Last week we pointed you to a piece by humorist David Sedaris in which he laments having to visit China for a speaking engagement, if only because the Chinese seem to spit a lot and eat things like duck tongues and “chicken toenails.” A Chinese-American columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle has penned a lengthy response to Sedaris’s un-P.C.-ness, decrying the piece as “condescending, xenophobic and thoroughly venomous — a sweeping 2,700-word dismissal of an entire culture and society based on a few singular anecdotal experiences.” Point taken, but really, San Francisco? He’s a humorist with germ issues. Can we really not have a sense of humor about this?
’Asian Pop’ columnist Jeff Yang writes a lengthy analysis of the Sedaris piece and its tone, and the analysis is about twice as long as the original Sedaris piece. Yang says that Sedaris’s tone seems harsher than usual, without his typical wit and nuance. “’Chicken Toenails’ has no such nuance or balance,” he writes. “It’s a screed, plain and simple, designed to make China look as ghastly as possible for exaggerated comic effect.”
Well, yes, that was likely Sedaris’s intent, and Yang actually admits that Sedaris’s two big complaints — the rampant phlegm-hocking and the weird food — are quite true and not that exaggerated. Yang’s biggest gripe may actually be the way that Sedaris compares China so unfavorably to Japan, where he had just been and which he found much more clean and civilized.
But tell us again why a neurotic, germ-phobic, picky eater from the West who has also written about various customs in France — where he now lives — that disgust him can’t do the same for China?