Lost in Translation? “你是中國人嗎?” 我是英國華人. “Are you Chinese?” Yes?

Responding to recent criticism and attacks directed to my friends and I, a misunderstanding has arisen with the term ‘Chinese’ when translated, especially when combined with political connotations of whether people who are ‘#Chinese’ are solely and exclusively from China. This shift and translational and cultural misunderstanding is starting to cause considerable tensions between, shall we say, people from ESEA (East and South-East Asia) descent and origins, which is now starting to spill over into insults, attacks and threats of violence.

The term BBC (#BritishBornChinese) has been commonly used by those born in the UK who are of a Chinese heritage, whether it be from #HongKong or China for decades. However any use of the word “Chinese” is now being seen as soley and exclusively ‘Mainland Chinese’, and so Pro China, Pro CCP and anti-Hongkong’s struggle for rights. Thus, anyone who is describing themselves or in anyway useing the word ‘Chinese’ is being attacked as Anti-Hongkongers and open for attack.

‘Chinese’ has been a widely used term in the Western society for many decades. When used, on most occasions it has absolutely no attachment to the CCP, or even China.

Chinatown vs 唐人街
Chinese Association vs 華人會
Chinese restaurants vs 中餐館
Chinese School vs 中文學校

Growing up in the UK, I and many others often get asked the question ‘Where are you from?’ I would always reply, “I am British”. The bemused look back would always be “Noo.. where are you really from”. I would then patiently explain for the hundredth time that my parents are originally from Hong Kong but came over to the UK in the 70’s, and I was born in Birmingham. I am a ‘British Born Chinese. (BBC)

Many BBCs have an identity crisis, and may be hard to understand but we as BBCs genuinely suffer from prejudice on both sides.

There’s no sense of belonging anywhere- we are not ‘white’ enough to truly be British, yet

The amount of times we get told “Wow your English is really good!” is innumerable. We are too ‘banana’ to be ‘Chinese’ (HK or China). We feel embarrassed when asked if we can read Chinese characters and we can’t, hurt by racial slurs and stereotypes (Do you know Kungfu?), and feeling out of place when we travel to Hong Kong.

So, what are we? We look like we fit in on the outside, but do we really on the inside? We are in part British born Chinese. This is our identity and a sense of comfort to this term, that has been imposed upon us, but has given us an identity that we have owned and can truly say is ours. But this is a question that has followed BBCs for generations, and my children will have to grapple, and is congtinuing to evolve. A change that we all must guard against misunderstanding and seeing prejudice and political meaning where there is none

A further example- “Do you speak Chinese?’ This is followed by a pause by me because I know that technically, Chinese isn’t a spoken language- it’s Cantonese or Mandarin. So which are they referring to when asking me this question? A matter of fact is, that many do not know, they simply think it’s Chinese. You can call it ignorance, but it’s not a crime. We can help educate others by correcting them and hopefully the next time they ask this question, they will ask ‘Do you speak Cantonese or Mandarin?’.

The point is, in the past and on occasion now, this is being clumped together as a whole under the umbrella term ‘Chinese’. But with the changing of times and people becoming more sensitive to cultures, we are now starting to differentiate and becoming more specific. New terms are being coined; Hongkongers. Specificity is becoming more apparent; Hong Kong Chinese, Mainland Chinese, British Born Chinese, as well as sensitivity towards cultures are being acknowledged; Happy Lunar New Year, Spring Festival rather than Chinese New Year.

Education is the silver bullet in all things. Education and communication, understanding and empathy. It is truly a great thing that Hongkongers have found their own identity, a term perhaps only entering general vernacular from 2018 onwards. However others should not be made to feel that labels- that have been imposed upon them by society- are in some way wrong or evil because of a misunderstanding lost in translation. In the same way that a clash of cultures occured when my parents came over in 1970’s, so are Hong Kong residents holding British National Overseas Passports now finding that so much gets lost in translation. Even between peoples sharing a Chinese heritage. We must all be alive to this issue and show compassion to each other.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: