2019 Chinese @ Truman: The "Middle Kingdom Complex" of the Minority


In May 2017, when I told my friends in Hawaii that I got a job in Missouri, they say "oh... so you are going to the SOUTH." It seemed that Missouri is part of the south for them, although geographically Hawaii is much souther. It also seemed that the word "Midwest" is not in their vocabulary, just like I did not have an idea of neither "the South" nor "the Midwest".


The simple truth that I figured out about the South or the Midwest is that Chinese was (and actually still is) the second smallest language that is offered at Truman State University, in which 11 languages are being offered, with about 55 students enrolled in four classes in total, obviously without any major or minor programs. I wrote in my annual review "such a small Chinese program (which can hardly be called a program) does not seem to be expected for a recognized American university like Truman", but the department chair responded "it is actually fairly good in the Midwest." Midwest again.


There is a term "Middle Kingdom Complex" specifically used to describe a mentality that China is the center of the world, just like the Chinese name for "China" is 中国, literally denoting the "Middle Kingdom". By definition, Chineseness more or less bears the birthmark of the "Middle Kingdom Complex". In this sense, the situation of being so marginal in the Midwest makes Chinese less Chinese. Right, by virtue of leaving the Middle Kingdom, or the China proper, becoming part of a marginal minority in some places, Chinese immigrants are no longer SO Chinese.


As a Ph.D. who received my degree in the United States, I am used to hiding my "Middle Kingdom Complex" and turning to the plausible logic that because of the increasingly prominent role of China in international economy and politics, more students should be more interested in Chinese. This is exactly the logic underlying the coined term "Chinese Fever(汉语热)", which has been used by the Chinese government to describe depicted phenomenon that people around the world are crazily studying Chinese. Therefore, this plausible logic in fact illustrates the hidden "Middle Kingdom Complex" lingering in my mind, which apparently, will not work in the Midwest.


Truth of the matter is, Chinese has never caught a fever in the United States, ranked No. 7 on the foreign language list taught in the United States (Wikipedia data), and has actually been slightly decreasing after 2010. The Midwest is not alone in this story. The plausible logic, though plausible, apparently does not work all across the United States, not to mention the "Middle Kingdom Complex".


Liulin at the University of Hawaii at Manoa

Wait... "foreign languages are not important"; "I just need a foreign language to fulfill the requirement, no matter what language"; "I won't take this language because it sounds difficult"; "I will take this language because this processor is an easy grader"... These actually sound quite familiar to people with the "Middle Kingdom Complex"... Wait, isn't this the "Middle Kingdom Complex" itself.


When the "Middle Kingdom Complex" runs into the "Middle Kingdom Complex", but one actually belongs to the Minority... This is the embarrassment of me in the Midwest, the embarrassment of Chinese in the United States. (As a relevant fact, real Chinese people won't worry about Chinese culture being "appropriated" as in "cultural appropriateness" because we consider ourselves the center. We are just wondering why the photos you use to represent China or Chinese people are so ugly.)


But shall I give up trying? Sorry I cannot... to be more accurate, I am not able to even if I try. The "Middle Kingdom Complex" is what I am born with, and what defines Chinese. It will be my life in the Midwest to survive with the "Middle Kingdom Complex" as the minority, the marginal.


Thankfully, I am provided with a chance here at Truman, where everybody has been extremely supportive. The Chinese minor is going to be offered in Fall 2019. This campus is making the Midwest a little bit different, and hopefully more.


星火燎原 'A single spark can start a prairie fire'. This is Chinese.




Fall 2018 CHIN311 Intro to Chinese Culture Class




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