Being Chinese: Voices from the Diaspora / Edition 1

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Chinese have traveled the globe for centuries, and today people of Chinese ancestry live all over the world. They are the Huayi or "Chinese overseas" and can be found not only in the thriving Chinese communities of the United States, Canada, and Southeast, but also in enclaves as far-reaching as Cuba, Zimbabwe, and Peru. In this book, twenty-two Chinese living and working outside of China—ordinary people from all walks of life—tell us something about their lives and about what it means to be Chinese in non-Chinese societies.

In these pages we meet a surgeon raised in Singapore but westernized in London who still believes in the value of Chinese medicine, which "revitalizes you in ways that Western medicine cannot understand." A member of the Chinese Canadian community who bridles at the insistence that you can't be Chinese unless you speak a Chinese dialect, because "Even though I do not have the Chinese language, I think my ability to manifest many things in Chinese culture to others in English is still very important." Individuals all loyal to their countries of citizenship who continue to observe the customs of their ancestral home to varying degrees, whether performing rites in memory of ancestors, practicing fengshui, wearing jade for good luck, or giving out red packets of lucky money for New Year.

What emerges from many of these accounts is a selective adherence to Chinese values. One person cites a high regard for elders, for high achievement, and for the sense of togetherness fostered by his culture. Another, the bride in an arranged marriage to a transplanted Chinese man, speaks highly of her relationship: "It's the Chinese way to put in the effort and persevere." Several of the stories consider the difference between how Chinese women overseas actually live and the stereotypes of how they ought to live. One writes: "Coming from a traditional Chinese family, which placed value on sons and not on daughters, it was necessary for me to assert my own direction in life rather than to follow in the traditional paths of obedience." Bracketing the testimonies are an overview of the history of emigration from China and an assessment of the extent to which the Chinese overseas retain elements of Chinese culture in their lives.

In compiling these personal accounts, Wei Djao, who was born in China and now lives near Seattle, undertook a quest that took her not only to many countries but also to the inner landscapes of the heart. Being Chinese is a highly personal book that bares the aspirations, despairs, and triumphs of real people as it makes an insightful and lasting contribution to Chinese diasporic studies.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Extraordinary history is made by ordinary people, as this volume by Shanghai native Djao subtly demonstrates. . . . Such documentary-based representation leaves a space for readers to experience, feel, imagine, and draw their own conclusions about a distinguished cultural group."
Library Journal "One does not need to be Chinese to enjoy Being Chinese. Indeed, the view given to non-Chinese by this masterful work is priceless and unprecedented." —New York Resident "Fresh and first-hand information about the everyday life of these migrants and their descendants . . . Previous studies have always focused on the married bachelor and sojourner phenomena among the Chinese emigrant, especially among those in North America, but this book adds more details about such tragedies." —National Journal
Library Journal
Extraordinary history is made by ordinary people, as this volume by Shanghai native Djao subtly demonstrates. Her experience as a producer of TV documentaries and as a sociology professor are reflected in this book's documentary nature. Instead of focusing on a history of Chinese emigration from 1842 to 1949, the book presents the personal stories of 22 Chinese now living overseas. Their personal experiences illustrate how they live in non-Chinese societies and their feelings toward their Chinese roots and identity. Those included in the book live in different countries around the world, including Australia, Canada, Cuba, Germany, India, Indonesia, Zimbabwe, the United States, and the United Kingdom. Their occupations range from restaurant dishwasher to government administrator, minister, and surgeon. Clearly, the life experiences of these 22 interviewees reflect certain distinctive characteristics of Chinese overseas from that period, but the author's intention is to document his interviewees' stories as told by themselves rather than to provide a scientific, in-depth analysis. Such documentary-based representation leaves a space for readers to experience, feel, imagine, and draw their own conclusions about a distinguishable cultural group, the Chinese diaspora. Recommended for both public and academic libraries.-Rui Wang, Central Michigan Univ. Lib., Mount Pleasant Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780816523023
  • Publisher: University of Arizona Press
  • Publication date: 9/1/2003
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Wei Djao grew up in Shanghai and taught in Canada, Hong Kong, and California before settling in Seattle to teach at North Seattle Community College. In addition to publishing widely in sociology, she has been involved in the production of television documentaries, including "American Nurse," an award-winning program about a Chinese American army nurse in the Vietnam war.

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Table of Contents

List of Figures
I The Chinese Diaspora
1 Leaving China: A Brief History of Emigration 3
II Voices from the Diaspora
2 Eating Cats 35
3 Paper Son Meets Father 42
4 My Country and My Origin 47
5 From Liverpool Chinatown 54
6 Leong Wong-Kit the Paper Daughter 62
7 Fighting for Education 70
8 Lotus in the Swamp 83
9 Pomelo 91
10 The Musician 97
11 The Sinologist 103
12 I Brought Myself Up 111
13 All Bases Covered 116
14 The Financial Wizard 122
15 San Ramon the Coffee Town 131
16 Good in Business 136
17 Filial Piety: Virtue and Demands 142
18 Chinese Faces 148
19 Working All My Life 156
20 Bow Wow! A Second Language 160
21 Chinese Words on Sleepless Nights 166
III Being Chinese in the Diaspora
22 Living in the Diaspora 173
23 Being Chinese Overseas 185
24 A New Conceptualization of Ethnic Identity 212
App Major Chronological Periods in Chinese History 217
Notes 219
References 225
Index 229
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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 1, 2004

    great readable book

    I found the book refreshing and innovative. The voices in the book are the actual people who have either emigrated or are descendents of emigrants who left China for various reasons and find themselves living in a new country. Yet these 'Chinese' people have certain amount of similarities and traditions that will always make them feel bonded to other 'Chinese'. I wouldn't miss reading this book for anything.

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