Omar Abdul-Rahim / Sun Staff Photographer

November 21, 2016

Professors Criticize Concept of ‘Chineseness’ in ‘Essentialized America’

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Three professors affiliated with the Cornell Asian American Studies and China and Asia-Pacific Studies program explored the idea of “Chineseness,” focusing on how increased mobility and connectedness across the Asia-Pacific shapes identity at a panel discussion Wednesday.

Prof. Allen Carlson, government, spoke about the importance of being able to talk openly about the cultural concepts of “Chineseness” and other identity issues in the digital age.

“I’m increasingly concerned that our age seems to be slipping backwards towards essentialized views of self and other,” he said. “The social media appears to be reinforcing difference and exclusion over more cosmopolitan and inclusionary collective identities.”

Prof. Derek Chang, history, introduced a controversial clip from a Fox News skit, in which reporter Jesse Watters visits Chinatown to interview Chinese American residents. Chang used this example to demonstrate the “essentialized view” most Americans have of most Chinese Americans.

“‘Chineseness’ in the context of the United States is mediated by a formulation of American exceptionalism that insists that people from China either assimilate fully or be deemed ‘alien,’” he said.

Chang explained that the “Chineseness” characteristic depicted in the clip aligns with the idea that anything that seems foreign is most often viewed as being “outside of, distinct from and possibly an opposition to America.”

American ideologies that contribute to such an alienating perception of “Chineseness” may in fact be the ideas of “American exceptionalism,” according to Carlson. He added that the nationalistic view of self can render anything foreign “either laughable or dangerous.”

Carlson also said Cornell’s programs in Asian American Studies and China and Asia-Pacific Studies intend to work against such a tide to provide a more cohesive understanding of different cultural identities.