Friday, June 8, 2007

The Asian Pecking Order

The other night my wife, a Taiwanese who studies at Tamkang University, told me about an interesting discussion she had in one of her classes.

The topic was foreign couples. The professor asked the students what they thought about things like foreign brides from South East Asia. The class was almost solidly against the idea of intermarriage. Various reasons came out of this such as inferior intelligence for the children of such a coupling and the social and economic problems that these newcomers living in Taiwan and their children would give to society.

My wife then spoke of her marriage to me, a Canadian, and the class sighed about how lucky she was. Obviously marrying a Canadian wasn't such a burden. She quickly burst their little dreamy bubble by adding "What if I had told you I was married to a Vietnamese?" As the students scratched their heads, what became quickly apparent was what the teacher wanted to point out from the beginning: Taiwanese have feelings of superiority over what they consider lower Asian nations.

Where does this come from? Well I think a lot of it can be attributed to education at home from the parents. A lot of parents have indoctrinated their children with feelings of superiority. Even some students who claim not to look down on people from other countries show their true colors in the end. Try a conversation like this with a Taiwanese:

A: Do you look down on people from other countries?
B: Of course not!
A: Would you marry someone from the Philippines or Vietnam or an African?
B: Euh... I don't think so...
A: Why not?

So this got me thinking that Taiwanese, and I think many Asians, have a pecking order in their heads. It goes something like this. Japan is at the top of the pecking order and then it goes down through Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, China and then the South East Asian countries. At the bottom is the Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia.

Taiwanese will wake up one day and realize that the South East Asian workers that they hire to build roads, construct buildings and work on the MRT are, in fact, are setting no better a precedent than the fact that Chinese were hired by North American railway companies to build our railroads. Hard, perilous work with low pay. What Taiwanese would want to lower themselves to do such menial jobs?

Far below this pyramid are black Africans which Taiwanese are irrationally afraid of. It's xenophobia for the most part as Taiwanese, coming from such a homogeneous society, are afraid of people they don't understand and people who have radically different skin color. Their feelings of superiority from their parents and what they see on the news about violence and poverty in Africa only reinforces their stereotypes about black Africans.

There is some light at the end of the tunnel. Although Taiwanese parents might be shocked to hear the different point of view brought up by some bold professors in university (my wife's professor admittedly thanked her for presenting a dissenting view and thus balancing the debate in class), students are gradually coming around to realize their ignorance about this issue due to their blind adherence to their parents' values. One step at a time...
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