Apr 23

Self identification of 2nd generation Chinese in overseas

Written by chorasmian on Thursday, April 23rd, 2009 at 3:07 am
Filed under:culture, language | Tags:, , ,
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Recently, my daughter had this poem in her class project.

Where Are You From?

Where am I from?

I come from

Where land nearly never-endingly surrounds our borders

Where bamboo stalks dominate the forests

Specially grown to feed the Giant Pandas

Where the rivers flow uncontrollably

From one side to the other

Where dynasties fly by

As quickly as they had come

Where Taiwan and Tibet protest

To be broken off from mainland

Where red-crowned cranes migrate to the south

To escape the cold dark winter

Where tree peonies bloom

Beautifully in gardens

Where hard-working athletes struggle to win

In every sport

For that

Is where I come from.

In this poem, I find that my 10 year old girl is more keen to call herself Chinese than New Zealander, though, with English as her first language, her Chinese is just enough to manage daily conversation. As she will grow up in Kiwi culture, I don’t think she can understand Chinese classical literature good enough. How much can she understand Chinese culture in the future? Will she get lost somewhere in between? I don’t know. Only time can tell.

For 1st generation Chinese living overseas, What do you think about your child(ren)?

For expats in China, will you encourage your child use Chinese as first language? Identify himself/herself as a Chinese?

For 2nd generation onward overseas born Chinese, can you share your experience with us?

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50 Responses to “Self identification of 2nd generation Chinese in overseas”

  1. Raj Says:

    My view is that children should be allowed to develop their own identity, though it’s also important they associate themselves with the country they hold nationality with and reside in. I would be very worried if my child held a passport somewhere, having been born and lived there, but felt no connection to that place. I think parents have a responsibility to help their children integrate into the community, rather than just associate with people from the same ethnic group.

    As for your second question, what would the situation be on Chinese immigration law if two non-Chinese parents had a child born in China? Would I be correct to assume that if they weren’t Chinese citizens their child would not be eligable for a Chinese passport anyway? But with one Chinese parent he/she would be?

  2. HongKonger Says:

    Wow, Choramian, she is very talented. You must be so proud of her.

    Many of my friends children speak near/native -level Cantonese & English. Even though some of their overseas parents have lived in HK longer than their kids’ ages, they ‘re hardly bi-lingual. It is a great asset – My parents sent me to English-only schools, but my mother made sure I could read Chinese, and for that, among everything else, I am eternally grateful to her.

  3. Jed Yoong Says:

    That’s a really nice poem. Very touching. I was very moved reading, esp she is 10.
    I wonder what it will sound like in written Chinese.
    In Malaysia, people who have lost their ability to read Chinese loses a great part of their culture and usually become more “Western”. But yet, some still, because of environment, can speak dialects fluently too. But as Malaysia is not particularly Chinese as it used to be, or as Taiwan, China, HK is, the vocabulary of spoken dialect is limited.
    In my humble opinion and experience, most overseas Chinese identify with each other fairly easily.
    PS. I don’t think many ppl who are Chinese-ed can understand classical Chinese properly too. Sometimes it’s almost impossible to translate to English due to the nature of Chinese, which words encapsulate ideas that have to be expressed in many words in English or the flow is totally disrupted by the translation due to the need to add English words for the sentence to make sense. In Malaysia, most times spoken English is like transliterated Canto/Mandarin/etc which will make sense to a Chinese but not to a White Person. Having said all that, I’ve lost much of my Chinese literacy due to erm….just plain laziness and negligence….

  4. Mikhail Says:

    Depends what age they arrive in the new country. I see a lot of second generation Chinese kids who identify themselves as Australians when they go through the school system. from an early age. Interesting to hear them reply in English to their parents questions in Chinese. I also see a lot of older Chinese kids who’ve migrated after the age of 10 and who never really adjust. They hang out with their other mandarin speaking mates from Chatswood High (70% Chinese background students) and live in a little bubble of Chineseness. The kids who become more ‘Aussie’ do much better academically because they retain the Chinese study ethic but also have adjusted well to the exam and academic system here.
    So now we have a large Chinese-Australian community producing TV personalities starts like Laurence Leung. I think he would identify as Australian first. The good thing about a multicultural society is that its cool to enjoy the best of both worlds.

  5. pug_ster Says:

    @Jed Yoong,

    I have to agree with you that many 2nd generation Chinese just assimilated into their host country. For me, I live in a Neighborhood with a decent Chinese population and there is a number of schools that is open on Saturdays which just teach you Chinese. When my kids are old enough I will probably will pay my kids to go there.

  6. miaka9383 Says:

    I think I have already decided that my future children will learn Mandarin and Taiwanese.
    They will know where their mother is from.
    Whether they want to identify themselves as Chinese or American is up to them. But to me they will speak Chinese…

  7. Otto Kerner Says:

    Teaching your child an additional native tongue is a great idea — they will probably thank you for it later. However, people say that it can be fairly difficult even if you speak to them as children (see http://www.zompist.com/whylang.html). Getting your children to be bilingual is one thing, but trying to get them to speak two additional languages will be a challenge.

  8. chorasmian Says:


    For the crossing-culture people like 2nd immigrant generation, integration to local community should have the priority. I agree. However, crossing-culture means he/she has some connection to some where far far away, either emotional, social or cultural. I take that as an advantage, which can expand her horizon after grow up.

    I have met a 4th generation Chinese girl, who volunteer in local community, can still speak fluent Cantonese. From my point of view, keep some with mother culture, especially the language, doesn’t have to be isolated in local community.


    Her talent is what I worry about, as for a Chinese girl, “No talent is talent” (女子无才便是德). Hehe, just joking.

    @Mikhail & miaka9383

    It is the children’s choice to identify themselves. Good peer relation is important for a youngster. To help her having better peer acceptance, I speak English to my daughter when her friends around, but definitely only Chinese at home.

    @Otto Kerner

    Thanks for that wonderful link. It is really tough to get a child speak an additional native language. My goal is she can communicate with others in Chinese fluently, and then she can learn more about the culture/tradition in future when interested. Hence, the option of identify herself as Chinese could be available.

  9. Wukailong Says:

    @Otto: I was curious about the claims Zompist made about how children designate one language for each parent (if parents are from countries with different languages), and how they get upset if someone speaks the “wrong” language. A couple of days ago I met a friend of my wife, a Chinese woman who’s married to a Dutch man. She confirmed this claim without hesitation – her daughter only speaks Chinese with her, but the twist is that she as a mother is as adamant about this rule!

    I think it might be difficult to teach kids different languages if both the parents and the country does not provide the background; I’ve seen many Chinese parents here go to great lengths to teach children English from an early age as well as sending them to bilingual kindergartens, but I am skeptical towards how well it works. Probably better with international marriages or different environments… 😉

  10. kabul tan Says:

    Hi there..
    I’m a 3rd generation Chinese who’s been living in Indonesia (nan yang).
    My dad as a 2nd generation Chinese used to attend Chinese school here in Indonesia. They taught the students using Chinese language mostly. The students were also taught Chinese way of thinking (Confucius and friends .. and even some Chairman Mao’s teachings). In result, my dad and many 2nd generation Chinese here in Indonesia still have the Chinese way of thinking and speak Chinese occasionally. They also enjoy watching Chinese Television (CCTV, BTV, etc).

  11. Otto Kerner Says:


    Yes, what I was thinking is that, with dedication, you can probably get a child to be bilingual by having one parent speak the local dominant language while the other parent only uses the additional language (and that parent must be highly fluent — Armand Speers, the man who tried to raise his child as a native Klingon speaker, failed in part because he didn’t have enough command of everyday vocabulary — stuff related to a child’s life rather than a spaceship). You might be able to get a child to be trilingual if each parent only uses an additional langage, relying on peers, school, television, and relatives to teach the child the local dominant language. But how can one parent teach the child two additional languages? Maybe insist on speaking one inside and the other outside? One on weekdays and the other during the week? It doesn’t sound completely impossible, but quite difficult.

  12. HongKonger Says:

    # 9 WKL,
    “many Chinese parents here go to great lengths to teach children English from an early age as well as sending them to bilingual kindergartens, but I am skeptical…”

    Most of these so called bilingual kindergarten and schools are really just glorified Chinese schools with a few expat ESL teachers.

    On the other hand, I used to work near an international school in Shenzhen (She kou district) .. Everyday I ran into Chinese kids from the International Elementary School speaking English and Chinese, both at native level. This is one of those exclusive school-fees-no-object establishments for children of the Chinese elite and expats, I guess.

    In Hong Kong, kids that attend the few famous mission schools are fluent in both Cantonese and English.
    Now, I don’t know about most of their bilingual reading and writing proficiency, but at least the Chinese kids speak both languages at native level, but not so much with their non-Chinese schoolmates though, I must add.

    #10 Kabul Tan:
    Politics aside, Malaysia/Singapore are two of the most multi-culturally equal, and multi-lingually colorful countries I know….Wonderful examples of diversified peaceful co-existence. (Again, politcs aside)…Many of my 3rd to 4th generation Malaysian/Singaporean Chinese friends can’t read or write Chinese, but they speak 2 to 4 Chinese dialects fluently, many in addition to Bahasa and English. Hence, I dare say most of them are more Chinese than UK, & North American born Chinese.

  13. Willow Says:

    Can someone tell me what generation I am? Two of my grandparents are confirmed to be born in China but as for the other two I’m not sure because they died before I was born.

    Anyway, I’m Singaporean Chinese and come from a family that speaks Mandarin at home with bits of dialect thrown in. I understand 2/3 dialects well but can only speak one dialect and write/read Japanese, Mandarin and of course, English. I think us Singaporean Chinese are more “Chinese” than someone born in the West but still not very “Chinese” by “real” Chinese standards because of our mixed culture.

    I’m hopeless at classical Chinese and of course speak Mandarin with our characteristic accent which some mainlanders dislike. I know of people who go to insane lengths to bring their kids up as Chinese as possible in the West but my parents never bothered.

    Actually, for someone like me who is unlikely to go to China, is there any point in retaining my Chinese skills? As a multi-gen Chinese, my ties with China are almost non-existent (yet I find myself on this website? Hmmm…)

    I think if I was born in a Western country, I will be a lot less “Chinese” but I sort of wished my family had migrated to one for material reasons. Singapore’s not doing well right now, sadly.
    This is off-topic but a German-born Chinese said online that she felt uncomfortable telling people she is Chinese in Germany, poor thing. Apparently, in Germany, China is painted as an evil nation.

    I’m a bit concerned about all the Chinese spy hysteria out there…it might affect overseas Chinese in certain countries like US/Canada/Oz.

  14. Willow Says:

    Oh, forgot to say that if you’re Chinese but am not sure if you’re a spy, you can take this handy quiz.


  15. A Life In Sweden Says:

    China is just so cool. I have been there once my self. 🙂

  16. TonyP4 Says:

    Spying on your adopted country is NOT patriotic to your native country.

    The intention of most Chinese US citizens spying for China is for money for themselves. They should be prosecuted to the fullest extend of the law and they set up a bad image for the rest of Chinese in US. A lot of Chinese here may not get jobs in classified areas due to these prosecutions. It adds ammunition for Chinese bashers.

    Tsien Hsue-shen is an exception. It was the result of the US fearing of the red and he was falsely accused (not 100% sure) and imprisoned. The hand-on experience he gained is very valuable to China’s missile program.

  17. Sophie Says:

    “For 1st generation Chinese living overseas, What do you think about your child(ren)?”

    I think there is question how the 2nd generation Chinese identify themselves; there is another question how people around identify the 2nd generation Chinese.

    For the first question, the oversea Chinese have a choice. Ideally, he/she identify themselves with both cultures. The opposite is people who lost in the middle and feel irrelevant with both. I feel It’s sad.

    For the second question, it depends on the country the 2nd generation Chinese live in. It’s common to meet Chinese from US or Canada who call themselves American or Canadian. My experience is limited in Europe (France and UK) and in the 1st generation Chinese. I find kind of difficult to imagine someone with a Chinese face and background tells me ‘I am a British/French’. A friend of mine who lives in Germany said she had the same feeling. I think it’s because European countries are not immigration countries. Same in China. How would you feel if a westerner call himself Chinese? So, I am afraid for the 2nd generation Chinese living in Europe, even they completely identify themselves as Europeans, their environment will keep reminding them they are not.

  18. TonyP4 Says:

    My children are ABC, American Born Chinese or banana for white in the inside but yellow outside. For them, they’re US citizens as the black and white. US is a melting pot anyway. We’re the first generation or the bamboo pole, not connected to either side.

  19. Wei Says:

    I find it to be helpful to talk to other people share my experience, I really have issue adapting here when I first came here when I was ten. Alot of people I talk to of it had tell to have people that you can talk to that share your situration, I think that it could help as well for 2nd generation Chinese. Also I always want to know what my children will be facing when they grow up here.

    I think it really help the 2nd generation to at least know their background and let them know where you come from and the language that you learned in China.

  20. Raj Says:

    I think it’s because European countries are not immigration countries.

    Sophie, what are you talking about? There’s lots of immigration into the UK.

    So, I am afraid for the 2nd generation Chinese living in Europe, even they completely identify themselves as Europeans, their environment will keep reminding them they are not.

    Again, I strongly disagree.

  21. FOARP Says:

    @Sophie – The only UK-born ethnic Chinese person I know describes himself as British, and has a ethnic-British fiancée. The only French-born ethnic Chinese person I know is an academic lawyer, who describes herself as French. Might I suggest that neither your friends nor mine are a random sample?

    @Raj – Anyone born in China may claim PRC citizenship, but this would mean rejecting the citizenship of any other nation.

  22. stuart Says:

    “Where Taiwan and Tibet protest

    To be broken off from mainland”

    Chorasmian, you pose an interesting question and your daughter’s poem is impressive in content and form for a ten-year-old. However, questions of identity are largely settled by parental/educational factors during upbringing. Where does she get those ideas about Taiwan and Tibet? “To be broken off from the mainland” is the sort of rhetoric you might find in a mainland textbook. If this is the direction her caregivers are leading her in then sure, there might be conflicting feelings at some point in the future with freer exposure to information. But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. There’s always debate (one hopes).

    At the end of the day tou’ve got to ask yourself if you’re happier for family to live in New Zealand or China. If your choice is the former then presumably you must identify with /desire more of NZ’s values and opportunities. It doesn’t mean forgetting your roots; but I think it should mean setting aside national loyalty to the motherland.

  23. Otto Kerner Says:


    I think it’s pretty normal for children to pick up some or all of their parents’ political persuasions, especially before they get to be old enough to think critically (for most people, I suppose, that age never comes). So, I wasn’t scandalised to see the line in the poem about Taiwan and Tibet. I did find it interesting that the poem’s description is at odds with the Official Position. To be more politically correct, it should read “Where outside agitators funded by the CIA plus a handful of religious fanatics protest / To break Taiwan and Tibet off from mainland”. Stating or implying that Taiwan and Tibet actually want to break away gives away more than half the battle.

  24. chorasmian Says:


    I won’t deny my daugher picked up some political view from me as she is at the age believing “my dad is smart”. However, I definitely didn’t try to lead her to any direction. I was surprised when reading this sentence in her work as well. Regarding Tibet issue, she has already known the debate on it, because the majority of books in community library junior section are pro-Tibet independence and she had read quite a few of them.

    Regarding loyalty to China, I can only tell you my own story. I had lost my loyalty to PRC government well before emigration. Actually, I will be happy if ROC can take over the WHOLE China.

    Personlly, I call myself a New Zealander with Chinese culture. I always answer New Zealand when being asked where from. Whether I have taken NZ value? I don’t really know. I heard in radio once that a call-in Kiwi said a Chinese can’t call himself NZer unless he loves rugby and gives up rice and noodle. Looks like I fail the test held by this man. *_^

    Anyway, back to my daugher as 2nd generation, I guess she is too young to tell the difference between Chinese ethnic, culture and nationality. Otherwise, I will be more worried that she will get lost.

  25. stuart Says:

    “Regarding loyalty to China, I can only tell you my own story. I had lost my loyalty to PRC government well before emigration. Actually, I will be happy if ROC can take over the WHOLE China.”

    Your daughter is in safe hands; and in a safe country.

  26. FOARP Says:

    You know, it’s weird, when I was ten I didn’t have a bloody clue where or what Tibet was, and I knew Taiwan only as a place where cheap stuff which broke easily came from. Likewise, I didn’t really know why Germany or Korea were split into two countries, and didn’t know that there ever had been a war in Korea. I knew a tiny amount about China from a special of the children’s television series Blue Peter which did a trip there, but which naturally said absolutely nothing about the political situation there. My reading consisted of books about WW1 and WW2, adventure stories and science fiction. I could probably tell you what the events in the news had been that day, but I had no understanding of what they meant. I don’t think that anyone of my age in my school would have known about any of these things either, and this is not because we were poorly educated, but because it is natural to keep politics away from children.

  27. admin Says:


    Did you know IRA when you were ten?

  28. Wukailong Says:

    Just a personal note slightly related to admin’s question: I didn’t know about Tibet or IRA when I was 10, I’m quite sure. I do remember thinking about the Soviet Union and the US because of the Cold War, and I remember that the US had fought a war in Vietnam that was bad. People despised US because it was imperialist and an unfair society. I thought the political party my parents supported was good and that the opposition was bad. That was my worldview at the time, not much else.

    Tibet wasn’t on my radar until the last year in elementary school, when I began buying books on my own. One day I saw this book with a smiling Asian man on front of it and the title “Free in exile.” It said the author was the leader of some sort of freedom movement, so I bought it and learned the DL’s version of history. There were a couple of documentaries on TV that supported his position, but I’ve never been bombarded with negative news about Tibet.

  29. Wukailong Says:

    I guess I should add that I knew Tibet’s location… and read “Tintin in Tibet” before the age of 10. 🙂

  30. S.K. Cheung Says:

    Not sure what generation I am. Born in HK, but been in Canada forever.

    If given the choice, I would definitely want my kids to be bilingual. But so far, it seems to be a tough road to hoe. In the absence of an opportunity for immersion, I think it will be tough for them to be very good in Cantonese…even verbally. And I think reading and writing Chinese, for them at least, will be out of the question. And I’d be surprised if they identified themselves as anything other than Canadian.

    I’m personally biased against those Saturday morning Chinese schools. I knew lots of CBC kids growing up who went to them, and their Chinese still sucked. But in my position now, I guess knowing a little bit is better than nothing.

  31. Sophie Says:

    @Raj 20, @FOARP 21

    “There’s lots of immigration into the UK”

    Agree. All I am saying is that Europe is not a melting pot. The dominate population in Europe are Europeans. Seeing a Chinese face, people tend to assume he/she is a foreigner. Things may change in future. But, now, as 2nd generation Chinese in Europe, they have to face this.

    “The only UK-born ethnic Chinese person I know describes himself as British… The only French-born ethnic Chinese person I know..?”

    Same as you, I met only two 2nd generation Chinese from Europe so far. I have lived in Europe for 10 years… So, they are not many. It also approves the first point.

  32. FOARP Says:

    @Admin – I could probably have told you that they were terrorists, but that would mainly have been because the place where my father worked was on an IRA hit list, and the street which I lived on was blocked off for several hours due to a bomb scare. About the first time I ever really thought about it was the Warrington bombings in 1993, where a boy the same age as me was killed and we had a long discussion in class about it. We learned nothing about the troubles in school until high school, and even there the main concentration was on the medieval and 17th century history of Ireland, and a bit about the 1916 Easter Rising.

  33. admin Says:


    Thanks for the answer. I had almost zero knowledge on both the TGIE and the IRA when I was 10. However, since the author of this poem is quite talented and apparently she is an avid reader, so I guess I should rephrase my question as ” how much does a talented 10 yr old British kid know about the IRA ?”

  34. chorasmian Says:


    “because it is natural to keep politics away from children.”

    I disagree. Children share this world with adult as well. They should know what is happening in the world. Quote from one of my daughter’s home work questions, “The US made a formal request for NZ to send Special Air Service to which country?”

    I am very happy her school doesn’t isolate its student in a fairy land.

  35. Zepplin Says:


    I wouldn’t worry about your daughter getting lost. As you identify with New Zealand yourself, she will come to identify with New Zealand as well, with the influences of her peers and parents.

    It’s not strange for 2nd generation minorities to write about the native country on a class assignment (an assignment that asks for difference/uniqueness), but surely she would identify with New Zealand when asked in a third country.

    As for understanding classical Chinese, I agree with the zompist link that she will eventually lose most Chinese abilities, much less classical Chinese, unless a conscious effort is made to ensure that she does not. But even so, she may pick it up again in tertiary education if she has an interest in it.

    I agree with Raj and stuart in the sense that she should be “allowed” to develop a close affiliation with the host nation and not be “controlled”, but disagree in that this is completely moot due to the herculean effort that would be needed to “disallow” something this natural. Any amount of brainwashing you attempt would pale in comparison with the influence from her peers and society. You’d have to lock her in the basement!

  36. Zepplin Says:

    @ S.K. Cheung

    I’ve seen Canadian public schools in the Toronto area where Cantonese is the de facto language among the Cantonese majority. Needless to say, they’ve at least preserved the spoken language. If you want your children to be bilingual, give those Saturday morning schools a chance. It definitely helps augment a disciplined home speaking strategy if you are serious about it. I wouldn’t commit the resources unless there is a strong home front though. It might all be for naught and completely forgotten. Then the time would have been better spent on developing additional interests.

  37. TonyP4 Says:

    Around 1979 (China take-over period), a lot of Cantonese-speaking Hong Kongueses migrated to Canada and Australia. Canada is smarter than US by taking educated and/or wealthy Chinese instead of “refugees” (most are financial refugees and I bet there are more criminals than the publicized political refugees).

    They contribute to local economy and drive up the house prices (esp. in Vancouver where the climate is nice) instead of going to the social welfare offices right away. I wonder why the locals in Vancouver complained on their house values which were doubled?

    This is the first generation of such mass migration from HK and Cantonese is not surprisingly the spoken language. However, most cities in US, Mandarin is getting more popular than Cantonese (the first Chinese migrants spoke Taishanese). After the Tienanman incident, Chinese students were allowed to stay. Score one for US for scooping up the top of the cream from China.

    Now, many Chinese students find more opportunities in China than US esp. for students in the most prestigious US schools.

  38. HongKonger Says:

    I remember the first few young American Chinese I knew back in the 80s seemed to find it harder than other Americans to adjust to Hong Kong because they were constantly criticized and rediculed or getting lectured at for not speaking Chinese. This occurred almost daily, and coming from just about anyone they met for the first time, and repeatedly so from relatives. I felt really bad for them. None of them stayed after like a year or two.
    I assume it is getting better nowadays, but then I don’t have any American or Canadian Chinese friends (who are not fluent in Chinese) these days, so I don’t really know anymore.

  39. S.K. Cheung Says:

    To Zepplin:
    “disciplined home speaking strategy”…absolutely agree. That is the only reason why I can still speak Cantonese, because my parents insisted on it when i was little. I must say my wife and I are far less disciplined. My only excuse is, after insisting on schoolwork, piano, violin, and sports, something’s gotta give. And so far, it’s been the home speaking strategy.

  40. HongKonger Says:

    When I met my Vancouver born 15 year old niece last year, I was pleasantly surprised that she spoke perfect Cantonese, English and loves French. I am told she is an ace student, plays the piano and does ballet. She is also extremely artistic. I think she will be an accomplished sculptor if that is what she decides to pursue, but right now her parents are more inclined for her to go into the sciences.

  41. vam Says:

    the poem shows real intelligence, so your kid has a good future. here’s hoping she maintains her ability for pithiness, and that she avoids romanticism… i wouldnt conclude that the poem shows she is permanantly stuck on the china setting, the poem is only a moment in time…

    my problem with classical chinese culture is that it can be made to mean just about anything anyone wants it to. and it can look real trippy and deep when really it’s not. like how bart (or lisa?) simpson solved the problem of “what’s the sound of one hand clapping?”

    identification is an interesting one. i generally am deeply suspicious of any identification with any group. SIMPLY cos i cant figure out the mechanics. or the meaning.

  42. PeterC Says:

    I am a 2nd generation Chinese living in US. I never set foot in mainland China. Since my father does not speak English, so when I was young I had to speak Cantonese at home. Parents also sent me to Saturday Chinese school. But it has since long passed since real-life took over. Now I can barely write my own names and a few simple words. I am able to retain my Cantonese from watching HK movies, although fluency is no where near native.

    I think that it is important to not forgetting who you are. I have joined the US Armed Forces, I have done many American things, I can comfortably identify myself as American. But doing just these is quite ignorant on my level. I feel that letting go of my Chinese identity is like letting go a treasure I rightfully inherited at birth. American culture of 300 years certainly lacks much comparing to the 4000 years Chinese culture, by that I also mean morale values, principle and guidance in personal developments, etc…

    Recently a lot of foreign students from China came to my school campus (which almost has no Chinese population), I felt very happy. Ethnicity should not matter in friendship, but there is still a closeness and warmth in associating with “our own people”. Yet the experience was not as I hoped. Those Chinese students largely regarded me as “foreigner” in their conversation (as I could understand some Mandarin), largely because my life-style is very Americanized, my English is perfect (comparing to them) and the “cultural gap” is apparent even we are all Chinese. This seriously saddens me as how much I struggle to retain my Chinese identity still does not allow me to be regarded as Chinese.

  43. HongKonger Says:

    Peter C,

    Like I mentioned in # 38 above – In my younger days I had quite a few ABC & CBC friends in British HK, but most of them left (I believe) for the same reasons that “seriously saddens” you. Nowadays, I see history repeating itself in China – with overseas born or even Hong Kong born Chinese, who are not fluent enough in Mandarin. I really don’t know what to say as I am not in your shoes, except perhaps try to start with one of them – there usually is one or two who are friendly and open-minded. Start with him/her/them, and over time, you will be accepted as one of them – I think.
    Most of my friends who went to university overseas returned with some degrees of bitterness towards the overseas locals – even those who spoke very good English. So, like I’ve always said, people are people – flesh and blood we all are.

  44. S.K. Cheung Says:

    To Hker:
    you’re conjuring up Depeche Mode and Human League…definitely blasts from the past.

    People are people, so why should it be
    you and I should get along so awfully…

    I’m only human, of flesh and blood I’m made…
    …human…born to make mistakes…

  45. HongKonger Says:


    LOL…You are right. Funny thing is, I hated DM, Boy George and the chic androgynous lot, except for George Michael and Michael Jackson, simply because they can actually sing . I don’t care at all if a person is gay or straight, I just don’t enjoy watching the parades. My gay friends are cool and lesbianism I usually encourage, but man, oh man, those awful periods of mullock haircuts, soulless techno pops, and blissful pre-internet and pre-blog days. When the West (NATO) were perceived almost unconditionally to be the good guys, with CNN being the apex of journalistic integrity. How will we look back to now 20 years from now I wonder?

  46. pug_ster Says:

    @PeterC 42

    I don’t see why you have to be so ashamed on being called a foreigner when you are not a 100% foreigner. You obviously learned the Mandarin and Chinese and know some of the Chinese customs. You obviously made an attempt to try to mingle with the local Chinese so I don’t think they will hate you for it. You should go to places like Hong Kong or Shanghai because the people there are more acceptable to people like you. I speak no mandarin and little cantonese and they treat me with no disrespect.

  47. MelindaSydney Says:

    I am a 2nd Gen ABC who grew up in Australia. Even though I have lots of ABC friends, I’d say more than half of them don’t speak or read Chinese or know much about Chinese culture. I think this is a real shame. Even though my mum was always strict in us using Cantonese at home, my fluency is only at a conversational level. I wish I was better at my family’s traditional language and will endeavor to make sure my kids know some Chinese.

  48. cy Says:

    Chinese are not white, regardless their name or language skills, kids will grow to learn that as they grow up one way or another. But it doesn’t have to be a disadvantage either – only the lucky few among them will be able to recognize it and use it to their own advantage. Alas, most people are stupid and clueless, that is true regardless who where and when…

  49. Jin Says:

    Many children actually lose their Chinese language because they can’t see any practical value in it. And many who could speak, read and write in Chinese as kids, loose it during their teens. By the time Chinese language becomes an advantage in the job market, like English and Spanish, the teenagers will have more incentive to learn it. Just think how we learnt English ourselves as first generation migrants. Like most people our age grown up in mainland China, we started learning English only as teenagers in middle school. Yet we managed to master it competent enough to live and work in an English environment and even enjoyed the cultures and literatures. The drivers behind all the hardwork put into learning it were the potential of study and living overseas, to see the world and to be successful in compitition for good jobs. Same applies to our children. They’ve got big advantage compared to us. They normally started bilingual, got live-in teachers at home, and vast learning resources and opportunities of visiting China. With the right incentive and some effort, they should do better, much better. I often tell my boys, now 6 and 4, your Chinese should be better than my English.
    Another reason for kids not willing to learn Chinese is because they see it as something enforced on them by their parents. Very often parents want their children to learn Chinese to “inherite” the Chinese culture and so they can understand their parents, their history, their background, their feelings. Not to be rude, but they simply don’t care. Not that they are bad children, but it actually makes more sense for them to be more interested in what matters to them, right? Just how much we understand our own parents, their past or link to their homeland as teenagers? Why should they share the same feeling in the first place? I do teach my boys to recite the famour Tang2 Shi1 – Jing4 Ye4 Si1, but when they ask where is the homeland, “Gu4 Xiang1”, I told them that’s where you grow up and love, for mummy, it’s Beijing, and for you, it’s here, where you are now. I was truly moved, when he said, “when I grow up and travel, I will “Di 1 Tou 2 Si 1 Gu 4 Xiang 1, missing you and our home here”. I think that’s the better understanding of the poem. Let the Chinese be THEIR Chinese, and the feelings attached be THEIR feelings. I hope when they grow up, they will recall the games we played, the stories we told, in Chinese.
    I often come across the comment from Chinese parents that there is no need to worry about children’s English, since that will be their first language, but to concentrate on their Chinese. Again, recall how much time and effort we put into learning our first language, Chinese? Should we pay at least the same attention to their English? That’s what they needs to compete with local children, with less support from parents and less language/culture environment at home. English is the determining factor for their future success, in career and in social life. I won’t worry too much if they can’t understand Chinese Classics. But I will really concern if they can’t understand Shakespeare well. From my own experience in Mainland China, I found those students very good at their Chinese are normally those good at English. It’s the general language skill and sensitivity to languages that makes them good. So to build that skill, for our children, I’d like to focus on their English. Once acquired, it will help their Chinese or any other language learning. Another thing I often tell them is: Your English should be at least as good as my Chinese.

  50. Elizabeth Says:

    I agree w/ Raj..you should be able to choose your identity..becoming being forced into an identity or kind of person that def doesn’t suit you is really bad in many senses and can hurt you physically and emotionally.

    As for language, no one should be ashamed if they can’t speak their mother tongue or for speaking it..it’s not entirely the end of the world. It’s one good thing to connect to culture..agreed..but not everything..seen people embrace culture even if they never spoken the language..plus if your’e interested all of a sudden you can still gain knowledge! My mom is Polish and my dad is American, and I started to get interested in Polish after I was 20..now I can speak some and read a bit too lol. It gets to me when people pity and say ridiculous things if one can’t speak their mother tongue..like “you don’t know your culture”. It’s like a life and death situation to them. I speak English 99.5% of the time but I know lots about Polish culture and even watch Polish movies from time to time. Do I have to know how to speak Polish to know the gist of all these? Nope. Can I still maintain good relationships w/ those living in Poland..yes I can..and I feel close to my grandma..extremely close, even though my Polish is not all that superb.

    I 100% agree that learninig multiple langauges is a great thing and it’s always best to encourage your kids to take on more languages, but you are not going to die if you don’t speak it, especially if you are very familiar w/ your culture in other senses.

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