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British Born Chinese: “We are NOT Chinese”

by Xiangyi Yu
(xiangyi@rootsidentities.co.uk)

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Spring Festival, Lantern Festival, and Qingming Festival. The feasts abound.

But does the new generation of Chinese kids born in Britain understand the meaning of these traditional Chinese festivals? Do they celebrate them at all?

Johnny Cheung, born in Yorkshire, says: “actually, I don’t celebrate the Spring Festival that much. All I do is have dinner with my family on that day, nothing else.”

Patrick Chow, another man of Chinese origin was not particularly excited over the Chinese New Year. “I went back to Hong Kong with my parents on the New Year’s Day, just to visit our relatives there”, he said.

“Foreigners ridicule our superstitions”

People like Johnny and Michel are called BBC, short for the phrase “British Born Chinese”. It suggests that the BBC generation is already different from Chinese people in China.

They were born in a western country, and grew up under a completely different set of cultural values.

Most “BBCs” in Britain hail from Hong Kong. It is natural for them to miss their homeland.

“When we try telling other people about our culture, you have the feeling that they don’t understand it or accept our way of life,” Johnny Cheung said.

Most foreigners tend to ridicule our superstitions and religious customs”, he added

Chinese Icons

In the western world, the whole idea of the oriental is rapidly becoming fashionable.

Many believe that both Western companies and even Chinese people themselves have commercialized Chinese culture.

To the westerners, the oriental may be in fashion, whereas Chinese people consider it as traditional history and simply a way of life.

Most Chinese people know that Chinese takeaways in Britain are not the same as the restaurants in Hong Kong and China.

The Chinese equivalent of English fast food outlets is the rice congee and noodle restaurants.

These restaurants and takeaways cater for the needs of the British public by making typical menus of sweet and sour pork, fried rice and spring rolls.

Staying true

Though the older generations of Chinese people are more attached to Chinese culture and heritage it has been hard for the majority of them to remain ‘Chinese’.

Richard Ni was born in Shanghai, and has been living in London for about 25 years. He told ROOTS he is worried about the cultural identity of his kids.

“My children were born here in London, and I tried to communicate with them in Cantonese or mandarin, but every time they replied to me in English,” said Ni. “Language to our next generation is a big problem, and I’m really worried about that”, he added.

Unlike Richard’s who thinks of himself as Chinese, his children consider themselves as British.

Johnny, a 20-year-old BBC echoes the opinions of many other British born Chinese like himself: “I’m not confused about my identities, I probably consider myself British, not anything else”.

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