Earlier today (today still being Thursday even thought it’s not), I had what I thought at the moment was a really profound thought: Why is china—like the dinnerware- called china? My immediate thought was, because it’s made in China. But if that were our predominant labeling system, many other things would also be called china: decorative notecards, key chains, inexpensive jewelry, the entire inventory of The Gap. Yet we have names for all of these things, and still we call china-- china.
I brought up this mystery to some folks at Ali Baba this evening. Being smart Phd types and knowing about history and stuff, they were like, “Duh,” and explained that China had made the first china. They invented it. I came home and hit the web to see if I could verify this, and it certainly seems true that the Chinese invented porcelain, so I guess they created “fine china,” but don’t we often use the word china in a broader sense? Like a combination of plates and bowls and teacups constitutes a set of china? But haven’t plates and bowls and teacups made out of pottery have been around since prehistory…I don’t see anything that says that the Chinese came up with it first, although it does look like they were the first to get really good at it, so I guess that makes sense. No real mystery at all.
Two more items on the topic of things and people Chinese:
1) When I was in Costa Rica, all Asian people were simply referred to as “La China,” which amused me each time I heard it, but also plucked lightly at some politically correct string in my brain. I have been for years among my Latino friends “La Jueda” (the white girl), which also feels a little course, but at least I am white. Whereas “The China,” is like calling every white person “The Sweden.” It’s doubly weird because it feels like they don’t bother to even make the incorrect ethnic origin into an adjective. (That wasn’t an ideal comparison of course because proportionally there are many more Chinese Asians than white Swedes, but you get my point.)
2) So, here in Tallahassee, I went to see an acupuncturist--a white lady who used to be a nurse, got fed up with it and went to acupuncture school. She was really nice, and in going to accupuncture school she had done something that I could imagine doing myself, but in the end, I felt she lacked the intuition and more nuanced perception that I desire in a health advocate. I’m sure there are some non-Asian acupuncturists who are great (actually my acupuncturist in Australia was Israeli, and she was excellent), but for the sake of efficiency it seemed better to play the averages. So, recently, when I decided to try someone new, I looked in the phone book under acupuncturists, and picked a random Chinese name. It paid off, and my new acupuncturist is much better. So then I have to question myself, is she really better? Or because I’m prejudiced, do I just think she’s better? (She really is so much better.)