Half Chinese, half Australian
From Griffith REVIEW Edition 36: What is Australia For?
© Copyright Griffith University & the author.
Written by Frances Guo
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Frances Guo’s biography and other articles by this writer
IN 1990, while dark clouds still hung over Tiananmen, I packed up my life in Beijing and landed in Melbourne with my northern Chinese face and Chinese brain. Twenty years later my face is still Chinese but my Chinese brain has somehow shrunk. This new land, which greeted me with its warm blue sky, then tested me with the cold reality of survival and loneliness, has somehow crept inside me and taken over at least half my mind.
Although my passport has long shown that I am Australian, it has taken me much longer to get used to my new identity. Who am I? Why am I here? Where is home? For years these questions have haunted me, a ghostly echo in my head. It must be the curse for all adult migrants – a life torn between past and present, old homeland and new; between two lands, two cultures, two peoples. So much so that in 1999 I uprooted my life again, escaped Melbourne and returned to China, my ‘real' home, only to find myself facing the reality of yet another cultural shock, and an even more acute identity crisis.
Mixing among my colleagues at the Australian Embassy in Beijing I stood out as unmistakably Chinese, despite my improved English and my official Australian identity. Outside the embassy's black marble walls, among free-spirited Chinese pedestrians, humble bicycle riders and proud drivers of new cars, I blended in easily but still often felt like a stranger, a cultural mixed-blood under her Chinese skin, a woman who had turned herself into a self-exiled half-caste, a half-foreigner from both sides.
Torn by my dual identity, four years later I packed up my life in Beijing and left my first homeland a second time. Blessed with Sydney's beautiful scenery and regular business trips to China, my life finally became more settled. Having a Chinese face and a mind both Chinese and Australian became a blessing, rather than a curse. But just when I finally began to feel comfortable with my dual identity, a work training session in the heart of my adopted city upset the fragile balance again.
FEELING THE WARMTH of the morning sun through the plate-glass of the office tower, I look out to the glittering blue harbour, gazing at the white sails of the Sydney Opera House. This is the top end of town, where office towers and hotels define the city skyline.
‘China has a 200-year strategy – first Hong Kong, Taiwan, then Africa and South America; step by step, it will take over the world!' announces a white Australian woman to her audience.
My lips sneak a sarcastic smile. Sitting in front of me, a young man turns his blond head around to check the reaction of the only Asian face in the room.
I don't know why I am here for Asian skills training. Perhaps I am invited for the psychological experiment – to demonstrate how aggressive Asians can be, and how they should be led? And who is this woman? Where did she get her Asian ‘insights'? Glancing at her cold face, I can't help wondering: why does she sound so alarmed, and so...anti-China? Aren't we, Australia, part of Asia now? And isn't China our number-one export client?
I challenge her in my head. I wish I could stand up and speak up, but my face remains wooden, my body immobile. It must be my Chinese upbringing. I curse myself – I have been conditioned to respect those in power, to do all I can to avoid conflict.
To ease the tension, I fix my eyes on a small ferry moving past the Opera House and into open water. I suppose you can take the girl out of China but you can't take China out of the girl, I tell myself. Like it or not, no matter how much I feel like screaming, this Chineseness deep inside me stifles the scream in my throat, keeps my face calm, turns my mind philosophical, sometimes even indifferent, in order to maintain my politeness and keep out of trouble.
I cannot see the grand ambition that this woman claims China harbours. China still faces tremendous domestic challenges and its vast rural areas still struggle with poverty. I doubt China has ambition to conquer the world; historically, it has no track record of territorial ambitions anyway. As Bob Hawke once pointed out, back in the fifteenth century Admiral Zheng He's 300-ship fleet went as far as Mozambique, but unlike western explorers he did not conquer any of these lands. After all, China is an ancient civilisation growing out of inland rivers; as a result, we are more interested in our own land, families and Middle Kingdom than the outside world.