Gary Locke has been praised for his down-to-earth manner since becoming the first Chinese-American ambassador to Beijing. He’s also been denounced as a showboater, a neocolonialist tool and a traitor to the Chinese race.

China’s bipolar reactions to Locke since his appointment last month are partly due to an unease among Chinese authorities — accustomed to lavish official trappings and distance from ordinary folk — toward a man who gets his own coffee and carries his own luggage. They also display often contradictory sentiments about race, nationalism, and what it means to be a person of Chinese ancestry.

With its huge population and ancient culture, China has sent millions of migrants to other parts of Asia and the world. They are referred to as “overseas Chinese” despite adopting other nationalities and are still considered by most mainlanders to be part of the larger Chinese nation.

China’s rulers have exploited such ties and sought to equate Chinese identity with loyalty to the Communist Party, aided by the country’s rapid growth over three decades of economic reform.

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