Jane Leung: Tired of not being 'Chinese enough'
Having moved to Hong Kong, after growing up in Canada. She finds other Chinese people thinking of her as “second class” because she doesn't speak Chinese or know about about Chinese culture and history? How could she if she is technically an immigrant from Canada?
I spent 6 weeks in Taiwan, at age 20, learning the Mandarin language (my parents spoke Cantonese, because their ancestors had come from Guangzhou (Canton) province, then I traveled to Hong Kong, Japan, and Korea. In 1993, I traveled 2 weeks in Beijing and Xi'an. Like Leung, people asked me “You look Chinese. Why you don't speak Chinese?”
In their perspective of the world, from the ethnocentric Middle Kingdom, being Chinese meant looking Chinese AND speaking Chinese. If you couldn't speak Chinese, you were basically regarded as stupid – even if you were technically a Canadian and very smart in Canadian culture. But imagine what life is like for Chinese immigrants to Canada… if they can't speak English, they are similarly regarded as less equal.
Being “Chinese” is a spectrum, and a social construct. It means different things in Hong Kong, China, Halifax or Richmond BC, or Alberta. But Chinese emigration experiences to Canada, Australia, South Africa, and elsewhere all have similar experiences. It all depends on context. Jane Leung is on the right path. Define yourself, and don't let
This is why other definitions of “Chinese-ness”
are used in Canada, such as Canadian-Chinese or Chinese-Canadian, or
Canadian born Chinese-Canadian. It all depends on context. Last year on
the Gung Haggis Fat Choy dragon boat, we had paddlers
of Chinese ancestry who had been born in South Africa, Scotland, Italy,
Malaysia, Beijing, Hong Kong, Canada and Alberta… and everybody
thought it was very cool. Diversity or mono-culture tunnel vision?
Definitely the global perspective is on the rise, to include Chinese
emigration patterns around the world, something that Scotland National
Museum already does.
Every immigrant group to North America and
elsewhere goes through a similar identity shift, whether they are Irish, Scots, African, South Asian, Vietnamese or even Greek. I remember watching the movie
“My Big Fat Greek Wedding” with a friend born and raised in Hong Kong.
Throughout the movie, she
kept elbowing me and saying “Ai-Yah! Just like Chinese!”
Even ex-pat Brits returning
to England after time spent in colonies had to endure derision, but it
is no where the same amount when language skills are involved.
Canadians born and raised with Chinese ancestry, are often called
“jook-sing” (hollow bamboo) by their immigrant counterparts, or
“bananas” (yellow on the outside and white on the inside”. Of course
this counteracts the names of “FOB” or “Honger” by “CBC”ers (Canadian
Born Chinese). Leung hits it on the head when she writes “For locals
who can’t adapt to multiculturalism accepted in other countries, the
only way they think they can tangibly confront this issue is by picking
on what they believe is the living embodiment of something they fear:
Westernized Chinese kids.”
Read Jane Leung's article here:
“Banana’s here! Poor thing. Illiterate and can’t speak properly.”
This was not the welcome I expected from family friends when I arrived
in Hong Kong from Canada. I had grown up as the token Asian, but now I
had become the token white girl, a.k.a. the “gwai mui.”
I am Chinese. I look Chinese. I was born in Hong Kong.
have had Confucian principles bred into me from birth. I put career and
good grades above life itself and believe that whatever I can’t achieve
through talent I can make happen through hard work and self-discipline.
Yet, if I listen to friends and family here in Hong Kong, I am no more Chinese than lemon chicken.
I was raised in a Western community in Canada and speak basic Cantonese,
but can’t read or write it, which apparently means I am a sell-out, a
banana (yellow on the outside, white on the inside) with no right to
associate with locals or their higher Chinese values.
It is apparent to me that some Chinese feel “more Chinese,” thus superior to those who aren’t fluent in the language.