Shanghai Impression: Part 1

“I don’t think of myself as Chinese.”

“You clearly are, my friend. Your name tells me.”

“OK. I STILL HATE THEM. Dirty, stupid, lazy blah blah blah…”

Due to this dialogue, the first so-called, “True Shanghainese” I met ever since I arrived at Shanghai didn’t give me that good impression. To me, one hating one’s own ethnicity sounded somewhat irrational and overly proud. That is not so different from spitting on one’s own face – a self-disdain. And for what on earth are they so GREAT? Still, it was interesting. I’ve previously seen similar cases among Korean students in U.S. colleges. They would intentionally avoid socializing with Koreans or enjoying Korean culture. Their exclusionism against me was somewhat alike Shanghainese’ exclusionism against 外地人.

However, one big difference is that aforementioned Korean students are from everywhere and are living in different country, while Shanghainese are from one place, Shanghai, and live their everyday life together with the Chinese they disdain / fear. Not all cars on the Shanghai road have 湖 sign on its back. Some cars are from nearby cities and often times from really far places, for instance, Chengdu. I’ve also seen tremendous amount of people who speak in Beijing accent or Cantonese that I frankly cannot understand.

This city is that bustling with diversity. It’s not like only Shanghai native and foreigners. Yet, Shanghainese somehow manage to keep them alarmed against Chinese from other regions (and remain as probably only Chinese city that majority of population likes Japan.) This weird phenomenon drew my interest, and I thought it was relatable to Shanghai’speculiar and dynamic contemporary history.

Why do some people want to deny their root, even though that will hurt their own dignity in the course? In most cases, and especially among Asians, it is deeply relevant to Cultural Absolutism. Earliest form of such thoughts could be found in late 19th and early / mid 20th century Japan, by studying the phrase 脫亞入歐. The phrase literally means, “escaping from Asia and entering to Europe.” This phrase was widely spread among rich and educated class, especially among political scientists. It could be easily inferred that Japanese people back then defined Asia as a pronoun of inferiority or what they have to come out of, and Europe as their ideal destination.