Apparently, speaking Chinese can just about kill your chances in politics. At least for Republican presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman, a former Utah Governor, who is fluent in Mandarin. Huntsman took the time during a recent campaign stop to pitch part of his speech in Chinese. From a Mother Jones article on the event:
Huntsman had other plans apparently, launching into his speech with a demonstration of his Chinese fluency. As his first introduction to the foot soldiers of the Republican Party, it didn’t go over very well. As languages go, Chinese is not the most elegant to the English-speaking ear, and it seemed to be especially jarring to the nearly all-white crowd of evangelicals, who listened with shock. You could almost see the elderly Christians from Wisconsin thinking “Manchurian Candidate.”
In order to back their claim that speaking Chinese was a negative for Huntsman, Mother Jones pointed to a 1999 survey as described below:
Polls going back decades show that many Americans, especially Republicans, take a dim view of the Chinese, a phenomenon that some researchers attribute to 19th Century anti-Chinese immigration laws. In 1999, a survey conducted by the Anti-Defamation League found that 34 percent of those who responded admitted they wouldn’t want to see a Chinese-American person elected president, a figure the group had never encountered in similar surveys of attitudes towards blacks or Jews.
That last sentence alone was a shocker to me, especially in this day and age where we were able to witness Barack Obama elected to the Presidency of the United States. While I have no aspirations for the Presidency (not that I could be President, considering I wasn’t born in the U.S.), it was sad to see such negative feelings about a Chinese American becoming President from the country I call my own.
The Anti-Defamation League survey is a bit dated, and I certainly hope attitudes have changed in the last eleven years, and maybe President Obama’s tenure will help change those attitudes. A January 2011 Pew Research survey, while not about Chinese Americans, but rather on China, still found that 36% of Americans had a negative view of China.
Today, we are fortunate enough to have Chinese Americans as mayors of Oakland and San Francisco. With more Chinese American politicians in office now, perhaps the negative view of China will start fade, especially the one about a Chinese American as president.