On Being Chinese

flagI like to take quite positive things about China and Chinese culture as the starting points of my writing, or good things that have happened to me. This brief commentary though,  is the result of some recent, very unpleasant, racially based encounters I’ve had around London. I have been told to “go back to Shanghai” (close kid, but no banana, I’m Cantonese), and had my platted hair grabbed because I “looked really Chinese”. Well, of course I Do. I am. And damned proud of it too.

Having arrived in London at the age of 11, I have grown up here largely without feeling conscious or uncomfortable about being “foreign”. I feel fortunate to have lived in a society that is truly comfortable with being multicultural. So I am not sure what’s brought about the current surge of racism.

Wherever they are, the Chinese have in fact, always integrated very well into their adopted societies, perhaps a little too well. When the Chinese encounter the Chinese, they would usually speak in English, unless they know each other really well. Many Chinese would prefer Starbuck’s and Macdonald’s to the teahouse and noodle stall. The attitude of Zhou Tiedong, president of China Film Promotion International, that “literally and culturally, Chinese films are too Chinese”, only represents too well the attitude of many towards their own culture and heritage.

Could the increased racism be due to the increasing fear of this fast growing superpower, reflected in media portrayals of China as a giant monster that gobbles up manufacturing industries, jobs, chains people up, takes away their possessions and makes them work for a pittance?

There are certainly more Chinese overseas, but whether they are starting a new life in Africa, or studying in the UK or doing business with their European counterparts, they bring prosperity rather than harm, boosting tourism, luxury and other consumer industries, injecting money into our educational system.

I am very aware that regarding the welfare of its people, China still has a long way to go. However in the last few decades, the Chinese have much to be proud of. Their economy has largely weathered the global recession, have been bringing in stricter labour laws, meaning workers are being paid fairer wages. The Chinese are certainly feeling a lot more confident about being themselves. Chinese films have topped domestic charts, with social networking sites such as Weibo and the pressure of netizens, social and political issues now have a voice, some individuals have even got justice for wrongs done to them. Chinese films and literature receive accolades across the world, not because they are palatable, diluted version of global ethnicity, but because they express what it is like to be Chinese, past and present, in interesting and creative ways. And that’s what western readers and audience want.

It is rather unfortunate to say, but a lot of the racism I have come across in the last few months has been from fellow Non-white brits. Maybe having a place in the pecking order of racial hatred makes them feel they belong more. But I’d hate to think that they are following the models laid out by the right wing press, and parties like the EDF.

I will give you a bit of advice though. Don’t call me Chink. We’re not in America, and we in Britain have our own terms for the Chinese. Choggie.

Choggie originally meant the low level non enlisted men serving support in either a Navel or Army situation, but grew to nearly entirely relate to the Laundry, carried out by the Cantonese sailors working their passage on British ships. They were an indespensible part of the crew, and were dealt with as honest hard workers, even if they did seem to stick amongst themselves, and eat stuff the rest of the crew would probably starve on. I may write an article on why the Sailors of Canton were such an important part of both Naval and Chinese history, but for now, whether you like me or not, I have absolutely no objection to being called a Choggie.

 First published on Xanga July 2013







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