Girl criticized for calling it “China”

The following is a guest post from my friend Hannah on the latest story buzzing around the Chinese internet.

Twenty-four-year-old Liu Lili recently appeared on a Chinese job-hunting TV show. She was halfway through saying, “I was in New Zealand for three years. After those three years, I came back home, and realized, ‘Wow, China’s been through a lot of changes!’ Now if it had been New Zealand—”, when the host, Zhang Shaogang,  scolded her for using the word “China” rather than “my country” (我国) or “my ancestral homeland” (祖国). He said that using the word “China” did not convey the warm-hearted feeling that two Chinese people should share when talking about the motherland.

Liu Lili probably did not realize what she was going up against when she was accepted onto the show: China’s state media and popular perception of Chinese who have lived overseas. NY Times recently reported on state media scaling back popular “racy” TV shows, such as “If You Are the One,” due to such programs’ morally ambiguous content. In that case, overt patriotism does not seem to be in the cards, but rather a tension between projected national values and the reality of seductive consumerism. Neither of these issues directly play into this episode, but nevertheless the threat of shut-down still lingers, even looms.

Liu Lili’s status as a “Returned Chinese” (海归女) is pivotal to the debate; she was slotted from the beginning to be attacked for any signs of un-Chineseness. Indeed, living and studying overseas poses a certain soft-power threat to the home state, especially when the home state publicly announces that foreign culture is invading. Had she not been an English major who studied abroad, but rather an engineer from a humble Chinese college, she may not have received such a quick criticism.

What this ultimately suggests is a disappointing albeit unsurprising picture of current media in China. Chinese media is not the freest it ever has been. Since the founding of New China in 1949, that time was probably 1976-1980 — in particular late 1978, when Deng Xiaoping announced that “Democracy Wall is a good thing.” Instances such as this one, however, may work to “invite fire into the home” (or, as is said in English-speaking countries, to cut off one’s nose to spite the face). The reporter’s follow-up analysis and many of the comments on this clip indeed express disapproval of the host, many stating “I don’t see what the problem is.”

And that may be what it boils down to: a host who was just trying to fulfill the censorship rules. But when saying the name of one’s country becomes so sensitive that it cannot be said on that country’s TV, what comes to mind is not pretty: 1984′s Newspeak, Voldemort, and – as one Chinese reporter brought up – the emperor’s new clothes. Instances such as these may be their own undoing, wherein overt patriotism may conceivably and ultimately fall out of fashion. While that may seem like a far-off day from where we are standing, I for one am counting on history’s pendulum to start swinging back.

Hannah Lincoln is a master’s student at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center and is currently writing her thesis on China’s Misty poets. Previously, she graduated from Middlebury College with a joint degree in Chinese Language and Literature and Religious Studies. She also blogs at

20 responses to “Girl criticized for calling it “China””

  1. Doc says:

    WOW! Amazing Ignorants! It just keeps coming!

  2. says:

    So, in normal conversation, when Chinese people talk about China, they must always use ‘my country’? what twaddle, they don’t! should they use ‘my fellow countrymen’ when talking about ‘women zhongguoren’? i mean this kind of nonsense is so puerile so patronising and in the end, better used in the context of a country like North Korea. What they are hoping to achieve by forcing Chinese abroad to refer to China like this is beyond comprehension.

  3. Paul Mooney says:

    Meanwhile, virtually all the top officials have children or grandchildren studying at major Western universities. Chongqing leader Bo Xilai has both a son and daughter at Harvard, while Xi Jinping, heir apparent to Hu Jintao, has sent his daughter to study at Harvard under an alias. Hypocrites.

    • Lorin Yochim says:

      If they ask their own children to use more patriotic language, I guess they wouldn’t be hypocrites. In the absence of you or I knowing this, what’s your point?

      • Ander says:

        Begging the question of what they do or don’t say is not helping much. Surely ‘hypocrites’ here is referring to the leaders’ sending their kids abroad to study, instead of choosing the motherland’s own universities.

      • Lorin Yochim says:

        Agreed. But enough of this. Let’s all get back to drawing the broadest possible conclusions based on the slimmest possible knowledge base. Where would we be without the blogosphere?

  4. Choco sprinkles says:

    Bit of a random comment: i’m convinced that anyone wanting to understand the human condition in its localised expression in the ccp regime, needs to grapple with the 20th century histories of shithead states, such as the soviet states, nazi germany and of course the early showa. I’m serious. I’m convinced of this because all the digging around these areas that i’ve done has been remarkably fruitful in helping me understand what the hell is up with china, which is far from obvious. We can all pass the nutsness off as due to wounded pride or the legacy of the maoist ultraviolence, but that approach only goes so far. Anyway. The poster’s name, hannah, reminded me that i need to read more hannah arendt. And so should anyone reading this. She was a great thinker, and i have benefited from her quite alot for the amount i have read. Now, about the post, it’s really sad that the girl was corrected. Trad chinese culture is tolerant. Bananas ccp culture is intolerant. Not the cleverest observations, but it does one good to get these things off one’s chest.

  5. macroidtoe says:

    My girlfriend was born in China but moved to Canada as a child. She usually hides the fact that she is a Canadian citizen when she is in China, going so far as to use a fake Chinese ID with her old citizenship number on it rather than her passport to check-in at hostels or buy train tickets. I always thought this was a bit silly, until she told me about the one time her best friend referred to her as “Canadian girl” and she suddenly found herself being harassed by some guy for “betraying her country” or some nonsense.

    • Pudding says:

      I was in a fake market once in Beijing with my friends family. He is a foreigner married to a Northern Chinese girl. 3 white mans with a young Chinese female and her mother. We got in a tissy at one of the stalls for whatever reason (careful in those markets) and during the throwing of the calculators and everything else, I heard some of the most demeaning things that I have ever heard one person say to another anywhere I have been, America, China or any other place.

      Basically it was, and I can’t quote the stall owners that were yelling these, but something like: You call yourself Chinese with these foreign devils. Are you Chinese? Why don’t you leave with them. Etc.

      Funny thing was that the argument had nothing to do with race, or nationality. Just price. But they sure were quick to pull the pin on that hand grenade.

      Anyway, everything turned out ok. It takes a specific kind of Chinese women to be with a foreigner. I guess they expect some of it. Perhaps the other locals were jealous or something.

      No place if perfect, but I sure could put up an argument about how some places are a lot better then others.

      • Pudding says:

        Sorry, little sleepy this morning, started adding random a “s” to the end of words. Disregard those.

      • MAC says:

        If you marry a Chinese woman (not the other way around because it will make him look like a super-stud) it’s best to leave China for her mental health. It’s not like every Chinese person has a chip on their shoulder about it, but there are enough assholes around that you can count on a steady drip of unpleasantness.

    • Lorin Yochim says:

      Interesting. I and my wife haven’t experienced any general treatment like this, although I have seen the kind of behaviour as described in the market. I wouldn’t draw strong conclusions from such incidents. The behaviour of most everyone in the cheap markets is reprehensible at times.

      • Pudding says:

        So when you get into an argument with Chinese people and the first thing they blurt out is racial slurs, your not supposed to draw conclusions about this? Please.

        How about walking down the street and hearing white devil? Or being charged more in places? I’ve heard my fair share of racist comments made by Chinese. Usually it’s men.

        Take all the little things that I have experienced and one of the only unfortunate conclusions you can draw is that Chinese, I suppose I should say not all Chinese, are closed minded and perhaps racists. Which I guess is to be expected. China doesn’t have many foreigners and the Chinese have a specific mind set in accordance with that.

        Of course everyone will disagree and state the fact that America can be that way too and state examples of such behavior. But by in large I would argue China is worse.

        Anyway it doesn’t surprise me that she got hounded. She has a better education, I’m my opinion, speaks English, is more open, etc. She is pretty much a shoe in for a higher job, and better life than most people here in China. Of course some people are going to resent that fact. Also, with the censorship bus on the course that it is, the hosts, if not told, but were probably pressured into letting her have it.

        Such is life. But I’m glad she didn’t take it without a fight.

      • Lorin Yochim says:

        Methinks someone is drawing unwarranted conclusions based on what I said. Or was this a reply meant for another commenter? At any rate, I do appreciate the honesty in paragraph three in which the author identifies in himself the attitude attributed to “Chinese.”

  6. Chip says:

    I just watched the video, it’s pretty clear how quickly the MC and the panel began attacking her for being confident, humorous, and on the whole very un-typical-chinese. Rather than humbly accept criticism she disagrees with, she disagreed with the criticism. She calls the MC (and one of the panelists) on their rude behavior rather than simply politely avoiding it. I found her to be refreshing, intelligent, and would have hired her instantly had I been one of the panelists. Glad to hear most of the Sina-sphere agrees with me. Good luck to her, she’ll eventually find an employer that cares about hiring the right people rather than protecting their own face.

    • Yaxue C. says:

      I saw several people on Weibo who also found the girl to be refreshing and intelligent and who wanted to hire her. I haven’t watched the video myself, but from what I heard, most of the Weibo users seemed to echo Chip’s comment. I watch very little Chinese TV but just from the scraps I get every now and then, the hosts seem to me to be a particularly repulsive group of people on the whole. You do wonder about the kind of culture the state-own TV stations have that breed such personalities….

  7. M says:

    I thought you will be commenting these two videos I find more interesting, mainladers in HKG subway (warning, it can raise your adrenaline level):

    and chinese answer in TV (quite funny how stupid may be some people)

  8. Jerome Cole says:


    Your political correctness BS is wearing very, very thin.

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