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Listen, I'm Chinian, not Chinese
Kevin Keqing LiuChina Daily  Updated: 2006-01-19 06:32

Group I: American, Australian, Austrian, Canadian, German, Italian, Norwegian, Russian...

Group II: Chinese, Congolese, Japanese, Nepalese, Portuguese, Sudanese, Vietnamese...

In the State of Ohio in the United States, what do local residents call themselves? Ohioese? Wrong. Ohioan. In Toronto, Canada, the people there call themselves yes, you guessed it Torontonian. Never Torontonese.

Not enough to make you feel superior should you fall into Group I, or inferior if you unfortunately happen to be in Group II? Let's look at the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, 1978, for the definition of "-ese": suffix, 1. (the people or language) belonging to (a country); 2. (usually derogatory) literature written in the (stated) style. Examples: Johnsonese; journalese.

Or MSN Encarta Dictionary online: ... 3. The style of language of a particular group (disapproving). Example: officialese. [Via Old French -eis; Italian -ese]

Even these two dictionaries published in modern times when racism is illegal reveal that, clearly, "-ese" here relates to derogation and shows a low opinion of people, to say nothing of centuries ago when the ancient Europeans saw themselves as the centre of the world, and called the countries near the eastern Mediterranean sea "Near East," the Asian countries west of India "Middle East," the Asian countries east of India "Far East," and North America the "New World."

In ancient times, China's economy was comparatively developed and it made initial contact with Europe through merchandise trading such as porcelain or china hence the country name China via the Silk Road.

While excited about the unique goods, the arrogant old Europeans felt uneasy with this totally different people from the remote East having a strange physical appearance and inferior culture in their eyes, and laughed at the latter's difficult languages, ugly attire, and dire foods; therefore they named them in a negative way.

Countries such as Japan, Nepal and Viet Nam resemble China in human physical appearance and culture, and were also victimized.

Why, then, the survival of many Africans such as Egyptian and Tunisian, and Central and South Americans such as Jamaican and Brazilian, as well as some Asians Korean, Malaysian and Indian?

My research indicates that, firstly, when Europeans made initial contact with Koreans and Malaysians, hundreds of years later than with the Chinese, Europe was more civilized and less racist; secondly, by now, Europeans were getting used to the Asian physical appearance and culture and began to accept them; and finally, Europeans happened to like the way the Koreans and Malaysians interacted with Europeans, when both made initial contact.

The inferences can be applied to the Africans whose names end with an "-an."

The English-speaking founding fathers of Singapore were well aware of the subtle significance behind the "-ese" and "-an" distinction, and opted for Singaporean when the nation became independent in 1965.

India has a different story. The Indians stemmed from Europe. Europeans saw Indians as relatives. You wouldn't want to use harsh descriptions for your relatives, would you?

The same is true of Central and South Americans, who are cousins of North Americans and Mexicans.

You may ask: What about the Portuguese, also Europeans? Well, a few hundred years back, Portugal was a powerful nation warring fiercely with other major European countries for resources in overseas colonies, and was victimized by being hated and looked down upon by their European rivals.

In the 21st century, the world has evolved into an era when racial discrimination is not tolerated. It is time the names in Group II were abolished.

(China Daily 01/19/2006 page4)

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