你看得懂嗎?Revisiting the “white people can’t read this” shirt

The Aussie China Stories Twitter feed reminded me of a t-shirt I saw for sale on the internet years ago. On it are 5 simple Chinese characters: 白人看不懂, or “white people can’t read this.”

Well, it just so happens that plenty of 白人 can read it, and add to that every other color of the skin color rainbow, too. The Western world’s growing fascination with China means that more and more people of non-Chinese heritage are learning the language.

On the other hand, heritage language loss among Chinese and other Asian groups in Western countries is advancing so rapidly that many Chinese Americans, Chinese Australians, or what have you can barely speak the language, let alone read or write it.

Perhaps we should change the shirt around and have it say something like “黃人看不懂.” (Yellow people can’t read it.)


  1. Tell me about it. I went to Beijing to learn Chinese because so many of my whitey classmates could read basic Chinese.

  2. truth. Though the positive of this is that now that more and more non-Chinese people can read the language, it is exerting pressure on more Chinese people to learn to read and write the language. At least, this has been my experience, since the Chinese class I’m taking in college is populated by other 2nd-generation Chinese students.
    ~xixia
    visit my new blog?: thisisxixia.com

    • It seems there’s a bit of shaming involved. “You can’t speak Chinese? I know a bunch of white people who speak better Chinese than you do!”

  3. oh for sure! i was just on a father’s day barbecue picnic, and one family friend arrived with her caucasian boyfriend (the only one there not asian). my friends and i were all shocked when he could speak perfect chinese – probably better than any of us. definitely gives me more motivation to learn, to defend my ethnic pride. :)
    ~xixia

    • whoops sorry, i failed. that message was supposed to be in reply to yours, Calvin, and not its own separate entity.






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