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ya (亚)

Chinese. ‘Asia’ or ‘Asian’, but also ‘inferior’ and ‘sub-’. Since the character for Asia is also the character for inferior, it seems that the Chinese perhaps exclude themselves and use the term only to refer to Asian countries outside China as inferior states. This would suggest they feel superior to other peoples of the region. On the other hand, the word may just as well reveal a certain inferiority complex of their own, i.e. a national or even regional feeling that one is in some way inferior to others. The fact that Asian people are usually of small stature, have dark skin and flat noses, seems to have exactly that effect or may at least contribute to such feelings, proof being the number of nose enlargement treatments that are being carried out, as well as the amount of skin-whitening creams found on offer nationwide and beyond. In Thailand, noses are measured by putting the side of ones hand, with the side of the index finger, on the tip of the nose and the forehead, and the more fingers of the other hand that can be put into the space formed in between, the larger the complex. Thus, the smaller the nose, the greater the inferiority feeling, and the same goes for a dark skin. Besides a possible inferiority complex of their own, also westerns have at times described Asian people as second-rate, e.g. George Orwell, who in his book ‘Burmese Days’ describes the locals of his days as follows: “After all, natives were natives —interesting, no doubt, but finally only a ‘subject’ people, an inferior people with black faces”. In addition, and compared to the often high-quality products from the West, the dual meaning of the character may perhaps also have root in the sometimes inferior quality of Chinese products. The Cantonese words zing zong (精装), which literally mean ‘consciousness clothes’, are in some countries used as slang to refer to anything cheap and in particular to the Asian, mostly Chinese, substandard quality of products. This slang word derives directly from the names of the Chinese manufacturers on the labels of many cheap, low-quality products that are exported overseas. The character 亚 is a simplified form of the traditional character 亞.