Sunday, August 31, 2014

Can somebody become Chinese?

Try as I might, I just can't become Chinese.

It started as a thought experiment: I wondered what it would take for me, the son of Chinese immigrants, to become a citizen of China. So I called the nearest Chinese consulate and got lost in a voice mail maze with nobody at the end. The consulate's website explained the process for getting visas but not for naturalization.

Then I realized why it was so difficult to get an answer: Beijing doesn't ever expect to hear from foreigners who want to become Chinese citizens.

As it turns out, a naturalization procedure is found under China's Nationality Law. But precious few people pursue it: The 2000 Chinese census counted just 941 naturalized citizens.

But let's say that I decided to become fluent in Mandarin, brush up my knowledge of Chinese history and culture, move to China and live the rest of my life there. Even then, even with thousands of generations of Chinese genes behind me, I would still not be accepted as truly Chinese.

All this crystallized for me why, in this supposed age of a rising China and a declining U.S., we Americans should worry a bit less. No matter how huge China's GDP gets, the U.S. retains a deep, enduring competitive advantage: America makes Chinese Americans. China doesn't make American Chinese.

China also isn't particularly interested in making American Chinese. It isn't in China's operating system to welcome, integrate and empower immigrants to redefine the very meaning of Chinese-ness. That means that China lags behind the U.S. in a crucial 21st-century way: embracing diversity and making something great from many multicultural parts.
--Eric Liu, WSJ, on American exceptionalism