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.