By Nima Tamaddon
On a sunny spring Sunday, dozens of Americans have gathered in one place, for one goal: achieving harmony through Tai Chi, often called “meditation in motion.”
Raymond Wong, 56, says he was invited four years ago to teach a free Tai Chi class at the Chinatown Community Cultural Center in Washington, D.C. Currently, he is the martial arts program coordinator.
People of all ages and ethnicities, including Americans of Chinese descent, gather at the center three times a week to reach harmony through Tai Chi and Kung Fu, the ancient Chinese arts that are today more known for their balance than violence.
Chinese-Americans are the largest Asian-American group in the United States. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 3.3 million people reported being of Chinese descent in the 2010 Community Survey.
The Chinese population in the U.S. is based mainly in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Boston, according to the census data.
Jay Song is editor in chief of Washington Chinese Radio, a newly established station that broadcasts news and entertainment in Chinese 24/7. Song estimates that there are 200,000 Chinese-speaking people in the D.C. area.
With more than 48,000 Chinese-born immigrants, the Washington, D.C., metro region is home to the seventh largest community of Chinese-born residents in a major metropolitan area, according to 2010 U.S. Census Bureau data.
Song says the main motivation for establishing a Chinese-language radio station was “to fill in the gap, bridge the communication and raise public awareness. Besides some local Chinese newspapers, there is little media service to the Chinese-speaking community.”
According to a new Gallup survey, 19 million in China want to move to the United States permanently. That number is only 1.4 percent of the most populous nation in the world.
Faye Ou who works as the market area instructional manager at Berlitz Language School in Washington, D.C., says that for those 19 million people in China, the U.S. still means the land of opportunity.
“I think for a lot of us, the U.S. still counts as where there are a lot of business opportunities, more freedom if you will, and a lot of options you can explore,” says Ou, a Chinese-born American citizen living in the Washington metro area.
Neither Ou nor kung fu master Wong are surprised at the number of Chinese people who want to move to the U.S.
The D.C. job market appears to be the main attraction of the area for many Chinese-born immigrants to move here.
Other than the job opportunities, Song says the aspects that attract the most Chinese immigrants to this area can be summarized as, “high living standard, diversified ethnic groups living in area, high income, and high education quality.”
China has sent the most graduate students to the U.S., with Chinese students making up about 29 percent of all international students, during the 2011-12 academic year, according to the Council of Graduate Schools.
But times have already started to change. New research by the Council shows that in the 2013 academic year, applications from China were down five percent from the year before, which means thousands of prospective Chinese students, didn’t apply for U.S. graduate school.
Wong says the last time he travelled to China was in the mid-1980s. He emigrated to the U.S. four decades ago, and thinks that cultural exchange between both countries still can solve many problems, including “Sinophobia.”
Sinophobia can be described as a fear or dislike of anything related to China and the Chinese people, either economically or politically.
Wong traces the origin of Sinophobia back to the financial issues. “Whoever is getting more the money, of course that becomes the enemy [because] he is taking my share in the market, in whatever he is selling,” Wong says, referring to China — which is seen to be on top of the market in some people’s eyes.
About half of Americans prefer getting tougher with China, according to a survey conducted in October 2012 by the Pew Research Center. The survey also says two-thirds of Americans distrust China and see it as a competitor.
Ahead of the 2012 presidential election, when both parties were struggling to gain power and political debate was at its peak, the idea of gaining political capital by being vocal on China was quite popular.
“I don’t see such strong phobia toward China and I guess it’s the area I’m at,” Ou says. “Perhaps different parts of America might be different.”
Ou, who studied economics and global affairs at George Mason University, says she mainly sees Americans “prefer to purchase what’s made in America, which to some people make sense. To some people, it’s more expensive.”
She spent six years in Japan as a child and that is another reason, Ou says, for not being affected by such phobia may be because she got used to it.
“We have been through this before with Japan, so the second time around is not scary,” Ou says, referring to the 1970s and 1980s when rise of Japan and its manufacturing left some fearing it would overtake the United States and the entire world.
As many old phobias have already passed and no longer exist, both Ou and Wong say, there is a hope for ending Sinophobia as well.
Wong says China as one of the world’s oldest surviving civilizations has “a thousand years of practical knowledge and practical customs” to offer to the world.
To fill the China-U.S. culture gap, Ou has other options. She suggests strating with food and learning a language.
“But because each food have such a different taste, I don’t guarantee if everybody can like it. Especially, authentic Chinese food,” she says.
“I would recommend learning a language, not because I’m working at a language center but I think it’s the whole part of learning a culture as well,” she says.