Bye Bye Britain
n the 1960s, an influx of Chinese migrants moved from Asia to the UK for a better life. They wanted their children to have opportunities that they could only dream of. Yet, why are so many British Chinese people moving to the countries their parents fought so hard to leave?
At the age of thirteen, Ben Chan was beaten up by a gang of kids in his school. They punched and kicked him for half and hour while shouting racial insults. Their reasoning for accosting him was pure and simple – he was Chinese and they weren’t.The cruel incident was the turning point in Chan’s life. He vowed he would leave his home in England and start a new life in Hong Kong. Like many of the Chinese immigrants who arrived in the 1960s, Chan’s parents moved to the UK for work opportunities and to give their children a “better” life. In Chan’s case, it had the opposite effect.
There are over 400,000 Chinese people living in the UK and almost one in three of the Chinese population (29.2 percent) are born in the UK. Chan, 26 is part of the recent influx of first generation Chinese professionals who have left their homes in the UK and have moved to Asia because of racist experiences. Recently married to a Hong Kong native he now works as a doctor in Hong Kong. Ironically, Chan has returned to the very place that his parents fought so hard to leave. He aims for his children to be brought up in Hong Kong and said: “I sometimes have nightmares about the racist bullying I faced in school. I never ever want my children to be brought up in the UK.”
Liz Carnell, director of Bullying Online, believes that racial bullying is something that can scar someone for life, “I think that racial bullying leaves people distressed. Our experience is that people who are bullied at school are often still very upset over it when they are in their 20s, 30s, 60s and even older. It’s a real problem.”
Professor Zweig, an expert in Chinese Studies at Hong Kong University agrees that racism is still a problem in the West. Throughout his research on Chinese migration he has interviewed many Western born Chinese and said: “Some of the key reasons why they return to China are because of a higher status in China and the glass ceiling in the West.”
Zweig gives an example of a good friend who moved to Qingdao because of the cultural barriers he felt with his white colleagues, “He definitely felt that there was a glass ceiling and he could not hang out with the Canadians who would talk about hockey or baseball, and therefore could never be ‘one of the boys.’ ” Zweig admits that not all first generation Chinese will feel out of place, but many do and adds “I Interviewed a fellow here in Hong Kong with a similar view – he never felt comfortable in London, so when his boss suggested he move to Hong Kong he didn’t hesitate.”
There are many stories of British Chinese professionals who leave the West and do better in Asia. An example is Glen Goei, founder of multi-awarding winning Mu-Lan theatre group. He moved back to Asia after the British Arts Council refused to support the theatre financially and now works as a successful film director in Singapore. One of his films “Forever Fever” was a box office hit in Asia. Goei’s theatre group Mu-Lan was known for doing fresh, gritty plays that challenged many of the wrong stereotypes that people had about the Chinese in London. Its artistic director Paul Courtney Hyu insists that the Arts council refused to support the theatre group because of the group’s refusal to marginalise their plays. In an article on the website, he said: "Blame the Arts Council. They are responsible for the closure of Mu-Lan for not having the capacity to comprehend that British Asiatic theatrical creativity does not have to be marginalised in the way that they are trying to make it.”
Mu-Lan’s contemporary Yellow Earth Theatre is the only prominent British Chinese Theatre group left in London and it aims to promote Asian Theatre in the UK. Veronica Needa, one of the founders of Yellow Earth admits that she has not worked in mainstream theatre for many years now. She believes that change has to start from within the community and true integration is more than just speaking the language. She said: “Many British born Chinese don’t have good enough Cantonese to integrate deeply into the Cantonese speaking side of Hong Kong society. But they might feel that they “fit in” physically as they look like the majority population which can be an attraction and sometimes a relief. Needa encourages young Chinese artists to create their own work rather than wait to be employed by the mainstream.
But what happens when you do not work in the Arts scene and rather than having the leisure to self-promote you have to wait patiently for promotion?
Chang Lau 27, was born and brought up in London but never felt truly British because of his race. In school and later at work his closest friends were always a mix of Chinese, Blacks and Asians. Lau now works as vice president in a global bank in Hong Kong and cites the “Glass Ceiling in London” as the main reason for relocation. “In London none of the presidents were Asian, Black or Chinese. It was a known fact for the ethnic minorities that promotion would be harder for us. But racism at work is impossible to prove as they can always say they promoted a white guy over you because he was "more competent.”
Lau left his family and the only home he ever knew because he felt career progression in London would be limited because of his race. He is much happier in Hong Kong and said: “I knew that if I wanted to get far I had to be on a level playing field where I would not be judged because of the colour of my skin. Now at least in Hong Kong I am surrounded by Chinese people and have a better chance for promotion.”
Professor Schumann invented the term “Culture Shock” to explain the stages that an immigrant goes through from arrival to eventual assimilation. Schumann's “Acculturation Theory” states that when an immigrant moves to a new country he will find the culture of a host country very different, especially if the shift is to a country without the same lingual or cultural background. However, British Chinese are natives of the UK with English as their first language, yet many of them do not face a “culture shock” when moving to Asia. More unusually, they find themselves more at home there than in the UK. In any country, true assimilation takes a personal and cultural metamorphism, but perhaps how quickly you reach it depends on the colour of your skin. BW