China / Hot Issues

China has affinity for 'fake Americans'

By Murray Greig (China Daily) Updated: 2015-12-30 08:34

In many parts of the world, Canadians are perceived as fake, unarmed Americans - albeit with better manners and affordable healthcare.

Truth be told, that's pretty accurate - especially when compared to the fanciful image (propagated by many Americans) that we live in huts made of snow and subsist mainly on maple syrup and moose meat.

It's not a big deal. To be honest, I'd rather be mistaken for a fake American than any other nationality - and I know several Yanks who like to pass themselves off as counterfeit Canucks when it suits their purpose ... like when a Brit is buying the beer.

After all, we Canadians pretty much look and speak like our American cousins, eh? And other than the world's longest undefended border - and the gun thing - there's really not much to separate our two cultures.

That said, one of the things I most appreciate about living and working in Beijing is the subtle acknowledgment by Chinese friends and colleagues that my country is something more than just the frozen back door to the US, and that there's a special bond between Canada and China, symbolized by this nation's most venerated foreigner: Dr Norman Bethune.

Generations of Chinese know the legend of Bai Qiu'en, a surgeon from Gravenhurst, Ontario and a member of the Communist Party of Canada who volunteered with the Eighth Route Army in 1938 to fight the Japanese invaders. In addition to saving the lives of hundreds of soldiers by introducing mobile blood transfusions and battlefield surgery, he effectively brought modern medicine to rural China and was renowned for treating sick peasants.

Ironically, Bethune died of blood poisoning on Nov 12, 1939, after slicing one of his fingers during a routine operation. He was 49. His selfless commitment was immortalized in a eulogy penned by Mao Zedong that became required reading in Chinese middle schools, and to this day China's top medical award is named the Bethune Medal.

While Bethune's legacy lives on here, it took decades for the Canadian government to get up to speed because the doctor was "blacklisted" in his native country for being a communist. After his childhood home was finally designated a national heritage site, a bronze statue was erected and has become a big draw for the thousands of Chinese tourists who make pilgrimages to Gravenhurst.

In 2012 the government opened a $2 million visitors' center in the town, and a year later the University of Toronto unveiled a new sculpture of Bethune, paid for from an $800,000 bursary funded by Chinese business leaders.

Canadians' reticence in celebrating Bethune typifies one of the main cultural differences between us and our neighbors to the south. While we fret about so-called political correctness, the Excited States admirably embraces its homegrown folk heroes, regardless of political stripe or notoriety. Good or bad, that explains their ongoing fascination with the likes of Sarah Palin, Donald Trump ... even Billy the Kid.

In that regard, we "fake Americans" take a back seat to the real ones.

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