The New York Times published an article yesterday about Chinese automakers “quietly build[ing] a Detroit presence.” The framing seems to suggest the arrival of the yellow peril: the Chinese are creeping up behind Americans’ backs and stealing our prized auto industry.
Chinese-owned companies are investing in American businesses and new vehicle technology, selling everything from seat belts to shock absorbers in retail stores, and hiring experienced engineers and designers in an effort to soak up the talent and expertise of domestic automakers and their suppliers.
Then again, the fact that the Chinese auto companies learned from Japanese companies’ mistakes and felt the need to keep a low profile reflects a fear that they would be perceived as such!
As businesses sprout up with little fanfare, Chinese companies seem to be trying to avoid the type of public opposition experienced by the Japanese automakers Toyota and Honda in the 1980s, when the sudden influx of foreign cars competing head-on with cars from General Motors, Ford and Chrysler was perceived as a threat to American jobs.
What I found most interesting was a short paragraph near the end of the article that doesn’t have anything to do with automakers at all.
Frank Chiu was an engineer for an auto supply company when he saw the growing number of Chinese professionals entering the industry and saw an opportunity. He left his job to open a Chinese grocery store in Canton, Mich, a bedroom community not far from Ford headquarters.
“The timing was very good for this type of business,” said Mr. Chiu, whose store features Chinese delicacies like chicken feet, snow fungus and pork uterus.
Does every story about a Chinese grocery have to list a bunch of “weird” foods? Something tells me news stories in China about Wal-Mart or Kroger don’t say that these stores feature “American delicacies like processed cheese food, cinnamon rolls and ketchup.” Susan Andrus argues that it’s the word “delicacies” here that makes the whole sentence so othering:
On one hand, it provides a little journalistic “color” to the story, meaning it’s interesting. On the other hand, it adds color. And by that I mean it radicalizes and exoticizes a group of people. It helps to create an “other.”
I noted specifically that the phrase “Chinese delicacies” seems to provide most of the exoticizing effect. When do we really use the word “delicacies?” It’s a word we specifically use to describe the “weird” foods, the foods that are unusual or foreign. This single word exoticizes, but the effect is doubled when combined with “Chinese.”