When my parents and I emigrated from Hong Kong to Canada 16 years ago, I became a hybrid: a Chinese-Canadian, a boy lost in a multicultural society. From the day my family landed in this country, I’ve been fighting a personal battle to prove that a Chinese man can accomplish as much as any Caucasian, much like the country I originate from is trying to prove itself in the global theatre
I constantly read speculations about being China supplanting the United States as the leading economy in the world. Year after year, I don’t notice much of a change in the pecking order.
Similar to how the United States was a sleeping giant in the 20th century, China is still waiting on the perfect opportunity to wake up from its slumber.
I believe the country of China, along with Chinese people, is constantly misrepresented due to the general public’s ignorance. When this assignment was first assigned on Monday, the young lady sitting in the front of the class poignantly admitted “I honestly don’t know about China to write that much.”
That’s not her fault. What has the schooling system in Canada done to educate its students about China? History courses in high school were extremely euro-centric. The only time, China was ever mentioned was in a negative light (losing an inordinate amount of territory to Japan in World War 2). People recognize Mao, and his iconic face, but few are able to name a significant contribution of his. I bet if you ask the same student to write a think piece on the Nazis, Napoleon or the sun never setting on the British Empire, she would be able to spew a novel for you.
I always hear that history is written by the winner, perhaps that’s a primary reason why most students’ knowledge of Chinese history is shallow.
It’s saddening that a Chinese student raised in North America will know more about European history than their own, upon the completion of their education. I’m guilty of that as well, which is why I’ve enrolled in this course.
A couple times in my life I’ve wondered what it’d be like if my parents never brought me here due to their fear of Hong Kong’s sovereignty being handed back to the People’s Republic. But as I mentioned earlier, the change of scenery has been a major motivator. During my first few years here, I was teased by my fellow classmates for not being able to speak English that well; so I would go home after school and watch American cartoons in hopes of picking up the language faster. In the early years especially, I wished my parents would’ve reversed their decision.
My parents saw how much I was struggling, thus in grade four they transferred me back to an elementary school in Hong Kong. I thought nothing could’ve been worse than going to school every day not understanding half of what the teacher was saying. I was quickly proven wrong upon going to school in Hong Kong. From what I remember, we were assigned 10 times the amount of homework, gym class consisted of endless games of rock, paper, scissors and during recess I only had enough time to go to the washroom and back. Then things went from bad to worse: my teacher noticed my shoes, requesting to see my parents after school. Apparently I wasn’t allowed to wear black sneakers, they had to be legitimate dress shoes, this was when I was nine-years-old! After seeing the freedom I was given in the Canadian school system, I couldn’t deal with the conformity of the one in Asia. So I did what any logical kid would do: I cried to my mom until she would bring me back to Canada.
More than anything, I just wanted to be accepted. I think a lot of other Chinese people feel the same way. It’s why everywhere you go from San Francisco to Toronto, there’s a Chinatown. In my case, my hometown of Richmond, British Columbia has become a mini Hong Kong. It’s the only place where you go the public library and every service is provided in three languages: English, French and Cantonese/Mandarin.
It’s strange though, despite the unity within the Chinese community, our sense of nationalism is dwarfed by nearly everyone else’s. We are stereotyped constantly in films and on television yet instead of being angered by it, we tend to laugh at ourselves. For example in the Hangover series, Ken Jeong’s character is a gang leader who speaks with a heavy accent. That doesn’t even scratch the surface of other stereotypes Western society has labelled us with. Our inability to drive is mocked, lots of people including Miley Cyrus stretch their eyelids to satirize Chinese people’s “narrow” eyes and the list goes on.
In a sense, the Western world’s unmitigated thrashing of our culture is the 21st century equivalent to the British implementing the open door policy 100 years ago. Now that robbing our country of our resources is illegal, they’re still finding ways to tear us down verbally. The sentiment that Chinese people are inferior to Caucasians remains prevalent in our society, it’s just not as obvious. Reading the explicit comments underneath a video of an ox being fed to a group of the tigers at Guilin Tiger Park in Harbin on YouTube make me uneasy: users are throwing around the word “chink” indiscriminately to slander the Chinese tourists observing the sacrificing of the ox, as well as typing random characters to mock our language. This shows while people don’t publicly express their racism, it’s still on their mind. Even the tiny number of non-Chinese students in our lecture (two), convey the same message of indifference towards modern China.
Chinese people will never be treated as equals but until our own values change. Too many Asian parents expect their children to become a doctor or else they’re considered an outright failure. The book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom, highlighted the issues between Asian parenting and Western parenting. Luckily, I’ve escaped the pressure of my Asian parents by pursuing a career in journalism. In all of my core journalism classes, I’m always the only Asian male in the room, at least in my year.
Lest we forget though, my drive to succeed in the Western world has always been driven by how I was first treated as an immigrant fresh off the boat (FOB as the Caucasians call it). I made a promise to myself when I was young that one day I would be able to express myself in English better than anyone who mocked me would. I’d like to think that goal has been accomplished; yet its bittersweet knowing there are hundreds of new immigrants who are suffering the same tribulations I had to endure a decade ago.