Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Sichuan Earthquake

Photograph: Dan Chung for the Guardian

Sichuan province is once again devastated by earthquake, with the magnitude measuring around at 7.0. It has been almost 5 years since the last major earthquake struck the same area. So far over 200 and possibly more has been confirmed dead and 8000 injured. Many became lost their homes and had to take refuge at temporarily set up tents. Soldiers and rescue teams were swift to provide aids to the people in the worst hit arre around the city of Ya'an. Although the scale of devastation were much smaller than the 2008 earthquake (which claimed the lives of 87,000) still it has put some strain on the recovery from the previous major disaster.

There's no urgency for help from the outside as the local authorities already have all the resources to handle the situation. But for donations I would recommend Sichuan Quake Relief and Jet Li's One Foundation.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Ghost of the colonial past

Stepping into 2013 (and getting pass apocalypse hype) the city of Hong Kong resumed business as normal and the same goes along with the usual annual protests. As many celebrated the new year, there were also tens of thousands took part in the anti-government protest calling chief executive CY Leung to step down. One of the most noticeable things in recent protests have seen participants appeared to be waving the British colonial-era flag and sometimes playing the British national anthem along side. Something we never have expected to see again after 1997. The organizers were supposedly to be part of some Facebook groups. This has set the alarm going for authorities who feared of an independence movement in the making and calling for a ban on the colonial flag.

The Dragon and the Lion

The British colonial Hong Kong features an emblem or the Royal coat of arms, a crest that contains that with a Chinese dragon and a lion by the sides, to remark to its unique 'east-meets-west' design it is also briefly known as a 'dragon and lion flag' (龍獅旗) by the locals. The flag was first officially introduced in 1959. Although the colonial flag has been through several designs before this was the one that represented Hong Kong before the handover in 1997.  

The good old colonial days?
Ironically most of the flag wavers were probably too young to remember what it was like under British rule. Indeed the British were accredited for establishing a successful economic, legal and social system that has allowed Hong Kong to flourish and prosper. But of course it was not all hunky dory, the local Chinese were treated like second class citizens and discriminated by their colonial rulers. However to most who have lived through those times will have positive things to say and quite nostalgic of the past.

Despite the paranoia from authorities realistically speaking I don't believe Hong Kong will become independent or revert back to British rule. Nor were those the intentions of the anti-government protesters. HK citizens have accepted to be part of the PRC but only that they maintain Deng Xiao Ping's 'one country two system' principles. Meaning people want the least interference from the government in Beijing. The waving of colonial era flag is nothing more than a provocative move to show their frustration towards the current SAR governors that failed to maintain the system that was placed by the British rulers, as well as the incompetence to handle an array of political and social problems. It is also a reminiscent of how sophisticated the colonial government was by comparison.

A mere Facebook group will unlikely to develop into or have resources to pull off any feat that will change HK's sovereignty. However if little is done to tackle grass root issues such as housing and deteriorating of the system then the paranoia of the pro-Beijingers will only become truer each day.

Picture I took just by the harbour at TST

Friday, 14 December 2012

2011 Census: Chinese in UK

More statistics are being released recently from the 2011 Census with much more focus on ethnicity. Just as with the growth of the population in the UK, the Chinese population saw an increase from 5% (247,403) back in 2001 to 7% (393,141) according to the latest stats. That's about 58% increase in the past 10 years. However there's no further breakdown of the subgroups such as the nationality or place of birth, but I'm guessing the increase in population is largely due to the influx of immigrants particularly from mainland China. Undoubtedly the population of British born Chinese will also have increased and more or less contributed to the growth.

We often consider British Chinese to be the third largest ethnic minority group in the UK but when you start breaking down Asian and Black into other subgroups it is no longer the case. As for other East Asian groups the details are even more ambiguous. So far there aren't many other details in regards to the lifestyle and well-being of any particular groups. Again, we'll have to wait for the next batch of statistics to be released. But we can certainly say that the British Chinese community is still thriving.

Brief overview of the 2011 Census on ethnicity

More info from the BBC News site

Thursday, 29 November 2012

BBCs in British literature?

As we British Chinese have always complained about the lack of representation in the media and as well as British theatre, I also find that British Chinese are very scarce in British literature, even amongst the vast amount of works British ethnic writers. Also it seems that British born Chinese writers are pretty much absent from the literature scene. Writing; just like any art or creative related careers are not perceived to be something that you can make a stable living out of. For certain only a handful can make good money or reached to the success as with the likes of JK Rowlings. Certainly it's not the type of career that our parents would encourage us to go into.

I did find a few British Chinese writers like Jung Chang and Hong Ying. There's also Helen Tse who is a BBC (a restaurateur and known for her book Sweet Mandarin) but not as accomplished as the other two and probably just a 'one-off' novelist at the moment. To be honest with the exception of Helen Tse I haven't really heard of them or even read their books. I know that both female writers are from the immigrant generation and the subjects of their works also reflect their immigrant background. So really there haven't been many books that are based around the Chinese community and particularly relates to British born Chinese.

Feminism or Orientalism?

As with aforementioned writers their most renowned works tend to follow the same formulaic theme; they were told from the perspective of the female protagonist that follows their struggle against traditional Chinese culture and the patriarchal society. The settings are not too dissimilar from the famous novel The Joy Look Club by American Chinese novelist Amy Tan. It's possible that the authors have taken a lot influence from it. Stories that depict women struggling against the male dominated world would be greatly channelled amongst feminist circles. However not all of the novels are necessarily written for the intention of empowering women. Most of the time they may just be autobiographical or recount of someone's lives.

However the racial or ethnic aspect of these types of stories can also be problematic. When ethnic minorities bring up the subject of sexism or any problems about their own culture it can easily reinforce negative perception or stereotypical view about one's culture. In this case Chinese women being portrayed as timid submissive characters often oppressed by their traditional chauvinistic culture. Common sense will tell us that a few books is not enough to give us a deep insight into a particular culture but to non-Chinese readers this is enough to conjure up negative perception of Chinese people overlook that the messages behind the novels are much more complex. Furthermore these perceptions that are unfairly placed onto our community do not reflect the experience or lives of British born Chinese of this generation. Unfortunately some writers may exploit the exotic theme just to sell more books. This also shows that there's a lack of materials that provides an alternative or balanced perspective.

Telling the BBC story

I don't believe writers of ethnic minorities necessarily have to write books based on their cultural background, however there's a lack of material being written about the British Chinese communities especially something that represent BBCs' experience. That's why I'm hoping to see and encourage more BBCs to pick up the pen. Writing about our experience helps to get our voices across and generate better understanding of our community. What's more important is to let our presence be known. We should try to avoid perpetrating Orientalist ideas as this will only set us back, we shouldn't be constrained by our cultural heritage but take influence from it.

Considering BBCs are much fluent in the English language than the immigrant generation it's a little sad that there isn't much recognised BBC writers in British literature. We need a different or a modern perspective on the British Chinese diaspora that represents the younger generations and to dispel the stereotypical view on us. Although I don't plan to go into writing as a career but with this blog I feel that at least I'm making some contribution and I'm hoping more BBCs will do the same.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

RSC: No Chinese allowed, except in the forms of dogs and maid

Apparently this kid is not in the play. 

A recent controversy has brought to the attention of the British Chinese community over the casting over a play produced by the Royal Shakespeare Theatre called 'The Orphan of Zhao' (趙氏孤兒). The play is an adaptation of a classic Chinese play. So what's the deal? Despite the Chinese themed production apparently only three out of the 17 roles will be played by Asian casts, one as a maid and the other as puppeteers of some dogs. That means the rest will be filled by yellow-faced non-Asians. A row has been drawn out on the company's facebook page.

I'm not familiar with theatre scene myself but I'm guessing it's just the same with British films and TV, that East Asians don't get much representation or typecast into stereotypical roles. Unless they're doing crazy acrobatic stuff like in Shaolin Warriors or Monkey. But even roles that should be consist of Asian casts, non-Asian actors are preferred in the disguise of exotic make-up and dresses. Have this been a play based on African Caribbean or South Asian theme the RCA would have not given it the same treatment. This showcase once again that the so called diversity and multiculturalism we are bestowed on often exclude Chinese or East Asians. It's funny that a Chinese kid was used on their poster ad which is misleading.

 It is not a new concept for Western theatres to adopt stories from other cultures into their plays. In fact The Orphan of Zhao was the first Chinese play ever to be adopted by Europeans in the 18th Century. Similarly Shakespeare's works have been adopted into Asian plays by transcending the settings in order to bind in with their local culture. To be fair the RCA could've avoided this controversy by doing the same, if casting Asian actors is such a bane then maybe a full out European medieval setting would've worked but instead they choose to go for the old fashioned 'yellow-faced' route. The RCA try to kept it at least 'half authentic'; endorsing the exotic Chinese theme but without having any Chinese in the main roles. I'm sure our community are not short of theatrical actors/actresses. This once again implicates the problem that is facing by East Asian actors in the UK. Honestly it's better to have no Chinese in the play rather than being used as 'props' on the stage just for the sake of making up the diversity.

RCA has claimed they've tried to use a multiracial casts to represent universality and colour-blindness, but really casting white Caucasians is their own way to ensure that it'll appeal to Western audience. Like as if people are afraid of seeing 'yellow faces' on stage. So why having Chinese actors in main roles are still unacceptable? Considering Chinese megastars like Jackie Chan and Jet Li having huge appeal to Western film audience, and more recently a Korean pop song became a worldwide hit, I don't see why it can't be the same in theatre with Asian casts. Seems to us the RCA are still stuck behind the times.

Check out Madame Miaow's blog for extensive coverage.