Am I A Racist?

I’ve been pondering this question a bit lately. First I/this blog got called such in the comments on Time‘s rather prominent The China Blog.

Then, lately I’ve had a bit of a dimwit spamming my comments with this drivel.

I got three separate notifications of his comments being posted. Each notification gave the text of the comment, but not that of the original post. As the comment started with the (all too common) “When you hate chinese so much why do you even stay in china …it is a place of savages in your opinion right…..” I began to wonder if perhaps I had said something that deserved his rage.

It was first left (and deleted by the commenter) on this post, which criticizes my inability to eat fish. Then it was left on a post explaining how I was moving from Blogger to WordPress and finally it landed on my post about buying an eBike. All posts that clearly illustrate how much I hate China and why I feel “it is a place of savages.”

He then went on to ShopGirl’s blog (where I specialize in getting bad press) and posted:

“i have seen humannaught’s blog…i think he is a racist…..any day your blog is millions of times superior to him…you only use your’s to express yourself and he uses his to degrade others….” (Cheers to Wo Ai Zhong Guo and his excellent sleuthing skills, as I think the comment has been deleted).

Obviously the guy is quite convinced I’m a racist. And as I’ve been a bit busy and distracted lately, I began to wonder if he might be right. Have I become a racist? Was I always a racist? What the hell is a racist?

rac·ism /ˈreɪsɪzəm/ [rey-siz-uhm]
1. a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to rule others.
2. a policy, system of government, etc., based upon or fostering such a doctrine; discrimination.
3. hatred or intolerance of another race or other races.
[Origin: 1865–70; < F racisme.]

Hmmm… I certainly don’t think my race is superior to any other. In fact, I don’t really see race as a deciding factor in anything other than stupid misguided nationalism.

Now religion, history and culture … there are some good terms to get hot and bothered about. These play a huge role in how we think about ourselves, others and the world at large. But race? Bah, determining anything by race is quite similar to using the mentality that red cars go faster than white ones.

Where I think Mr. Deepak gets confused, and perhaps a lot of us do, is that just noticing someone’s race is not enough to deem someone a racist.

Growing up in the multicultural segregation that is Canada, I was taught never to use the “n” word, don’t call “them” Pakis (well before I even knew where Pakistan was, and certainly before I had ever met anyone from there), make sure you look both ways before you tell a racist joke… etc.

What I’ve come to realize is that despite there being lots of horrible inequality in the world, largely based on race, there’s a big difference between calling the Irish a bunch of drunks and thinking blacks are inferior to you.

I’m not quite certain why, but for some reason much of the world seems oblivious to the fact that this is actually a massive grey area and not the monochrome issue they’d like it to be.

Oh sure, you could say that “An American, A French man, and a Chinaman” jokes are the gateway drug of the racism world… but fuck. Lighten up. Telling a joke that involves a stupid Pollock means about as much as telling a joke about a dumb blonde. It doesn’t mean you feel you are better than people with blonde hair, or whom come from Poland, and it doesn’t mean you feel any ill will towards them… it’s just a joke.

But we’ve lost that perspective. In our haste to sanitize the globe and make it safe for all, we suffered two terrible tragedies – lawn darts and the ability to not take ourselves so damn seriously.

China has taught me a lot about racism. The first being that racism thrives in this country completely oblivious to the overly-sensitive, and completely superficial, niceties that the West has wrapped themselves in. Here not a day goes by that I’m not told that [insert nationality here] people are [insert stereotype here].

The other thing that living in China has taught me is that these gross generalizations come out of stupidity.

Wait, did I just call a bunch of Chinese people stupid? You’re damn right I did. Wow… that was a rather racist thing to say. Or so the Hari’s of the world would have you think. But it’s not racist, because the people I’m speaking about are ignorant to a level by which you can safely call them stupid and not be exaggerating, and it has nothing to do with race.

Sure, I could use “under educated”, “disadvantaged”, “having survived repressive regime after repressive regime” – but I’d be doing my point a disservice by using euphemisms to make the Sensitive Sally’s out there feel better about themselves and their self-righteousness.

Are all Chinese people stupid? No. Of course not. Are the Chinese people that are stupid, stupid because they are Chinese? Again, no. Of course not.

The truth is that I could pick apart any nationality and come up with enough ignorant idiots to keep me smacking my forehead for a very long time. But I don’t live in those countries, I don’t deal with the crap in those countries night and day.

So, if I say a Chinese person did this, or acted like this… understand that it’s because I live in China. If and when I start saying they did that, or acted like that because they’re Chinese… then call me a racist.

Which I guess comes to the answer I was looking for … I’m not a racist. I may be an asshole, but I am an equal opportunity asshole.

46 Responses

  1. Hey Ryan,

    I feel your pain. I just got called a racist a couple of days ago as well – well, in fact he called me a supremacist who thinks I am better than Chinese guys, but that’s pretty much exactly a racist, so… The comment is here.

    The thing is – if I had never come to China I might look at my blog and some of the things I say (or you say) as racist. But we are making observations about reality. Perhaps it’s the more negative focus on things in China.

    The fact is, for better or worse, that there are most likely both more intelligent and more stupid people in China than in any other country. Just due to the sheer size of China’s population.

    And there is a lot of f*d up stuff about China – just as there is a lot of f*d stuff about America and many other countries. Can’t quite understand where the supremacist bit is coming from.

  2. I have no patience for stupidity. Therefore, I dislike “stupid” people of all races.

    What does that make me?

    Maybe I’m a super stupid racist.

  3. Although being called a racist could be quite troubling, I think the process of which people face the question of whether they are racists or not is – generally – a good process.

    That’s some of what blogging is about, I guess, being challenged/inspired by people who read what you write and see things differently than you do and might sometimes take offense by things you write, or how you write them. There’s not a week that goes by that I don’t get some sort of problematic comment on the China-Taiwan issue, the Israeli-Palestinian issue, the Asia-foreigners issue etc. The power of the easy anonymous commenting is especially troubling (even more so on other blogs you can’t moderate), but I believe it has always made me think about who I am and the views that I hold – and that’s generally a good thing.

    It’s interesting to read how you face this question. I have a feeling this has/will be more of a process rather than a conclusion.

  4. @Steven: Haha… my 15 minutes of infamy.
    @Jeremy: It’s rare to find an unsympathetic ear of a fellow laowai, that’s for sure. You do have to live here as a foreigner to really understand what it’s like. And it’s no coincidence that the most well-rounded and interesting Chinese people I meet have spent a lot of time abroad. Visiting other cultures and countries can’t but help spread understanding of them.

    @fiLi: Well said. And I agree, it’s definitely a process. I’ve certainly suffered my share of rough comments over the years to have a bit of a thick skin towards it all now, but you’re right that they do get you thinking – if not about yourself, about other people and how they look at things. The community aspect of blogging is easily my favorite part of it all.

  5. Nice post and nice comments. Cheers.
    It seems like it’s all been said, but I just have to second my disapproval of that crap.

    From his comments it doesn’t seem as though English is his first language, which may have a lot to do with misunderstanding some of you posts. Oh wait…nevermind, he’s a just a dick. 😉

  6. Take any acqusation of racism in china with a huge pinch of salt, I say.

    My girlfriend says I am a racist and have discrimination against china. Then she says she doesnt like black people.

    Shes a racist, Im a racist, your a racist… we’re all racists.

  7. Just ignore these fools. People are people. You will find every possible combinations of fools and ignorants wherever you go. Some people don’t realize that people can have opinions.

  8. @WAZG: Cheers WAZG. I saw a post of his deleted by author and assumed that he was cleaning up his trail. It’s interesting that Blogspot lets commenters moderate their own comments.

    @Neil: I think we’ve all been through that here. Really I think that’s what’s missed in a lot of discussion about racism is non-WMA racism. Oddly, if I make sweeping generalizations on this blog about a race or culture, I’m a racist – but if someone who is not a white male makes just as sweeping generalizations, they’re not. How does that make sense?

  9. First let me begin by saying that I’m married to a woman who was born in Dalian, but I do not see her as a Chinese person, I see her as my wife, my confidant, my best friend, etc., and what I am about to say, I know she would agree with, because we have had conversations about this topic. I also have had similar conversations with some of my Chinese friends, adult students, and high school students, most of which seem to agree with what I am about to say.

    China has isolated itself from the rest of the world for a number of generations, and has only begun to expose itself to the outside world over the last 30ish years, and to an even much wider degree over the last 10 years. This isolation has the effect of creating a lack of perspective. The truth seems to be that the majority of the Chinese population are relatively ignorant of the world outside of their immediate environment. To say that many Chinese are ignorant ISN’T to say that they are stupid.

    Ignorant is defined as:
    1.lacking in knowledge or training; unlearned.
    2.lacking knowledge or information as to a particular subject or fact.
    3.uninformed; unaware.

    To be very clear on this, ignorance DOES NOT equate to stupidity. I know that the Chinese have as much capacity for intelligence as any other human from any other nation.

    During the cultural revolution the Chinese society banished intellectuals from their communities, which deprived a generation of an education. This, of course, has only added to the people’s lack of perspective.

    The current education system does nothing to remedy the situation. From primary school all the way through high school, children are required to take exams that are far too demanding, which requires them to be confined to a classroom an average of 8-12 hours a day, and 5, 6 or sometimes 7 days a week.

    Children need playtime. In fact, playing is can be a valuable learning opportunity. There are many skills that a child can develop while playing, such as learning skills in problem solving, and developing valuable social skills. Playing also gives children an opportunity to exercise their imagination, which is important for a sense of creativity and developing original ideas. These are skills that can not necessarily be learned while a child’s nose is in a book.

    Each semester classes are devoted towards preparing for examinations rather than doing practical learning, and developing a comprehensive understanding of the subjects being studied. The object of classes are always in preparation for examinations which are designed to determine their classifications for the following year, or the schools they will be attending when moving on from primary school, to middle school, to high school, and finally on to college.

    The current system of education does not allow for the opportunity for students to build upon the knowledge gained, but rather the system is training children to simply be good little test-takers. There is no room for questioning, or creative thinking. In fact, I would suggest that the current education system hinders the creative process.

  10. I feel I strayed from the initial point I intended to make.

    It seems that the majority of Chinese people lack more than a singular perspective on the world and life in general……ignorant.

    Does this opinion/observation make me a racist? I think not. My wife, who is Chinese, also feels that most Chinese people are ignorant. Can a Chinese person be racist against Chinese people?

  11. I’m Danish and live in Denmark.

    I can confirm that we have plenty of idiots here too (developed country or not) and you’re more than welcome to adress them as that when I’m around. They don’t get wiser just because I suddenly pop up near you.

  12. When I was a little girl a boy in our street, aged about 6, used to pull the legs off spiders and stamp on baby frogs. Some decades later he knew the error of his ways, and agonized over his actions.

  13. Spiral Cow I largely agree with what you’re saying, but I disagree that ignorance is so severed from stupidity. I’m, of course, not talking about mental deficiency from birth or genetics, or – as I said in the post – race. I’m talking about the inability to use the big pile of mush that’s oh so gently connected to one’s spine.

    This is possibly my biggest problem with the whole issue, and that runs into Phoebe’s comment – are Chinese people children? Should we, as non-Chinese, treat them as such for all the reasons you mentioned?

    I loath to do so. Stupidity, by my definition, is not a mental deficiency, but a dimness of thought. This directly equates to ignorance. If ignorance is widespread, it’s not far off to assume that stupidity is as well.

    It’s not my job to make excuses for a country of people and why they are ignorant and/or outright stupid. In any country. Period.

    The reasons you state are solid points as to why ignorance is quite rampant in China – but it’s not an excuse. A reason, perhaps, but an excuse… why the fuck does anyone deserve an excuse for being ignorant? Stupid? Unhealthy? An asshole?

    The fact is, the world has a standard by which all nations’ peoples are judged. This standard relates to a person’s compassion to the world around them, desire to understand their existence, and general comprehension of the knowledge they hold.

    The cool part is, it’s not an exclusive club by any means. Everyone is welcome, and the more people that join, the better everything gets. They just have to pony up their ability to do so.

  14. Yeah, I’d have to agree that the distinction between the words “ignorant” and “stupid” are merely a matter of semantics, but I felt that the distinction needed to made for the benefit of the reactionary fools that seem so quick to declare other to be racist.

    I’m fully aware of the abundance of stupidity that exist in the world. For a species that is so fond of laying claim to being “the most intelligent life form on Earth”,we seem incapable of venturing to many places without holding the hand of stupidity.

  15. The way I see it is there’s two kinds of stupidity: The natural kind and the voluntary kind. People can not be blamed for the natural kind, for the obvious reason that natural stupidity is a simple, natural lack of intellectual capacity. People can and should be blamed for the voluntary kind,because voluntary stupidity is the wilfull refusal to use the intellectual capacity you possess. Ignorance walks hand in hand with both kinds of stupidity, of course, but it’s not the same. Intelligent ignorant people ask questions. Voluntarily stupid people leap to conclusions based on their ignorance and fear.

    Both kinds of stupidity seem to me to be equally spread around the world, as is ignorance. Last time I was in New Zealand I found my fellow Kiwis to be, well, better at dealing with cultural difference than most Chinese, thanks to our far more multi-cultural society, but just as ignorant about the outside world as anybody in China, and just as likely to replace their ignorance with ridiculous assumptions.My wife and her family were even more ignorant of New Zealand society and culture when they met me than I was about China when I first washed up on these shores in late 1999, and they dealt with their ignorance by opening their minds, asking questions, and expecting me to be a weird-arse Kiwi. Smart people, in other words.

    I’m not sure I have a point, sorry, just expounding on a few points that I thought were raised in this most excellent comment thread, so I’ll finish off with this: The most abundant natural resource in the world is human stupidity. If we could find an environmentally friendly method of converting human stupidity into energy, most of the world’s problems would be solved instantly. I’m sure that’s been said a million times before by people far more intelligent than myself, though.

  16. By the way, “Your damn right I did”. It is “you’re” as in you are, not “your” possessive. it’s hard to take seriously the opinion of someone who hasn’t even mastered basic english grammer.

    the problem, is that you are self-righteous. you may or may not be a racist, but what you are is criticizing someone else’s country while exploiting it. what if i came to canada, lived there, fucked there and blogged how much it sucked?

  17. Just remember kids, it’s not racist if it’s true. And those of us on the ground have a lot more credibility than any of the PC freaks back in the States who know jack shit what they are talking about.

  18. @Peter: Fuck off man. Seriously, if the best you can do is criticize a single typo in a 1,000+ word post and then go on to fuck up the use of commas and fail to capitalize the appropriate letters in your little comment – well, you’re a dickhead.

    Tell me exactly how I’m exploiting this country again? Don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely here because it suits my interests (namely my wife is here and I generally quite enjoy living in China). However, China gets from me at least as much as it gives.

    And of course you’re more than welcome to go to Canada and do whatever the fuck you want. If you blogged about how much it sucked, I’d probably compare notes.

    Thinking of it now, where did I blog about how much it sucks to live in China? I think if you sifted through this site you’d see that it’s pretty balanced in its praise vs. criticisms. And if it’s slanted slightly, it’s legitimately so.

  19. Well said. There are some really ignorant people in my country (Australia). In China there seems to have a certain kind of cultural ignorance/arrogance, compounded by visceral nationalism.
    And it’s a standard tactic for Chinese to play on westerner’s race-guilt complex.

    But I would disagree that “the most well-rounded and interesting Chinese people I meet have spent a lot of time abroad.” Quite the opposite – many of the most one-eyed xenophobes are those who have spent a little time overseas. Maybe it brings out some inadequacy in them. On the contrary I have met people in rural Sichuan who have a very well informed and enlightened view of the wider world.

  20. Yep Peter is a knob and can’t use commas then criticises your use of apostrophes! And if someone went to my home country and blogged how it sucked I would cheer them on. Duh!! Why the hell do you think we don’t live there!

  21. I think it’s been going around to foreign bloggers in China. I got something similar, questioning why I remain in China if I “hate it so much.”

  22. I’ve had a bit of a think about this issue. Anyone who comments publicly on China is, essentially, damned. This is because China is an emotionally charged issue on both sides: Chinese nationalists vent at any perceived insult of China (which means anything that isn’t fulsome praise). Western xenophobes assault anything they see as blindness to China’s faults (which means anything less than a total damnation).

    This makes life hard for those of us who occupy the middle ground: liking and living in China but calling its faults as honestly as we can see them. I’ve been called a China apologist and a China hater. I’m not sure how I can be both without having two heads. I’ve been told to pack up and leave China if I hate it so much and to become Chinese if I love it so much.

    But the statistical outliers –who tend to be vocal– will always judge you relative to their own point of view. Argument is useless in these situations. These people are not open to wooing by rationality. I’ve tried.

    Thus, I’ve decided that the only constructive responses to these criticisms is to laugh gently at them and treasure them as daily proof that the world is full of people far more fucked up than I am.

  23. ah spiral cow – another english teacher in china (no doubt) who believes he has it all figured out. And fully supported by his countryside wife/confidant/best friend/mug.

    If only they did things your way eh? What a better place the world would be if we had more Internet philosophers like you.

  24. Just a quick note:

    We are 2 Peters (dicks – yes, I’m one too) commenting here atm. Just so you guys don’t confuse me with the grammar granny that uses same name and won’t even link to his own site. 😉

    Grammar granny starts his comment with “by the way”, which kind of makes it look like we’re the same. I just had a hard look in the mirror (I liked what I saw, if you wonder) and I’m pretty sure we’re not the same. Especially since attacking people for their grammar would be like shooting myself in the foot.

  25. @mickylove
    Do you disagree with my observations?
    Is it, in fact, better for children to spend 10 hours a day, seven days a week with their noses in books?
    Is playtime not important for the development of a well rounded individual?
    Do you assume that my three years teaching in China are my only experiences with working with children?
    Do I lay claim to having it “all” figured out?

    The truth is, I’ve had more conversations about the Chinese education system with Chinese parents than I have had with my wife, or friends, and these conversations seem to support the legitimacy of my observations.

    I have, in fact, been working in education for no less than thirteen years, and though I make no claims of being an expert, I do try to be objective when making observations. The tone of your comments seem to suggest that you disagree with my observations. Perhaps you’d care to be a little more specific and a little less snide.

  26. ….and just for the record, I’m just a fleshy bag of mostly water, otherwise known as a human being, and by far an infallible one at that, so I to have been known to walk hand in hand with stupidity…..I sometimes even swim in it.

  27. I am soooo glad I pointed that comment to you on TIME….what a great thread this created…

    I just had my own run-in with some ass-hat living in America…He called slammed me for having a white savior complex because I started the Dreamblogue…This from a guy born in Taiwan, raised in California and schooled at MIT….He sounds whiter than me….

    I guess if you are white you are supposed to leave aid and criticism of your adopted home stuck in your craw….You have no melanin-induced rights to grouse about anything and damn you for doing anything good you do-gooder Honkey….

    And he really crossed the line when he said our project seemed suspicious because I never revealed the true identity of people like “Coffee” who expressly asked NOT to have her cancer condition broadcast to the world as some Cantonese consider it bad luck ….It shows that his off-white dumb ass knows little of his alleged own culture…

    He is one of those pricks at Gongbei that stands there watching a woman have a seizure while texting his girlfriend about it on his PDA…

    As for you, you lazy Canuck….:-)

  28. Hey Lonnie, totally should have given credit to you for pointing out that comment on the Time blog. Oddly, I posted a reply there and they never published it.

    It shows that his off-white dumb ass knows little of his alleged own culture

    Off-white dumb ass… too funny.

    Incidentally, Rick over at Panda Passport has a good related post to this one.

  29. 1. Very snazzy blog these days.

    2. Whatever Will said …
    I too find it “funny” how I’ve been called both a traitor (of the United States) and a Chinese hater. I actually think one ought to be very slow to call people racist. It’s a boy who cried wolf sort of thing and it is too serious to just throw out there all the time.

  30. Nothing any of us say to each other, especially those that so freely declare others as being racist, is ever going to matter until we begin to truly understand the means by which we communicate. Racism. Freedom. Liberation. Honor. Principles. Without any connections or proper context, “words” are just noises. The meanings of words are dependent on their relations to ideas we have about them, and the meaning of our ideas are connected to our own experiences, both individually, and collectively. A word is an abstraction, upon an abstraction, upon an abstraction, etc.

    We tend to use words, which are abstract representations of ideas, which are abstractions on to themselves, as if they have an objective existence independent of ourselves.

    My point is that we tend to use our words as if their meanings were universal, as if they were tangible isolated things. It’s a problem of language. The subject predicate structure of our language was developed centuries ago, during a time when our understanding of the world wasn’t as it is today. Nothing exist in isolation, which is how our senses perceive the the world, but we now understand enough about the world to realize that NOTHING in this universe is absolutely isolated.

    Language acts as a sort of map that we use to express ideas, feelings, and talk about our experiences, but the map is outdated, it has led us astray a countless number of times throughout history.

    Perhaps others should wag their tongues less, making only noises instead of actually saying something with meaning.

    ….I guess that’s enough tongue wagging from me.

  31. @SpiralCow: Very interesting point about the constructs of language being outdated.

    The de-isolating of the world over the last century and a half, and particularly in the last 20 years, makes this – in my opinion – one of the coolest times to be alive in the history of mankind.

    Of course, perhaps that’s exactly what Grooeg said to his buddy Pfftah at the first camp fire.

  32. Take heart. I pine for the days when I was simply called a ‘racist.’ They (you know who you are) have moved on to death threats and descriptions of how they are going to rape me and my wife. That kind of stuff.

    For the record, I’m not a racist or an asshole, but I am a jerk.

  33. I have two Taiwanese kids that I tutor in-home. I asked the 10 year old if he had ever climbed a tree…. NO. Ever swum in a river, gone fishing or paddled a canoe ? NO.

    Poor kid. He has a Chinese tutor, an English tutor, a Maths tutor and a Piano tutor, on top of 2.5 hours of homework every night. Just to be at the head of the pack at school.

    I wonder if he has suicidal thoughts ? I sure would… but then again he has not been exposed to any alternate lifestle.

  34. Why bother to identify you’re a racist or an ass-hole?
    Both characters would not do any good for the world.

    Chinese people are ignorant that why some people hate them:- if this is the fact, there’re over 60 billion people in the world,you probably have to hate 80-90% of
    the whole population, since this may be the % living
    in China, India, Africa, many Asian Countries, and some Gulf regions.

    I’m an lucky person that was bornt in Hong Kong in the 60s’. My dad made an fortune in the late 70’s, and he sent
    me to the west to study in the early 80’s. After I graduated, I begun my career in a financial institution; since the, I even made a much better fortune than my Dad.
    I’m 40+ now, my Dad had passed away, but I could never forget what he told me when he first sent me aboard.
    He said, ” You know how lucky you are to have this chance,
    many people in other contries do not even have a proper pen to write… if you success in the future, you must not forget you are taking others resource to get to this position….”
    Today, I’m half retired, I donate money and build schools
    to China, India, and Africa. Some of money are thru charity organizations, and some school projects are followed by myself. Recently, I have visited my private school in a rural area in China,I saw many studnents walked 4 hours on bare feet every morning from their villages to attend the classes, because my school is already the nearest school they can attend.

    These students are so concentrated and smart, that remind me my father’s old sayings. I’m just lucky to be in the current financial status, I’m no smarter than these kids,if they were bornt in my family, I’m sure they will do much better than me.

    One last point I want to make. These developing countries, did not really have a chance to be developed in the last few decades because of wars (both WWII or civil wars),wars are the main killer. Honestly, I really
    hate racists, and sometimes I hate capitalism. These two ideas make human think and act in a direction towards :
    Is my country stronger than others? Am I richer than others? I want to see human start thinking “Am I rich ENOUGH to maintain an O.K. life and start helping others?”

  35. I wasn’t a racist growing up (or at least I didn’t understand it), since I was shoveled with brain washing tactics such as racism is stupid; all humans are the same; we must love everyone; blah blah blah. Well now I’ve grown up and guess what? I’m sick and tired of everyone and everything having to be to so PC and accepting. I wasn’t then, but after observing how the world is just going to lose its diversity and culture through race-mixing, I am now a full-fledged racist. I am courteous to all people, but believe all people should stick to their own kind at the end. The melting pot is nothing but a myth. Humans are by nature competitive, and survivor of the fittest rules then as it does now. Wake up before everyone finds themselves looking like a mud race.

  36. @Anonymous: I fucking hate anonymous comments. I mean, you have to type something into that “Name” field… why choose “anonymous”? There’s no one forcing you to use your real name – but anonymous? Arg.

    As for your comment – that’s about as well thought-out as “anonymous”.

  37. @Ryan

    Yes, you are a complete racist and a pure dick. You know why? Because that’s who you are. You just showed education could NOT make stupid people become intelligent.


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