Western names in China

The Name’s Du Xiao Hua, But Call Me Steve:

Given the nationalism I’ve witnessed in China, I was a bit surprised at how readily Chinese adopted Western names. (Even my Americanized parents were uncomfortable with the idea of me changing my name. They said I could do as I wished when I turned 18, though always in a tone that suggested such an unfilial act would cause them to die of disappointment.) But Duthie’s participants insisted that taking an English name isn’t kowtowing, nor is it simply utilitarian. Rather, it’s essential to being Chinese and achieving Chinese goals. Whereas in the past patriotism was expressed by self-sacrifice, it is now expressed through economic activity. So by working for, say, 3M, Chinese citizens are helping to build up China, and the English names they take on in the process are as patriotic as Cultural Revolution-era monikers like Ai Guo (Loves China) or Wei Dong (Mao’s Protector).

The author is a Chinese American. In Peter Turchin’s model borderlands tend to generate the level of social cohesion necessary for a dynamic civilization-state, while the “heartland” exhibits more anomie and decay. But another aspect of this is that Diasporas often exhibit some element of stasis; as if they enter into a cultural chrysalis. The Chinese case is particularly instructive, as due to the upheavals of Marxism, the Cultural Revolution, and now the unbridled capitalistic ethos, much of traditional China has gone by the wayside. Rather, archaic forms and rites are preserved in the Overseas Chinese communities in Southeast Asia, in Taiwan or even in the United States. Chinese in China naturally have less of a need to assert their “authenticity,” so why not adopt what needs to be adopted?

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