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Sohu >> 教育频道 >> 外语天地-英语频道 >> 城市漫步·that's China >> that's CHINA COVER STORY

Coming Home

LEARNING.SOHU.COM    2004年10月26日18:41  
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Coming Home


Overseas Chinese are the country's edgiest expats
In countries where much of the population is, or once was, made up of immigrant communities, individuals often deal with internal struggles of identity.

There's the desire - either within one's own heart or the hearts of one's elder family members - to maintain ethnic cultural traditions. But there's also the hope to blend in with the majority. Assimilation can be so extreme that, for instance, within a few generations a family's native tongue is no longer spoken.

"I don't really see myself as just American, because I'm not like most of them, but I don't see myself as just Chinese, because I'm not like most of them, either," says Steve Yang, 26, a Philadelphia, U.S.A. native who has been an English teacher in China for three years.

Yang is part of the newest generation of tongbao - overseas-born or -raised Chinese - returning to their ancestral land. Like other expats, they hope to ride the money train of China's emerging economy. But there's also a personal connection, an emotional link that sometimes is only realized after a person arrives in China.

"My parents got to the States 50 years ago. I definitely feel this is the place of my parents and grandparents. They're my heroes," says Larry Wang, 44, his North Carolina, U.S.A. accent just barely flavoring his speech. Wang, formerly a mechanical engineer, was transferred to Taipei 14 years ago. Then he spent time in Hong Kong, "pre-handover," as he says. Based on his and others' experiences, he founded Wang & Li Asian Resources, which recruits both native and foreign-born Chinese professionals and has offices in Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai.

It has been relatively easy for tongabo to return, he says. "The mainland Chinese, for many years, have had organizations that really try to maintain relations with overseas Chinese. I have a friend who is of Japanese descent, who said the Japanese don't make it easy for foreign-born people to go back. But the Chinese do."

Wang authored The New Gold Mountain, a guide for Chinese Westerners seeking success in their familial homeland, as well as Know The Game, Play The Game, a similar tome that advises locals who want to join multinational companies. Five years ago, his clientele were 75 percent tongbao. Though that number has shrank to about 15 percent today, Wang concedes many who come here - especially those in their 20s and 30s -don't necessarily want to join the world of big business.

"Entrepeneurs enjoy this lifestyle. They see a need and work to fill it." Wang says. On the other hand, "The younger you are, there's less risk and more cost-benefit, and those are the people who are here to 'find their roots.'"

Like Susan Li, the CCTV-9 business news anchor. Li, 26, gave up a stable job at the Canadian Broadcasting Company in Toronto because she "wanted adventure," but a month after landing here, she was hired at CCTV-9. "I really feel privileged to be here," Li says with her trademark enthusiasm.

British-born Erica Wu agrees. "Definitely in Europe, people with my background, who have the opportunity to come to the Far East to work, would take it," says Wu, 30, managing director of EEC Beijing, an events company. "We have opportunities here that are not possible in Britain."

"Repatriate" isn't the most accurate word for the foreign-born or overseas-raised, since many plan to go back West someday. But others can't imagine leaving China while it remains a socio-economic boomtown, whose riches are open to anyone with the know-how and desire to mine them.

"As China entered into a burgeoning economy, my desire to come back here grew," says Yanning Li, 30, who started a web-based education company here eight years ago. Li, from Edmonton, Canada, soon sold that business; she and her 27-year-old brother, Da, now run Deya, a consulting company for cutting-edge environmental technology businesses. "As I grew with the growth of China, [my parents] started to realize how wise my decision was."

Because they are Chinese themselves, locals don't see tongbao as "carpet-baggers" - outsiders who arrive in an economically depressed area to make a quick buck. Says California girl Wendy Mock, 24, a China Radio International host: "I think some Chinese see foreigners as just here on business, or to make money - but they see me and say, 'You're Chinese, you should be here.'"

And some are content to do simply that.

Like 29-year-old singer/actor Peter Ho, known among his Chinese fans as He Rundong, who only returns to Canada to visit his grandmothers during the Spring Festival. He feels more comfortable in China: "I'm still more conservative, because of how I was raised."

"I think some Chinese see foreigners as just here on business, or to make money - but they see me and say, 'You're Chinese, you should be here.'" - Wendy Mock, China Radio International host


Peter Ho


" I went to a house party when I was 14, and saw this one guy pull out a bunch of guns, trying to impress people. There were guys and girls kissing everywhere. So I was a loner." - Peter Ho, a.k.a. He Rundong, singer/actor

Peter Ho was born in Los Angeles, lived in Taipei from age 4 months to 13 years, then moved to Toronto, where he stayed until finishing university.

"My sister and all, they live in Toronto and want to stay. They're pretty 'whitewashed,'" Ho says. "I'm happy here. It's more interesting here."

His English sounds as native as any other laid-back North American artist, and indeed, he would be a graphic designer if he hadn't been "discovered" at karaoke during a post-college vacation in Taiwan. He was offered an album deal, which led to TV and film roles, making him popular both in China and other Asian countries. His newest TV show, Zonghua Xiaodangjia ("it's about evil chefs who try to take over the world through food"), has Japanese actors and will be broadcast during Spring Festival in Japan and Hong Kong as well as China.

Not bad for a little boy whose sister used to stand on the coffee table, holding a toothpaste tube like a mic, and force him to act like an adoring fan.

On growing up Chinese in a Western world:

It was a culture shock when we moved to Toronto. I went to a house party when I was 14, and saw this one guy pull out a bunch of guns, trying to impress people. There were guys and girls kissing everywhere. So I was a loner - that's why I went into art.

On dual identity:

When I was little, English was my most fluent language, though I spoke Cantonese at home. When I moved to Taiwan (at age 21), my English suffered.

On success in China:

 The Chinese market is big enough already, so I don't really plan to do English albums or go "international."


"In 1985, people I met in China would say, 'Congratulations,' just for being an American-born Chinese." - Larry Wang, managing director, Wang & Li Asia Resources


Larry Wang

Born in New York state and raised in Raleigh, North Carolina, Wang came to China as a mechanical engineer when his company sent him to Taiwan. Ironically, Wang says, "I didn't speak Mandarin. I learned it when I went to Taipei 14 years ago." Sensing a need to help both XBCs (X-country Born Chinese) and bilingual locals, Wang eventually founded Wang & Li Asian Resources. Friendly in an American Southerner way, which may be why his seminars are popular, Wang's office in the capital overflows with birthday greetings from his young nieces in America, photos of family and friends, even a few decorative bottles of wine and liquor.

On why China entices "repats":

I know a lot of people who are very successful, with a 10-year career or more, and they're here for business success, though cultural aspects round it out.

On growing up Chinese in a Western world:

Chinese School [a weekend cultural school] was a brand-new thing back when I was a kid. My nieces [in America today] are exposed to other Chinese kids, but I wasn't.

On dual identity:

I would still maintain that I feel more American than Chinese. But the 10 percent that's Chinese are things I value - my pride in my culture, my family, my desire to be part of the development of the Chinese people. I'm never conscious of people assessing me based on whether I'm Chinese or non-Chinese.

On connecting with locals:

In 1985, people I met in China would say "Congratulations" just for being an American-born Chinese.

On why he'll stay:

To go back to America permamently would be weird. This is an adrenaline junkie kind of place.


"Mentality-wise, I think I'm more British. But I feel at home because everyone looks the same as me." - Erica Wu, managing director, EEC Beijing


Erica Wu was born in Liverpool, moved to Taipei as a child and returned to London in 1994 to earn a degree in media studies. Though she enjoyed working in New York and London, Wu says she would have been "moving sideways" in her career if she stayed in the West. Wu founded her own events company, EEC Beijing, and cuts a chic figure at networking events for foreigners.

On why China entices:

A lot of single people I know who were British-born Chinese, who lived in England, want to see what it's like in China. I know quite a few people here with my background, some who don't even speak Chinese - professionals, accountants, lawyers, consultants.

On dual identity:

People here don't get straight to the point, and have difficulty saying no. Mentality-wise, I think I'm more British. But I feel at home because everyone looks the same as me.

On the advantage of having a Chinese visage:

 China has only really opened to the West several years ago. Some people aren't used to the idea of being an international country. A lot of Chinese aren't used to dealing with foreigners.
Erica Wu


Susan Li
"My parents' view of China was that it was very closed, and that Western countries offer everything." - Susan Li, CCTV-9 broadcaster

Li, like many expats, enjoys a lifestyle she might not have back home. Like other expats, the CCTV-9 broadcaster has greater opportunities here - for example, she gets to interview Canadian politicians when they visit here, a perk available only to the most senior broadcasters when she worked at the Canadian Broadcasting Company. Li's family emigrated from Guangzhou to Toronto when she was 2, and she had been thoroughly prepared for her visit to China - "My family was into Chinese movies, Chinese TV shows, the latest music and videos."

On her parents' reaction:

My parents' view of the country was that it was very closed, and that Western countries offer everything. They said, "How can you give up your stable job?"

On growing up Chinese in a Western world:

I did go to Chinese School [a weekend cultural school]. I felt "different" from the other kids. And I could have been playing with my friends.

On success both in business and in one's familial bonds:

 My grandmother has satellite TV, so she watches my broadcasts. My parents are proud - their daughter is back in the homeland as a broadcaster, where they had grown up admiring broadcasters.


Steve Yang

Until college, Yang's Chinese vocabulary consisted of "blue" and "green," he says. "When my sister and I hit kindergarten, we thought, 'Nobody outside our family speaks Chinese. We don't need to know this.'" A linguistics major from the United States, he came to China to teach English and learn about his heritage. He got more than he bargained for - a penchant for teaching, first prize in a kung fu competition and a Korean-Chinese fiancée, Angela Li, who plans to return with Yang when he goes home to get a master's degree in education.

On why China entices:

We would go to other Chinese families' houses and they would do things I thought were "weird." I had thought, "If I don't do something, my kids won't know anything about their culture."

On growing up Chinese in a Western world:

I was in elementary school, doing these tests, and for statistical reasons they had you check off your "race" - there was "white," "black," "Hispanic" and "other." I knew I wasn't white, and I knew I wasn't black, so I thought, "Oh, I must be Hispanic."

On dual identity:

 A lot of Western people at work I run into think, "He's Chinese, so he must be really good at kung fu." But then Chinese friends think, "He's American, so he's probably not very good."


"I was in elementary school, doing these tests, and for statistical reasons they had you check off your "race" - there was 'white,' 'black,' 'Hispanic' and 'other.' I knew I wasn't white, and I knew I wasn't black, so I thought, 'Oh, I must be Hispanic.'" - Steve Yang, English teacher


Wendy Mock

"I have white and black friends who speak Mandarin much better than I do. At a restaurant, when they order, the waiter keeps looking at me, like I'm a ventriloquist." - Wendy Mock, China Radio International host
Mock, a San Francisco native, seems the ingénue: Though she came here a few years ago for a seven-week program teaching Americans about China, her sparkling eyes still look impressed by the country she'd only heard about from her parents, both of whom were from Guangzhou. "I feel like I understand where my parents are coming from," says Mock, a China Radio International host. " I made a deal with them - if I learned all this Chinese stuff in Beijing, I could go to South Africa. When I got here, I fell in love with China, the culture, the language. I really wanted to stay."

On her parents' reaction:

They never envisioned me going to China to work after college! It's like the reverse of the Chinese-American dream for their children.

On dual identity:

In China I feel very, very American, and not Chinese despite how I look. I have white and black friends who speak Mandarin very, very well - much better than I do. At a restaurant, when they order, the waiter keeps looking at me, like I'm a ventriloquist or something.

On forging deeper familial bonds:

My dad went to college here [in Beijing], and it's surreal, walking around and thinking that my father was here. My dad would always make us ride trains, and when we'd get to the destination, we'd get off and take a train right back. He always rode trains all around China when he was in college. Now that I've ridden through the countryside on the trains here, I really understand him better.


Yanning Li

"I hold some very traditional Chinese values, but approach things in a Western way... I would never send my parents to an old folks home, but I prefer a direct way of communication with friends and business associates." Yanning Li, director, Deya

With her willowy frame, youthful face and serene disposition, some may find it hard to believe that before age 30, Li had already sold her first company to a NASDAQ-traded corporation, which she founded here in 1997 after graduate school. Li and her brother, Da, and their parents (father from Bejing, mother from Nanjing) and grandparents emigrated to Edmonton, Canada when she was 11 and he was 8. The two siblings now run Deya, a consulting business for foreign high-tech environmental companies.

On why China entices:

Six thousand years of history has left a rich and deep culture. Only in the last 10 years has China really opened its doors to the West on its own terms. It would be crazy for someone like myself - someone with knowledge of both Chinese and Western worlds - to not come here to participate in this magical place.

On her parents' reaction:

My parents couldn't understand why I wanted to return to China initially. After all, they went through all that "hardship" to immigrate to Canada so that my brother and I could enjoy the cushy life in North America.

On dual identity:

I hold some very traditional Chinese values, but approach things in a Western way. For example, I would never send my parents to an old folks home, but at the same time, I prefer a direct way of communication with friends and business associates.

On becoming successful:

Our business is about this dual culture. We help foreign partners make sense of this place, formulate the appropriate strategies and make money here while taking care of the community here. If you don't have a deep appreciation for both cultures and ways of thinking, you can never do that.

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