Chinese, yet more

Updated: 2014-06-22 07:33

By Tiffany Tan (China Daily)

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Chinese parents' children raised overseas exist in a realm between their passport and visa countries. Tiffany Tan reports.

Feng Chan considered himself one of the local boys. He went to a Dutch school, hung out with Dutch children and spoke Dutch fluently. But he did feel uncomfortable every time he saw his friends being greeted by their parents with a hug. Or whenever parents kissed around their children.

Unlike many of the kids in the city of Zwolle, Chan and his two sisters and brother didn't sign up for activities outside school. They didn't take swimming lessons, music lessons or join sports clubs.

When they got high grades in school, instead of receiving praise from their parents, like the other kids did, they were often told how they could have done better.

And his father's and mother's names were big mysteries to the boy. While his friends were calling their parents by their first names, Chan only knew his as "pa" and "ma".

As new immigrants to the Netherlands in the late 1970s, his parents were too busy growing a restaurant to take their kids to after-school activities. Like many traditional Chinese, they didn't easily express affection physically or verbally, and brought up their children to respect parents' position of authority.

The family - among today's 45 million overseas Chinese - hails from Wenzhou, Zhejiang province. Chan moved to the Netherlands at age 6 and soon saw himself as a child of his new country.

"I defined myself as Dutch but with Chinese parents and with a Chinese background," Chan, 40, says in a video call from Zwolle.

"I grew up in Holland, had Dutch friends. I did not know a lot about China."

At 18, his perspective turned 180 degrees.

That summer, Chan went on his first trip back to China with fellow Dutch-Chinese youngsters. He not only got a closer look at his birth country but also realized that he had more in common with overseas Chinese than with the locals. He began to seek out more Chinese friends when he returned home.

"We had the same upbringing and experiences in Holland, so there was an instant connection," says Chan, who now runs his parents' restaurant.

"From that point on, I regarded myself as a Chinese with Western influences."

Chinese immigrants like Victor Zheng, meanwhile, find it harder to define their cultural identities.

Zheng has spent the majority of his 37 years in Mexico and went to middle school in the United States, yet he continues to celebrate his birthday according to the lunar calendar. He speaks Spanish, English and Cantonese fluently, and has learned some Mandarin from watching Chinese TV programs.

He married a fellow native of Enping, Guangdong province, but he has also dated Mexican women. He feels equally at home around his Mexican friends as he does his Chinese friends.

But what does he say when people ask him where he is from?

"I say: 'I'm 100 percent Chinese, but I was raised in Mexico,'" Zheng says by phone from Tijuana, Mexico, where he works as a chef at his family's Chinese restaurant.

"I have to recognize where I came from and I have to acknowledge where I grew up."

Although Chinese immigrants adapt to the culture of their host countries, they also uphold (to varying degrees) deeply rooted Chinese values and practices.

These include respecting the family hierarchy between parents and their children, recognizing the importance of guanxi (personal connections) in day-to-day dealings, as well as parents and children living up to their sense of responsibility to care for each other, says Bin Wu, a senior research fellow at the University of Nottingham and coordinator of its Center for Chinese Migration Studies.

How much immigrants maintain Chinese practices or adopt new ones is influenced by various factors, such as a person's beliefs, language preference, media consumption habits, social network and daily lifestyle choices like food, says Qing Zhou, an associate professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley.

Language also influences cultural conflicts between immigrant Chinese parents and their children.

"Studies have shown that children's heritage language is a protective factor - children who can speak fluent Chinese can communicate with their immigrant parents more easily and thus experience less conflict with their parents," Zhou, who heads UC Berkeley's Culture and Family Laboratory, says in an e-mail.

Being a child of two or more cultures can be difficult but opens up new ways of seeing things.

"You realize that whatever you think is the normal way of doing things isn't normal all the time," says Po An-you, a 29-year-old lawyer born in Taipei but raised in Johannesburg, South Africa.

"It teaches you to respect other cultures and traditions."

Feng Chan has integrated both Dutch and Chinese practices in raising his children. His two daughters and son know his and his Indonesian-Chinese wife's first names. The young ones attend music lessons and sporting games. And they hear praise along with criticism.

The couple also hugs their children a lot. But Chan says he is still embarrassed to kiss his wife in front of the kids.

Contact the writer at tiffany@chinadaily.com.cn

 Chinese, yet more

Feng Chan (second man from the right) with his wife, children and parents at the family's Chinese restaurant in the Dutch city of Zwolle. Photos Provided to China Daily

 Chinese, yet more

Po An-you (second from the right) with friends outside the High Court of South Africa's Northern Gauteng region on the day he became a notary public.

(China Daily 06/22/2014 page4)