Dashan on Hating Dashan

Mark Rowswell has written a lengthy response to a question on Quora: why do so many Chinese learners seem to hate his alter-ego, Dashan? He explains how he thinks the character gained its enormous popularity in China, and the reasons for the apolitical stance which irks some of ’s detractors.

… Chinese have a very complex and conflicting view of themselves and the world at large. They have a very strong self-identity and sense of pride, and this leads to a strong sense of “us vs. them” and of being misunderstood and misaligned by the rest of the world, or the West in particular, as well as a strong sense that they are gradually losing their language and culture in the process of globalization. In the face of this, Dashan represents a Westerner who appreciates and respects China, who has learned the language and understands the culture and has even become “more Chinese than the Chinese”. It’s a very powerful and reassuring image that appeals to very deep-rooted emotions ….

… I don’t have to worry about what government censors might say because Chinese audiences would never let me get that far anyway.

So, I could make a short public statement like that of Christian Bale recently or Björk a few years ago. It’s very easy to do and ensures you get very good coverage in the Western media. You go home and everyone thinks you are a person of moral conviction who stood up to the great Chinese monster. But the fact is that these kinds of statements elicit almost no sympathy whatsoever from ordinary Chinese citizens. They simply are not culturally acceptable to the broad Chinese audience. And it’s very difficult to see what impact they have other than to further convince ordinary Chinese people that China is misunderstood and that the Western world is antagonistic towards China and resentful of China’s development. What use is that?

See also The Browser’s recently featured Five Books interview with Orville Schell, who also discusses China’s ambivalent views of the West.

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