Everywhere we went, people asked us which country we were from. At point, May, my older daughter, aged at 14 (but going on 18) replied without thinking: “We are from England.” I immediately contracted her: “I am from China and my daughters are half-Chinese.” Later I pulled May aside and asked: “You were born in China; you spent 10 out of 14 years in China and you are living in China. How does it qualify you as ‘English’?” May blinked her big round eyes. “Well, if I tell people I am Chinese, people wouldn’t believe me.”
True, May doesn’t look very Chinese, with her fair skin and brown air, especially the way she carries herself. My younger daughter Kirsty, who has darker complexion and more delicate facial features, looks a little more oriental. Yet they both identify themselves as British, culturally, even though they describe themselves as “half-Chinese and half-British”. They go to British School in Beijing and almost all of their friends are English-speaking.
It’s been a battle to inject the Chinese part of the culture into them. I speak Chinese to them and they often reply in English. For half of the time they stay with me (they spend another half with their father, my ex-husband) I try to ask them to write a few characters or I read them a story in Chinese. They see this as a task, a burden and a bargaining tool to get their pocket money instead of “an amazing opportunity that will open doors for them in the future”. They like Chinese food but prefer western food.
What concerns me is the fact that my children seem to think the western culture is superior – though they may not make such statement. If they describe something, for example, someone’s outfit, hairstyle or manner, as ‘very Chinese’, it usually contains negative connotation.