Today, I was browsing through Chinasmack and came across this article, which showcases the opinions of the Tiexue forum regarding Chinese soldiers that died in the Iraq war. Now whilst there are many many different issues that the article does raise, the one that hit me the hardest was about nationalism and identity, and what it means to be Chinese.
The first comment from the forum went along the lines of this: "Overseas ethnic Chinese, has nothing to do with us!"
And then it gets worse:
"These people who deserted their motherland, 100 of them can die and they still wouldn’t deserve any sympathy."
Um, what? Despite knowing that it is only a minority who believe things like that, I was still shocked by the comments and the strength of hate in the words. I didn't take it too personally since there are haters in every single country, but still, it made me think - as someone who was born and raised in the UK, would I be subject to that same attitude even though I did not choose my life circumstances? In their eyes, am I even entitled to evoke my ethnicity?
When meeting new people, I'm often asked where I come from, and I usually cite the town that I was born in. The usual response to that is a puzzled frown with optional further interrogation depending on how high their bold gauge happens to be. I always know what answer they're really after - "You're from China, right?", so it both vexes and amuses me how people usually already have a pre-conceived answer in their mind before they even open their mouth. An equally frustrating, but often hilarious situation is when I'm asked that question by Chinese nationals, and then when I give the long spiel about how I'm Chinese but was born and brought up in the UK, they tell me that they think that I look Filipina/Malay/Thai/Vietnamese/Korean/ [insert any Asian identity other than Chinese].
Again, um, what?
This article sums up the issue pretty well.
Growing up, I've always had to deal with never fully being able to fit in with my white peers on account of my skin colour, but when faced with nationals, once I open my mouth it's pretty much the same issue since therally don't consider me to be one of them. Moral of the story: do not open the mouth else the camouflage is blown. In this case, I think it is due to the language barrier - my spoken Chinese is nowhere near as good as theirs, and I guess my mannerisms and style are different to theirs which does make communication a little bit awkward sometimes. But that isn't to say that everyone is like that, although it is pretty telling that most of my closer Asian friends are fluent in English and have been exposed to British culture for some period of time.
So...to backtrack, my name and skin colour makes me Chinese, but my passport, residence and mannerisms make me British? Would it make more of a difference if I was more fluent in the mother tongue? I suspect so, as this is an issue that some of my other local Chinese friends have also come across, especially at university. Although, thinking about it, I have it pretty simple. What about people who have lived in several different countries, or people who have parents of different ethnicities? Where do they fit in?
Since identity is a very personal matter, I guess that it really is up to the individual to decide where they are from and then for them to stay strong if challenged since life is never an easy ride for those that are different to the normal population in one way or another. For me, home is where the heart is, and whilst I am proud to be Chinese and to share the BBC and ABC culture with millions, if I had to choose between which country feels more like home to me, I would have to say England! ^^
Song of the day: Not Afraid by Eminem
All my love,