American girl in late 20th - early 21st century. Her situation is one far from uncommon in the US. Someone who grows up on American soil, who goes to school there, who gets their first pet hamster there, who falls in love there - all are considered one of the flock - an American, as true as if you were named Washington and bled red white & blue.

I was rightfully disoriented when it became plain that virtually all of the Chinese people we met just could not grasp what we were trying to tell them about Katie's origin. All questions concerning the foreigners would be directed towards her in lightning-fast Chinese that only a native speaker could understand despite protests of 'I am an American, my Chinese is not very good, I can't understand'. Even after making it abundantly clear that she could not understand the language, this only gave rise to mutterings of 'why doesn't she know Chinese? Is she slow? Is she lying to us? Something's not right here'. No matter how many minutes we wasted explaining that she was adopted and grew up in the US, or awkward, half understood conversations in chinglish we hacked our way through, it seemed impossible to dislodge the belief that Katie is actually Chinese despite where she grew up and should thus be able to do everything any Chinese person could - read, write, haggle intensively, drive like a maniac, you name it! It was not long that I became to associate this with going out in public and couldn't help but wonder how such an easy to understand concept in America; indeed one that has become such a part of daily life, so mainstream that it is below conscious comprehension - is so impossible to grasp here.

The only logical answer is not ignorance, foolishness or suspicion, but a single aspect of the culture that clashes with the classical views from America - That you belong to your family, your ancestors, your homeland upon which your ancestors have thrived and spread, above all else. It has always been a central part of American culture that one can make

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