How My World-view Shaped My Identity as a Global Citizen

Charlie Zheng
5 min readMar 21, 2022

Recently, the discussion of Olympic gold medalist Eileen Gu’s citizenship went viral on Chinese social media. When I read all those posts expressing confusion, doubts and even envy, I really want to say that you guys all forget that Eileen is skiing for her passion. The most important thing for her is to ski and to compete, as a global citizen she can join any national team advantageous for her. Representing China or USA is not important for Eileen, but whether she can win and have fun or not is more significant.

When I was a kid, I believed that I grew up in the “global village”. I always thought that visa and borders were stupid because they are merely man-made concepts separating the world. I thought that people should have freedom for moving to any places they want instead of being obstructed by borders. As I grew up, I understood that our world is divided in countries because of politics, economics, and culture. But these are macroscopic factors that are too big for our personal life. As individuals we are microscopic, our personal freedom need not to be constrained by macroscopic factors. I always think that my Chinese identity is imposed on me by my Chinese citizenship. As a free man, I am a global citizen, and everybody has the right of being a global citizen (even though many do not realize that).

Once on my high school Chinese class, my teacher said, “You kids now grow up watching Hollywood movies and drinking coke. You guys are under cultural invasion.” I strongly disagree with this opinion. Is Coke’s Americanness so important? Now people all over the world drink Coke. Isn’t Coke a universal drink? Chinese people eat rice as main dish. When you cook rice, will you even think about the fact that rice cookers are Japanese invention? Therefore, where something comes from does not matter; whether you like it matters. As for Hollywood movies, they are indeed American cultural products. But I think when we choose a movie to watch, we should value whether it is a good story rather than whether it is a domestic movie. Because movies and other entertainment products are made to entertain audience. It is more important to be moved by a good movie than to support a domestic movie. Besides, isn’t it a great way to know a culture you are not familiar with from an entertaining movie?

Based on those beliefs, I grew up with different perspectives than many of my friends and classmates in China. I pursue the things I like, no matter where they come from. I valued English even more than my native language Mandarin because I thought that Chinese is only useful in China, but English is the gateway to the world. Therefore, the course I enjoyed the most was the English cram school on weekends. I learnt English from foreign English teachers so that I could know the western world through them. I never listen to Chinese pop music but love Western pop and Kpop songs. I never watch Chinese TV or movies but favor Hollywood and Anime. Many of my friends say that I am a Wapanese. I actually do not have any opinion on they describe me. I like Japanese language and culture, so I want to know more of it. But I do not disdain Chinese culture. I read a lot of history and classic literature of China and got fascinated by them too. Not just Chinese, Japanese, American and Western cultures, I enjoy being immersed in diverse cultures and am always willing to explore new cultures. This is the reason why I studied abroad at US for 6 years and speak 5 languages. I really enjoyed surrounded by international friends, not just Chinese, not just American, but people from all over the world.

Chinese culture values homogeneity and conformity, and it is kind of contradictory to my beliefs. But in China, I still have the chance to work as a tie between China and the world. When I worked for Lenovo, I developed and trained Lenovo and Motorola’s English and Japanese chatbots, serving international clients. When I work for Alibaba now, I help Chinese merchants sell merchandise on AliExpress to European customers. Even though the Covid and geopolitics are making China more isolated from the world than before, I am grateful that I still have the chance to do something beneficial for both China and the world.

One day at a meeting. My director asked me, “Charlie you don’t look like a local, where are you from?”

According to my place of birth, I am a local. But I do not have a strong sense of belongingness because I am different from locals. I always think that my place of birth is the least important attribute of me because it only tells where my parents bore and raised me. But this was not even a thing I could determine. It was already determined by my parents. Therefore, my place of birth cannot demonstrate my personality, but where I move to is my own decision, so it represents me. Before I moved back to China, when my friends asked me “where is your home now?”, I would answer “Boston” when I resided in Boston, and “San Diego” when I resided in San Diego. I also want to keep moving to new places and exploring new cultures on this planet because there are so many other wonderful places and cultures I have never met.

So, I told my director, “Right, I am not local. I am from the earth.”

All my colleagues were laughing at me. My director said, “what do you even mean by ‘from the earth’? You are not good at talking. You should learn how to speak properly from your colleagues.”

But I do not regret speaking out my mind. I am a citizen of the earth, and this is my most important identity. Now, nationalism and xenophobia are soaring in China. When I had lunch with people, some of them would always talk about something like “China is the heaven and foreign countries are hells.” When I check on Weibo (Chinese social media like Twitter), there are toxic comments about foreign nations all around. These people cheer themselves by their sense of belongingness. But they will never understand Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities, arguing that “Nation is a socially-constructed community, imagined by the people who perceive themselves as part of a group.” These people cannot understand how wonderful and beautiful the world is in the eyes of people like me.

Therefore, I am proud to say that:

Je suis un citoyen de le monde.

I am a citizen of the world.

私は世界の公民だ

저는 세계의 공민 이다

And for those who think I am a dissident:

I don’t belong to anywhere. I only belong to myself. You should travel more and step out of your comfort zone.

네 기준에 날 맞추려 하지 마

狭い眼界で見れば私のことを理解できないよ

I can only live for no more than 100 years but has already spent 19 years in China. This is really long enough with respect to my life span. Although after 6 years I cannot stay in US anymore, I still want to explore other new places, because the world is BIG! I want to go to Japan, Korea, Canada, and Singapore, and go back to Southern California when I am old. I want it all and I CAN DO THIS!

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