The Future Global Cognitive Elite?

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Elizabeth Ho is the single person of 100% Chinese extraction in the “It’s My Time photoshoot, currently occuring in the Meatpacking District.

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Here she is being interviewed by May Chang, Senior Editor of the Chinese edition of Milk Magazine. May is a Hong Kong girl based in Beijing. The other member of the Chinese media at the “It’s My Time” event was Quentin Li, Fashion Director at Elle. And then there was me.

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Elizabeth is Chinese ethnically, but her identity is complex. Born in Hong Kong, she is a Canadian citizen, and has grew up mainly in Thailand. Amusingly, she often says “we” when she speaks of the United States and even its government. This is her first trip to NYC and she has never lived in the country. She explains that, due to the influence and importance of the US, as an international citizen it is easy to slip into viewing its government as representing and guarding over the whole global system. I pointed out that China is now nearly as powerful as the US, at least in economic terms. She says it was hard for her to think of Hu Jintao as someone terribly relevant much less as “her leader”. Her own Canada is apparently even less important.

She describes herself as “third culture”. To be more specific her outlook is a blend of Chinese and Western culture. She is Western in her open-mindedness, fondness for debate, and cosmopolitanism. Her Chineseness is most evident in her adherence to traditional feminine virtues such as modesty in dress and general conduct. Appropriately for a participant in a Benetton project, one of her main goals in life is opposing racism, which she says is often displayed by Chinese and other East Asians.

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An extremely articulate and engaging young lady, Elizabeth (above next to Allessandro Benetton) is a native speaker of English and is fluent in French. Unfortunately, she has not yet had the opportunity to learn Mandarin and she is quite weak in Cantonese. This is often a source of embarrassment to her, though I explained that I have the same problem. My mother is Assyrian, born in Iran, but I speak neither Assyrian nor Persian.

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Elizabeth and I had an enjoyable discussion about whether or not the ethnic mix of the finalists in “It’s My Time” representated how the political and business leaders of the 21st Century might soon look. Of the twenty, eleven are ethnically mixed and the non-mixed ones also have a varied background. The looks of the participants prompted me to consider whether a future world might see a clear division between the ethnically or culturally mixed elites and the more pure masses. Will the global cognitive elite look like a Benetton advertisement? The retrograde purebreds might be the ones obstructing progress, start wars, and generally being boring. Of course, they might also be the ones preserving traditional cultures and languages other than English.

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All of this talk of a future in which beautiful hybrids often of unplacable ethnicity run the show might be premature. Diverse and complex as it is, China, which will soon be both the most populous and the most powerful country in the world, is more homogeneous than any other selection of 1.4 billion people given that 93% of its population is Han. The hope that silly nationalisms willl fade as non-hybrids decrease in number might still be wishful thinking.

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It might just be the Global Cool who look like they could be from anywhere or no where.

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