I had an interesting experience yesterday. I was at a Chinese restaurant and I accidentally called 2 friends Chinese. I knew neither of them were Chinese. One is Korean, one is American of ??? descent. What ??? is I'm not going to say at the risk of more offence.
What I said was or started to say was something like "because we have 2 Chinese people here they can help us order". What I meant to say was "because we have 2 people here that speak Chinese they can help us order". Both of them speak Chinese. That Korean friend speaks Mandarin, the other speaks something else, I'm guessing Taiwanese but since I don't remember for sure I'm not going to say at the risk of more offence.
Anyway, when I said "2 Chinese" this friend corrected me, "I'm not Chinese". I knew that, I knew that (1) he is an American an (2) he associates with Taiwan. But, as a semi joke I replied "Yes, you are", "No, I'm not", "Yes, you are" and I explained. For those that don't know it, the official name of Taiwan or rather the country that runs Taiwan the island is "Republic of China". The government of Taiwan claims they are the legitimate government of all of China and that the government in mainland China are impostors. In my mind it was a harmless joke based in fact. Well, HE BLEW UP! DON'T EVE*R CALL ME CHINESE!.
Of course I apologized. I know that whole topic can be at touchy issue and everyone has their buttons that you don't want to press. Still, no insult was meant. I'm fully aware of the differences and basic history between the two countries.
Still, as much as it pissed him off and ruined the mood of dinner I as a little pissed off myself that he couldn't calm down when no offence was meant and there was no misunderstanding as well. My joke was not in ignorance, it was in full knowledge of what I was saying. Taiwan is "the Republic of China". vs the mainland which is "the People's Republic of China". Of course I also know there is some percent of the population of Taiwan that wants to change the official name to "Taiwan" but that has not happened yet as far as I know. The country is still the "Republic of China".
But, even more, regardless of any history between the PRC and ROC....My ancestors are from various countries, Hawaii, Tahiti, China, Portugal, England, Ireland and Holland. I associate with those because they are where my ancestors are from. It's likely, though not 100% for sure, that his ancestors (grandparents, great−grandparents) are also from mainland China. Of course it is fully his right to not want to be called Chinese and I will of course fully respect that.
Anyway, I'm sure there will be some heated responses to this post.