During a Friday night appearance on MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, political commentator Ann Coulter used the term "Mandarins" to describe Asian-Americans — and didn't back down after MSNBC anchor Joy Reid challenged her.For goodness' sake! "Mandarin" is a perfectly respectable word. It's the name of a language, the official language of China. Cornell University, for example, runs an Intensive Mandarin summer program.
Coulter described a pro-Trump rally in San Diego, California, as being "one of the most diverse crowds anyone has ever seen." According to Coulter, the crowd comprised of both Latinos — Coulter used the term "Hispanics" — and "Mandarin Chinese with signs for Trump" written in Mandarin.
Coulter also claimed that the "Hispanics" chanted "Build the wall."
When MSNBC anchor Joy Reid challenged Coulter's repeated use of the term, Coulter sniped back at Reid, saying "You're not gonna police my language!"
Coulter once again described the audience as having both "Hispanics" and "Mandarins," which spurred Reid to respond: "What does 'Mandarin' mean? You mean Asian-Americans."
Reid said Coulter's use of the term "mandarin" was "throwback language" and "arcane." [Ann Coulter Calls Asian-American People "Mandarins" — and Insists She's Correct, Yahoo News, May 30th.]
Ann was referring to people bearing signs written in what looked to her like Chinese, and so almost certainly* Mandarin.
It's a bit eccentric to refer to Mandarin-speakers as "Mandarins," but I'm darned if I can see how it's offensive. "Mandarin" as applied to persons properly designates the scholar-officials of Imperial China (i.e. pre-1911), so it implies a person who is smart — those officials were recruited by competitive examination — and powerful.
Ann's usage of "Mandarin" is in any case less preposterous than "Asian-American," the term that Joy Reid, the PC enforcer on Chris Matthews' program prefers. The premise of the "Asian-American" usage seems to be that Afghans, Sri Lankans, and Japanese have something in common, other than that they all have homelands east of the Bosphorus.
"Asian-American" is in fact — would you give me a hand up onto the bandwagon, please? thanks! — disgracefully Eurocentric. And in any case, how does Reid know that the protesters are, in fact, Asian-Americans? They could be Permanent Residents, H-1B holders, or illegal immigrants—I. E. Asians.
If Ann had wished to be offensive, she could have called the persons in question "coolies."** That would have got the whining minority steamed up.
They are of course steamed up anyway. Here today, in the United States of Taking Offense, any excuse will do.
*It's not quite the case, as you'll hear said, that all Chinese write their language the same way but just speak it differently. Find yourself a Mandarin-speaker who doesn't know Cantonese and ask him to translate the speech balloons in the funny pages of a Hong Kong tabloid newspaper …
** The word "coolie," like "mandarin," is of Indian origin. The first Europeans to engage with China found the Chinese language hard on their ears, so when they needed a name for something peculiarly Chinese, they often used a word from Hindi or Malay, as being easier to remember.
"Coolie" has had an interesting subsequent history, though. Carried to China from India by European traders, it was then picked up by the Chinese themselves, to whom it sounds like 苦力 (ku-li), "bitter effort." Probably most Chinese people today believe that "coolie" is a loan-word into English from Chinese.