Half-Chinese share how they feel about being biracial in Beijing

By Chen Ximeng Source:Global Times Published: 2017/10/11 17:13:39

Samantha Kwok at her office Photo: Courtesy of Samantha Kwok

Samantha Kwok, a 26-year-old woman with a British mother and Chinese father, cannot remember how many times she has been asked where she is from.

"Sometimes they would ask me whether I am from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region or South America. They cannot tell where I am from. I do not look 'Chinese-Chinese.' I do not look 'Western-Western' either," said Kwok.

"It is sometimes an identity issue just because of the way people view us."

Although being half Chinese can be an issue, she does not see it as a problem and thinks that being multiracial is really interesting because she learned how to understand two different cultures from a very young age.

Kwok is just one of the growing number of multiracial people in China who claim a Chinese parent. Metropolitan spoke to three of them to learn how they feel about being multiracial in China.

A multicultural upbringing

Kwok was born and raised in Hong Kong like her father and speaks both Cantonese and English fluently. Her Putonghua is okay.

When she is with her father, they would always do more Chinese things, such as celebrating Chinese festivals. She likes Chinese food very much. Kwok would watch English TV shows and movies when she hangs out with her mother.

"It is a really good balance between the two cultures. I think being mixed can give you a better understanding of other people's cultures. So, I feel like I understand cultural differences more," said Kwok.

After graduating from a university in Sydney in 2012, Kwok decided to return to Asia to work. As she never formally learned Chinese when she was a kid, she moved to Beijing to learn the language in 2013.

Kwok later kick-started her company JingJobs, a recruiting company based in Beijing. She speaks to her colleagues in both Chinese and English and has a lot of friends of mixed heritage.

She said one big advantage is being able to speak multiple languages makes it easier for her to work in an international environment.

"I can communicate with different kinds of people and know how to act and react to different people. I know how to be more patient and less judgmental about other people's cultures, as I grew up in different cultures," she said.

Like Kwok, John Haakon Chen, 26, an account executive at PB Branding in Beijing, also has a mixed heritage. His mother is British-Chinese, and his father is Norwegian.

He was born in England but moved to China straightaway as his mother had started an international school in Beijing in the early 1990s.

He was here until he was 10 then moved back to England. In 2015, he came back to work in Beijing.

Chen thinks that he was lucky to be raised in a multiracial environment because it has given him a more international perspective on things.

"In certain situations, I may react and feel more English or Norwegian and in others, definitely more Chinese. For me, that's fascinating, as it allows me to confront different aspects of my character, which means that I've learned more about myself," he said.

"Personally, the advantage I've had in being multiracial in China is that Chinese feel that I can better understand them."

John Haakon Chen with his grandfather at the University of Leeds in the UK in 2014 Photo: Courtesy of John Haakon Chen

The identity issue

Kwok was initially a little confused whenever she would identify with her Chinese heritage and people saw her as not a "real" Chinese. Others would refer to her as a foreigner despite her being born and raised in Hong Kong.

"It is an issue sometimes because I do feel Chinese, but some people on the Chinese mainland do not see me as a Chinese. They cannot understand why my Chinese is bad but my Cantonese is good," said Kwok. "It is a different perspective depending on who I am talking to because I am not full Chinese."

She said some of her friends, who are also of mixed heritage, have some issues fitting in. They would pretend they were more Chinese or English in terms of culture to better fit in with their friends, she explained.

In a 2014 interview with China-based magazine The World of Chinese (TWOC), Diana Logteva, a student in China who is born to a Russian mother and a Chinese father, shared that she thought it weird that people would ask her which of the two countries she preferred.

"A lot of Chinese ask me these weird questions, like do you think you are more Russian or Chinese, and which boys do you like, white or Asian? They are kind of asking me to choose sides. But it doesn't bother me that much because I don't have to choose, and I don't even think about it. I think people that are saying this are a little narrow-minded," she was quoted as saying in the TWOC report.

Though it is an issue, Kowk does not see it as a problem.

"I do not think it is racist or discriminatory when they say I am not a 'real' Chinese. I understand. On the Chinese mainland, it is not very common to see someone who is half Chinese and half something else. In their mind, you are either Chinese or a foreigner. There is nothing in the middle," Kowk said.

"As they meet more multiracial people, they will understand that people are not just Chinese or foreign; there are some people in the middle."

 A more open mind

Harriet Bates, a half Chinese and half British woman who works in marketing in Beijing, likes being multiracial. Bates, 24, was born in London, raised in Hong Kong and came to Beijing five years ago.

One of the greatest things about being multiracial is that it has made her very open-minded toward different cultures.

"I see people beyond where they come from, their skin color, or what they wear, whether it is a burka, a cheongsam or a sari. At the end of the day, everyone is human with their own stories, passions and struggles," said Bates.

When it comes to the issue of identity, she thinks that she is pretty secure and sure of herself. She does not really get bothered by what other people think of her.

"Don't feel like you have to put a label on yourself, and don't feel like you have to 'pick a side.' You are mixed; you are a product of interracial love, and you are a walking, living and breathing testimony that people can fall in love regardless of different skin color or ethnic backgrounds. It's a beautiful thing, be proud!" she said.

Harriet Bates believes that growing up in a multicultural environment has made her very open-minded toward different cultures. Photo: Courtesy of Harriet Bates

Chen agrees. He said that he also does not like to label people purely in terms of where they are from. He feels it is too simplistic.

"I suppose I would just want everyone to learn how to be more comfortable within themselves. We live in a fast-paced culture where we are quick to judge others, and I think this has led to so many young people being quite unsure and insecure about themselves. Let's turn that around," said Chen.

Barbara Kiao, a clinical counselor who has a private service in Shanghai, has counseled people with issues stemming from a multiracial background.

She said that people will project their own insecurities onto someone they feel is different from them and recommends that parents introduce their children to both cultures from the very start when they are young.

"Pretending to be someone you are not, even if it is because you want to be accepted, will eventually backfire and make you unhappy and depressed because we are meant to live authentically," she said.

She also noted that Chinese are curious people and that they mean well even when boundaries of propriety are crossed.

"It is important for a mixed-heritage child or adult to look within instead of living 'other people's reference,' and by standing in her or his own truth, magical things happen," she said.

"Having said that, of course, one has to find the inner courage to be that, particularly if one's only learning to be truthful as an adult. That's what I help a lot of my clients to do: be totally comfortable in their own skin."

Kwok plans to continue building her career in Beijing and may explore other places, as she likes living in different countries and learning about different cultures. 

"I felt that as I got older, I got more comfortable within my own skin, myself and how I should be," she said.

Newspaper headline: Diverse heritage


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