I did write a post last year about my experience as a foreigner living in China but wanted to expand further and write more in-depth after reading Michelle’s Being British Chinese series. This is from my perspective as a British Born Chinese living in China.
Myself being a first-generation British Born Chinese (在英国土生土长的华裔), aka BBC, you can say I’m slightly more Western than I am Chinese in terms of thinking, values and behaviour. Friends have said to me that I’m probably the most Western Chinese they have met. This is simply due to the fact of being raised and integrated into a Caucasian dominated (around 98%) town. Therefore, moulding me and making me the person I am today.
I grew up in a Hakka (客家) household where we would primarily speak Hakka and Cantonese. English came later and had become the main spoken language with my father and siblings. My family isn’t very traditional in terms of views and outlook as compared to my cousins and fellow first-generation BBC friends. But that doesn’t mean I’m clueless on my Chinese background. I’m glad to have been exposed to both the British and Chinese culture.
When I had decided to move to Beijing, I had no idea what to expect when moving to the Mainland. Nevertheless, it is always exciting to learn and be immersed with my Chinese roots.
Just a little disclaimer. Everything I have written below is all from my own personal experience. Everyone will encounter different experiences. I have no intentions of offending anyone or to cause any negativity and hate in any way, shape or form.
My Identity 我的身份
To be frank, I practically blend in with the locals and not many know I am technically a foreigner. Do I distinguish myself as British or Chinese here? Physically, I am Chinese, but mentally, British. I have never once in my life ever denied my ethnicity nor have said that I am ashamed of it. In everyone’s eyes, I am forever Chinese. According to Chinese law, I am not a Chinese citizen.
Whenever I participate in voice recordings requiring native English speakers, I constantly get questioned, as they believe I’m not qualified for these type of jobs. How is it possible for me to be a native English speaker? There’s no way I’ll have a British accent etc. This is all due to my appearance.
One time, a friend had invited me to a Chinese – English language exchange group meeting. I introduced myself, mentioning I’m from England. One response from a native Chinese was, “If you’re from England, why is your skin yellow and not white?” Let’s say, I was speechless with a wtf, shocked expression. His friends told him it was rude and he shouldn’t say things like that. Whenever I meet a new native, I always say I’m from England just to see what their reaction is. 99% of the response is, “You don’t look English.” It’s always a good conversation starter.
It is the law for all foreigners to carry their passport with them at all times. Some of my friends don’t unless they’re visiting tourist spots. However, due to my looks, I carry it everywhere even if it’s just to go to the supermarket. With my luck, I appear to encounter police conducting random Chinese ID checks on the streets, inside metro stations etc. Once I take my passport out, I do get some confused looks. The majority don’t check, whilst some are curious; having a nosey glance at the cover to see which nationality it is, then checks my visa and ID page.
One more story and this was very recent too; last week to be precise. A native had bashed me, called me not worthy, a traitor to China (I have personal thoughts about this one but on a future blog post, to put it simply, it has zero meaning to me), and threatened me on WeChat because he thought, as a foreign Chinese, I looked down on Chinese people; twisting my words and distorting the truth. Absolutely 100% absurd and false. I see no logic in this. No matter how much I’m fighting my corner, he wasn’t having any of it. Blocked, end of.
The Language 语言
Mandarin is the official language in China but the country is full of a variety of dialects and minority languages. Prior to moving, I had a basic knowledge of Mandarin, but in hindsight, it wasn’t enough for everyday life. During my first couple of months here, I have occasionally been criticised; a typical “Why is your Chinese so bad?” response along with a disgusted look. I resort to replying in Cantonese or Hakka instead as it is also Chinese.
The majority of the locals and the ones I’ve befriended are understanding plus willing to help me improve, taking the time to explain things I don’t understand. My Mandarin has improved drastically (now at a professional working level if I say so myself). I’ve also picked up the North-Eastern dialect too. If they need help with their English, I’m always here to help them. I’m continuously increasing my range of vocabulary as well as speaking more like a native.
I had spent one summer in the Guangdong province where I had only spoken Cantonese and Hakka. It had felt like home; I had felt more like “me”.
Where do I even start? I’ve been on some normal dates, some not so normal. Some of the not so normal dates resulted in marriage proposals from guys who I’ve known for a very short time. Some said that they’ve loved me in less than a day. Oh, I can see right through your plan. I’ve also encountered, “Oh you’re from England, you most definitely must be rich” on many occasions.
Every single one would ask me a lot of very personal and intimate questions right away such as:
“How much do you weigh?” – every damn time,
“Do I prefer dating a certain race?”,
“Have I dated *insert race* before?”,
“Do I like yellow dudes?”,
My sex preferences,
Way too many questions regarding foreign manhood,
And many more.
It’s all they want to talk about even if I change the subject. I don’t respond to these type of questions. It bores me. What happened to actually getting to know someone properly?
Sensitive topics 敏感话题
A tip for everyone, just don’t and avoid at all costs. I’m the type who likes to engage in deep, intellectual, healthy conversations, discussions and debates. I’ve been brought up to respect other people’s opinions whether I agree or disagree. I have always believed in listening to everyone’s opinions, engage in a mature discussion without resorting to some sort of abuse even if it gets heated, and to not shove your own opinions and views down someone’s throat to force them to change theirs. Everyone has been brought up differently, educated differently and of course, live differently.
Any topics that are considered sensitive to China, *cough* politics *cough* for example, you ought to be cautious. I always politely refuse to talk or engage in a conversation regarding it. I’m scared of hurting and offending people. I don’t want to get yelled at, receive backlash or be hurled with abuse if I say the teeniest tiniest wrong thing. It’s like a minefield having to watch what I say. If you understand China’s history, your Mandarin is up to scratch (native level), along with having a close, strong relationship with that person, then craft your words carefully and respectfully.
This post is getting quite long now so I’ll stop here before I ramble on any longer.