Chinese overseas

A Crazy Rich Asians poser: overseas Chinese are as much Chinese as cultural products of the country they live in

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 September, 2018, 9:02am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 September, 2018, 9:02am

I agree with Anson Chan on the challenges of multicultural representation in the media, especially for a text with a specific narrative such as Crazy Rich Asians (“First Black Panther, now Crazy Rich Asians: how Hollywood minority voices are going mainstream”, September 3).

Both its literary and movie versions have succeeded in providing a breezy overview of the Chinese diaspora’s depth and diversity. But any attempt to impose a primordial definition on this smorgasbord of some 60 million people with Chinese ancestry living outside Greater China would be simplistic, superficial and problematic, even for a behemoth like the Community Party of China.

For example, the only thing that is obviously Chinese or Asian about elegant British actress Gemma Chan is her appearance. The same may be said for the other Chinese actors who hail from America, Australia, the UK, and elsewhere.

Even in Asian countries such as Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei, there are variations in the values and outlook of the Western and Chinese-educated local population.

Chinese Indonesians work to preserve 700 years of history in ‘Little China’ in Java

And these are probably the only three countries outside Greater China where Chinese cultural practices remain largely immune from assimilation into the native cultures of their new home. In the West or in countries like Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines, most naturalised Chinese assume localised names to fit in, for example.

Overseas Chinese … are citizens of their respective countries first and foremost

While the overseas Chinese community shares a common heritage and ancestral link to the Middle Kingdom, many of its members are “cultural products” of the societies and countries they grew up in. They are citizens of their respective countries first and foremost; not an instrument to project China’s power and influence worldwide.

It would be short-sighted for any Chinese to reduce millenniums of Chinese civilisation to the ambitions of one party, and expect the Chinese diaspora to do the bidding of a “motherland” based purely on race (“Overseas Chinese ‘have role to play’ in building political trust abroad for Belt and Road”, August 24).

The question facing Chinese diaspora: for love of country or party?

The Han culture may be alive and well at various levels in different parts of the world, but it has also evolved relatively harmoniously with other cultures in the spirit of multicultural “coexistence and sharing”, in sharp contrast to the growing mono-cultural chauvinism masquerading as multiculturalism on the mainland. Even Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan are not carbon copies of the mainland.

John Chan, Singapore