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.

1 comment:

  1. Are British Chinese writers rare? or do we simply lack media profile? Perhaps both. I've had a wide range of books published - political theory, philosophy, a novel, but since I don't write about the 'immigrant' experience, I don't seem to tick the media interest box.