Thoughts on Being Half-Chinese

For a fuller exploration of the thoughts below, please see this later post, which formed part of a panel discussion at Ankur Arts's event Where Are You Really From?

 

I know hardly any other half-Chinese people to whom I'm not related, and very rarely meet any. Some people don't like to be asked about their ethnic makeup - it doesn't offend me - but when I saw Sam here in a nightclub I had to ask him. Making his acquaintance, and learning that his mother is Chinese and his father white, started me thinking.

 

Most of my interests - even those from childhood - when I think about them, can be explained or understood by a common goal: understanding identity and, specifically, what it is and what it means to be me. I went to university to study psychology and philosophy, thinking that these subjects would teach me about myself and my own mind. I graduated with a degree in English literature after discovering that I learned much more about myself from reading novels and stories about others.

 

My Dad is from Hong Kong; my Mum, Scottish-Irish. Mum once told me about an incident which took place when I was aged around four: walking with her in Ayr's town centre to meet Dad as he finished work, I exclaimed 'Daddy!' and ran to him when he appeared. A passing woman said to another "That's no a Chinky's wean!" I don't know whether I truly remember that or whether I have constructed a false memory around the story as I imagined it, but the first time I can be sure that I knew I was half-Chinese was in my first year of primary school: other children pulling their eyes into slits and imitating the sound of Chinese dialects at me.

 

There are two amusing terms to describe half-Chinese or Chinese born in the West: eggs (white on the outside, yellow on the inside) and bananas (yellow on the outside, white on the inside). Although at least one of my classmates in primary school was able to see that I had Chinese ethnicity, I'm usually taken for a westerner. I suppose this is on account of my Mum's red hair and fair skin: my half-Chinese cousins are much darker and more obviously Chinese than I am.

 

I am neither proud nor ashamed to be half-Chinese - it is, of course, foolish to be proud or ashamed of something that was merely an accident of birth - but I like it, and consider it to have been a blessing. Through it I have been exposed to an entirely different culture, and through it I learned at a young age the difficulties of being an outsider; experience which came in handy as I grew older and became an outsider in many other ways.

 

Superficially, I'm interested in the different ways that half-Chinese people - especially men - look. I collect images of half-Chinese men, some of which I'll post below. It was with a view to adding to this that I asked Sam for his photograph.

 

Glasgow, 2012.

 

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  • Luis Chacón 3y

    haha to begin with, nice portrait
    and nice post too, i so like when people express themselves about this, after some months living in asia, it was strange for me not asking about ethnic issues (where are your parents from, for example) because is unpolite...
    as i'm worked in a bar for some time now, i'm better at telling where is a foreigner from by his blonde grade... like from almost white to almost red, hehe =P
    good research work in your comment btw ;)
  • Luis Chacón 3y

    (and sorry for my english, i'm sure there some mistake)
  • Ivan Hall Barrientos 3y

    interesting post but i have to disagree about it being 'foolish' to be proud of your heritage. I am half-chilean and half-english, and over the past few years have been more and more proud that I am lucky enough to be part of such an interesting and beautiful south american culture. i am not proud to the extent where i would be offended at jokes towards latinos (i am more likely to start the jokes) but i am certainly proud of my latino family history.
  • GrannyAnnie2004 3y

    Be proud my darling boy....you & your sister are gorgeous !
    Your oh so proud GrannyAnnie x x
  • paperingasmile 3y

    Something struck me about this post - I think anyone who chooses to photograph people are interested in what 'makes' their visual imprint - and I think we're always drawn to those who either are our mirror or who help us 'spot the difference'.

    Whilst I am a 'white' british european, with fair skin, blue eytes and mousy blond-brown hair (naturally at least) my parents are both meditteranean in appearance (olive skin, dark hair - although my father's hair is now white)...when I was at school one of the teachers asked me whether my Mother had had a close relationship with the postman or milkman - pretty innapropriate to ask a 10yr old, but anyhow, that always made me think that just because you don't 'look' the same as your family, are you less a part of it? I don't have the answers, but your photos have 'bought up' an interesting view point...and I'm grateful for you talking about this. Race and ethnicity are so often sensitivities we don't understand or engage with.

    PS - I love Sam's expression in this photo - total cheeseball! :)
  • Drew Whittam 3y

    your work is always so intriguing!...very much a fan. =]
  • jocady choi 3y

    Perhaps if you were raised in the South-east Asia in your growing years, you might feel less like an outsider and more of a superior race as you would greatly stood out, as an Eurasian(especially if you're equipped with an immaculate accent) and be constantly sought-after throughout your years? For to be of mixed heritage seems to be the equivalent of hitting genetic jackpot in the aforementioned region, with regards to the highly popular trend of cosmetic surgeries to bridge one closer towards sporting Caucasian features. Just a thought..

    On another hand, there are also pure-asians who look like hapas but couldn't trace anything back to the last few generations nor really looking like a carbon copy of their parents. Sounds more interesting, almost like an enigma.

    Delicious light, as usual
  • Laura Harvey Photography 3y

    Love this post. I'm half Chinese and half English and this is always something that I struggled with when I was little...where did I fit in?
    I have always felt more English than Chinese because I was brought up here, but it makes me wonder why I don't acknowledge that much of my other side. My mum is originally from Malaysia and when I go there, I'm merely a tourist...it's a strange feeling.

    Would love to see a project on this Tommy!
  • Linus & the Feel Good Factory 3y

    This is a very interesting project and I enjoy your interpretation of self-identity. I especially like the part about having no-pride nor shame. Well put.
  • Nikita 3y

    You look soo much like Sen mitsuji Tommy!
  • Charles Hamilton 3y

    I like the photograph .... like the blue tones, his expression and your composition. Very interesting honest note about yourself.
  • Vincent Kelly 3y

    Art is one of those that helps greatly in revealing what we have become or what got us to where we are now. If I look back from when I first started writing, I have always changed and interchanged pseudonyms, but always had this idea -- feeling -- that the words I chose, the order and design I would put them on paper would mark them as unique to me... and then when I think about it, I can remember more often people asking me what I am or where am I from than asking me my name. (And sometimes upon hearing my name, it would seem so anti-climactic since it's pretty plain.)

    Three of my great grandparents were Chinese, brought over to the Caribbean by colonists. Both of my grandfathers are half Chinese, half Afro-Caribbean. One used to joke that his mother never learned English but that all 13 of her children knew when she was angry. When I was last in Beijing, I had a conversation with a woman in Starbucks which quickly turned loud because I couldn't convince her I was NOT half Asian.

    But on the other hand, I grew up in the Philippines, and I consider that as much home as having been born in Trinidad, bearing that I've spent most of my life in the US and Canada. So I'm still Asian...ish... y'know, if that's a thing. Haha.

    I really enjoyed this post. Thank you for sharing.
  • Frank Fullard 3y

    Great portrait!
  • Stefanog.com 3y

    extra!
  • velvetfall 3y

    I am half Chinese.
    It's 6 out of 10.
  • Nina Matzat 3y

    super interesting post! and thanks for the bunch of pics! thats fascinating. the picture is also super cute! i absolutely love the culture mix that become so obvious in the face of young people growing up, combining two cultures in such a lively way. thanks for sharing your thoughts. they are always worth reading and reflecting!
  • breeedwards 3y

    i think your beautiful :)
  • sel Leung 3y

    Understand and agree my dad from hongkong my mind from Ireland but I'm born in Britain...since i was going and still am i dont have a one set of culture friends ..i notice i could never really be accepted for being Chinese nor white coloured...it hard ..i relised majority of friends are mix rest and different ethnics but yea i would like to be that kid who hangs out with one certain group for a day...so that will never happen. ...i do think to myself what am i ...but when i have children i won't forget my Chinese and English/Irish upbringing ....also it a great pulling technique for the lads lol
  • BeHappy1992 3y

    I like your article and pictures. My mum is mainland Chinese and my dad Scottish. I can relate to your story a lot. I was born and raised in Aberdeen and have had similar experiences of realising I didn't look like the rest of my classmates in primary school. I'll never forget my 'boyfriend' in primary 7 dumped me the day after he found out my mum was Chinese! He didn't know and this fact ended our 'relationship' for him. I also study English Lit. at uni as use this as a way to 'find' the true me. I find myself more open to certain ideas about life and feel I do view things from 2 perspectives. It took me till mid to end teen years to fully appreciate my Chinese ethnicity, but now I truly appreciate it. My first goal - to master Mandarin! Or at least enough to have a meaningful conversation with my family in China. Also maybe find myself a half Chinese man myself, a new found goal since your post!
  • iechavarria 2y

    this is awesome man.
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