Monday, 07 September 2015 11:13

Becoming Asian

About twenty years ago, I had become a vegetarian and occasionally went to the potluck gatherings of the Boston Vegetarian Society. It was a small group where I felt reasonably welcome. Only in retrospect did I realize that its members were almost entirely white. The president was personable and always chatted with me every time I was there. When I left Boston for an academic position near Chicago, he gave me the phone number of a friend of his, who happened to be active in Chicago Vegetarian Society.


I met her at the Society's vegetarian Thanksgiving dinner, held in a huge banquet hall in a fancy Chicago hotel. After so many years I have forgotten what we talked about, except for one thing. Knowing that I was new in town, she suggested that I join the Asian American Association. I do not remember what I said in response, but for a long time I was thinking: What for?
That watershed moment marked the beginning of the end of my "pre-racial" self. Of course China was part of Asia, therefore I am Asian, but Asia being huge and diverse, I did not know any more about India than Canada. There have always been many Chinese friends in my social life, which occurred most naturally, as I had spent twenty-five years of my life in China, but it had never occurred to me to feel a special bond with anyone simply because he or she was Asian.


On the contrary, during the short amount of time when I roamed the world more or less unattached, I tended to choose where I went based on what I wanted to do, which sometimes landed me with groups in which almost no one else looked like me. During my last year in Boston while finishing my dissertation, I joined an international folk dance group. It was a friendly group welcoming to new members. I ran into them a sunny summer day when they danced at Copley Square during a summer festival, after which I regularly danced with them on weekend nights.


The group had mostly East-European village dances, easy to follow on the fly. I had never been to East Europe or known any real villages, but the idea of village dances appealed to me, much more than night clubs with loud music where everyone seems so perplexingly excited. I nostalgically imagined a village square where people who danced together belonged to the same community. The group boasted a large repertoire of dances, so I was never bored. I also made friends who invited me to some other folk dance venues. My favorite place was a small historic town hall for square and contra dances. I found square dance dazzlingly beautiful, while contra dance made me feel exhilaratingly happy and free, perhaps because as dancers move from one end of the room to the other, they get to dance with other people's partners.


I never joined the Asian American Society as I did not know what I would do there if all we held in common was the fact that we came from somewhere in Asia, not to say that whatever shared history we may have does not necessarily unite us. I considered "Asian American", with or without a hyphen, a politically constructed identity: it combines vastly different racial and ethnic groups which otherwise would be, even more, statistically overlooked. I did not go back to the Chicago Vegetarian Society either. As I put down roots in America's heartland where I originally knew nobody else, I realized that vegetarianism was just a small piece of my life's puzzle and could not compete with more powerful forces that formed its web.


My pre-racial self was partly shaped by my first few years in the U.S. in a PhD program specialized in the French Enlightenment, "living and breathing in French literature", as one of my fellow students jokingly remarked. I was selected to participate in the exchange program with the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris, after being assured by my professors that their choice would be made solely based on academic merit, "regardless of students' nationality or ethnic background." When against all odds, I landed a tenure-track position in French close to Chicago, I gratefully and sincerely believed myself to be an embodiment of American dream.


Leaving the high-minded academics in my PhD program to settle in the larger society has not always been easy, but I had an ample supply of meek resilience. Born in a small city in the remote Sichuan province in China, I completed my first grade in an elementary school in a rural town where my mother was "sent down" to teach. As I gradually moved to better schools and finally entered Peking University, I had learned to tune out subtle or not so subtle messages from those who looked down upon "outsiders from small places." Along with many people in similar situations, I had been used to living in the margins and learned to shrug off the unpleasant to focus on the positive. One of the few times when I felt outraged was when horrible things happened to other people: when I read about Danny Chen's suicide, I was so overwhelmed with grief that I cried, in a crowded airport.


As a mother I tried to raise my daughter in an intercultural environment, with an earnest post-racial mindset. Before she started high school and became too busy to travel with me, we spent roughly the same number of summers in France as in China, immersed in the languages and cultures. In fact, for three summers, she had month-long stays in three different host families in Blois, France, the first time with me, and twice by herself, while I directed my university's study abroad program. In middle school, she opted to study Spanish instead of French, because she wanted to learn one more language. She chose to celebrate two of her birthdays in her favorite Chinese restaurant, which happened to be a Sichuanese restaurant with mostly spicy food. Watching her joyfully interacting with her friends of various races, I felt relieved and grateful thinking that my daughter was, literally and figuratively, comfortable in her skin, and well integrated.


The spring of her junior year, however, she applied for and got a summer internship with Asian American Advancing Justice, a not-for-profit organization that helps disadvantaged Asian Americans, including refuges. How come a "post-racial" mother did not raise a "post-racial" child? Was it because when she was seven, a girl in her dance class asked her how she could be American since she was Chinese? Was it because when she was in second grade, a white girl refused to sit by her in the bus during a school excursion? Was it because she had to deal with derogatory jokes about Asians by some of her schoolmates? Was it because in middle school, her friends were all encouraging her to date a Korean-American boy because they were oh so similar, except she did not think they were? Was it because she ended up making friends with many Asian-American teens and realized that they do share similar challenges?


Those who complained about "hyphenated Americanism" would do well to remember that it is derived as much, if not more sometimes, from other people's perception than from self-identification. It may be the experience of growing up being perceived as others that makes Asian American children acutely realize their hyphenated identity – deleting the hyphen does not make a substantial difference. They became Asian not because of what happened in that immense continent where their parents or ancestors came from, but because of their shared experience in the country they call home. Their moral outrage about racial inequality is also deeply rooted in American egalitarianism. They are not born Asian, but paradoxically, it is by becoming Asian that they become more American.

(Drawing by Bendu)


Monday, 31 March 2014 00:00

My Eyelid (Is Not) My Identity

I have a nice colleague who once told me that she loved "Chinese eyes". I was as surprised as when I first heard from French tourists that Chinese have les yeux bridés. Whatever does that mean? Among Chinese, we think we either have double or mono eyelids, perceived to be hugely different. I was then shocked to read about the suggestion, from American and French presses, as well as from some English-monolingual writers of Asian origin who do not have much contact with Asian communities, that Asian women go through double eyelid surgery so that they can look more Westernized, or as a form of "internalized racism". That is a serious charge unknown to most Chinese people. It is not much help that the most vocal people to oppose this view tend to be connected to beauty industries. Even though statistically they know more Asian women who have gone through the procedure, their financial interest makes their opinion less credible. Since no one wants to be "spoken for" nowadays, I might as well say something about my eyelid and my identity. I will limit myself to the Chinese case whenever possible because I do not claim to know enough about all the Asian cultures.

Having double eyelids in no way makes a Chinese woman look Westernized. I have natural double eyelids and live in the "West", but no one has ever thought I bear any resemblance to a Westerner; on the other hand, I have met Vietnamese or Japanese who mistook me for one of their own. As far as I know, people have always preferred double eyelids in China, even during the decades of Mao Zedong's reign when no Western movies were allowed. Actresses in leading roles almost invariably have double eyelids, to the point that a few years ago, when a beautiful woman with single eyelids played the leading role in the film Under the Hawthorn Tree (2010), all my Chinese friends noticed the "momentous" change and wondered if mono eyelids were finally becoming fashionable. In fact, people as old as my father remember their parents also thought women with double eyelids were prettier. The pressure mainly comes from Chinese community itself. Double eyelid surgery is one of the most frequently performed procedures in China or Chinese communities elsewhere in the world. Contrary to some gruesome procedures, it is almost non-controversial. All of us know someone who has done it and people increasingly do not keep it a secret as the practice became more common. Since it is not rude among Chinese to give unsolicited advice, when a girl has mono eyelids, it is not unusual for some affectionate aunties (ayi) who are not really her aunts to tell her:

- You would be even more beautiful if you had double eyelids! It is really an easy surgery!

As someone who considers getting ear piercings (holes) too painful and settles for wearing only necklaces, I am the last one to advocate for plastic surgeries. I am glad to live now in a society where many people are or claim to be open-minded to different types of beauty, but we need to realize the challenge others face in their own cultural environment. It is easy to take the moral high ground and judge Chinese women who go through double eyelid surgery, but I can put myself in their place, because they can be my friends, my sisters and my daughters, and I know that my eyelid is not my identity.

Since my mother has double eyelids and my father single eyelids, it was through pure luck that I inherited the culturally more desirable feature. My younger sister, however, was born with monolids. Strangely, when she just woke up her eyelids would look double for a while, or when she rubbed her eyes, which she did more often than our parents liked. Maybe she had a hidden or very shallow crease. Then in her twenties, her eyelids became double even when she was not rubbing them or waking up. I noticed the change during a visit:

- Oh, they just became like this little by little! She said as if it were nothing.

Who would have believed that? But I did, and for many years. Then it dawned on me she might have done what many other women did.

- How...How did your eyelids become double? I tried to sound as casual as possible over the phone.
- I just got a surgery! It was so wonderful! She giggled like a little girl.

She already had a job, and an adoring husband. But so many women she knew were getting them, with stunning results. She chose the simple technique of "stitching threads", which leaves no scar, and with quick recovery time.

- Did it hurt?
- Not at all! And it took less time than a haircut!
- What...what did brother-in-law think?
- He was thrilled. I surprised him. He saw my double eyelids when he was walking upstairs, and liked them right away. Oh, it was the happiest day in my life!

It was the same old happiness, perhaps, as when Cinderella somehow got her party outfit. It did not occur to me to ask her if she internalized Western beauty standard, or if she betrayed our father's heritage. I knew the answer was no, and no.

The first time when I came upon an Asian woman (I could not tell her exact ethnicity) with single eyelids on a magazine cover either in France or in the U.S., I experienced a moment when "one hundred feelings mixed up simultaneously" (baigan jiaoji). Seeing a woman who would have had a hard time in a school dance in China look confident in her attractiveness revealed to me that perhaps in this world beauty might be somewhat relative and culturally constructed. It reminded me that it was beneficial to expand the range of our beauty tastes for the sake of our own and other people's pleasures. The realization made me feel bad for all the Chinese women with single eyelids who did not have the luck of being discovered and appreciated by Western lenses. But I also wondered if it could reflect a subtle form of orientalism: that is how Westerners think Asian women typically look.

Sometimes our poor eyes can only perceive what our heart or mind want them to see. A longtime Chinese diplomat and Francophile, who had spent years in France, wrote a book in Chinese about his wonderful impressions living in the Hexagon (Impressions in France, Falanxi yinxiang): one of his greatest pleasures while traveling there was to ask directions to "slim and graceful blond women with blue eyes". You wonder how long he normally would need to wait. I know that French women don't get fat (that is the title of a popular book in the U.S.), but it is safe to think that his pleasure would have been reduced at least by half if it had depended on talking with blond women with blue eyes (jinfa biyan, the Chinese stereotype of Westerners) in France, because he would have had at least equal chance of running into women with different eye or hair colors. Believing that single eyelids constitute a distinctive feature of Chinese women is not much different from thinking that French women typically have blond hair and blue eyes: what about the other (roughly) half?

Once single eyelids were made the distinctive mark of Chinese women despite the fact that a significant proportion of them naturally have double eyelids, any attempts to modify them through make-up or surgery can be viewed as an identity issue. We can observe an obvious double standard: when a brunette dyes her hair blond, a blond dyes her hair red or black, a curly woman straightens her hair, fair-skinned people sunbath or use tanning beds risking cancer to obtain darker skin, those widespread practices are not perceived to involve their identity even though they alter their natural look. Sometimes well-meaning people interpret too much through racial lenses. Instead of going as far as those who accused them of psychological projection or cultural imperialism, I would rather think they simply overlooked some important facts. My late foot-bound grandmother, who had never seen a single Westerner in her entire life, told me that "whiteness of skin covers a hundred flaws", which happened to be a common saying in China. In case you still think she was somehow influenced by Western standard, an influential poem from the Book of Poetry, written several hundred years B.C., describes a great beauty as having skin as white as "frozen fat". I do not know why my ancestors of the time preferred fair skin, but it was probably not due to internalized racism.

It is not my intention here to discuss the pros and cons of plastic surgeries, or its place in the continuum of things we do to embellish our appearance based on beauty standards du jour. Employment discrimination based on irrelevant and ridiculous criteria such as eyelids should be illegal, but then in a market economy, if enough kings/customers in certain places make their business decisions according to the perceived beauty of the vendors, it will be difficult to enforce such a ban. At the very least, when a Chinese woman decides to get double eyelid surgery, please do not assume that she is having an identity crisis or she is denying her cultural heritage. She most likely just wants to look as beautiful as her own mother or supposedly luckier "sisters" who constitute her reference group. The tapestry of our identity cannot be reduced to the shape of our eyelids, or whatever we do with them.

 

Drawing by Bendu


Friday, 13 August 2010 16:03

Is Asia Pacific? Interreligious conflicts, dialogue and inventiveness in today’s Asia

There is no need to underline the dizzying diversity of Asia’s religious landscape. I do not intend here to attempt even a preliminary sketch of the patchwork of faiths and traditions that extend from Pakistan to Japan… I just would like to point out some general trends that have emerged in the last two or three decades, trends that have been partly reshaping the setting of Asia’s religions. Also, I would like to reflect on the challenges that these trends are creating. Furthermore, I’d like to suggest a few possible answers that Christianity could articulate in response to current developments, provided that Christians wish indeed to become “peacemakers” as the Sermon on the Mount calls them to be. Such responses may also inspire the ones brought forward by other religions. In any case, interreligious dialogue in Asia has become an endeavor that no religion can escape from, not only for spiritual reasons but also in order to achieve the following goals: (a) progressing towards national and ethnic reconciliation (b) ensuring religious freedom and other civil rights (c) tackling global challenges (dialogue of civilizations, ecology, struggle against consumerism, development of a global ethic.)

Revivalism and Identity Crisis

Revivalism has become a predominant religious trend. The clearest example is provided by the new vitality found by Islam in Asia, as is also the case in other parts of the world. Such fact is of utmost importance: Indonesia is the most populated Muslim nation in the world; Bangladesh and Pakistan have overwhelming Muslim majorities, and Malaysia has also a Muslim majority, though not as pronounced; India has a strong Muslim minority; and Muslim populations are located on conflict-prone frontier regions in the Philippines, Thailand and China.

The point here is that such “vitality” - experienced with different feelings according to the standpoint of the observer - encompasses an array of very different phenomena that have to be carefully distinguished:

- A kind of revivalist atmosphere stressing both Islamic and ethnic pride on a background of post-colonial sensitivity and widespread religious education, affecting the consciousness of Muslim populations all around Asia.

- Marginal violent movements carrying attacks, movements often fostered by international networks.

- Pervasive political strategies trying to impose and enforce Islamic laws and Islamic state apparatus; such strategies threaten the fabric of the secular state (which was a feature of post-colonial Asia) or lead some states that from the start were not altogether secular to become openly theocratic.

- At the same time, it is important to note that, since 2001. Muslin communities often suffer from accrued hostility and prejudices, especially in countries where they are a minority - and these prejudices can reinforce violence and deviant behaviors. Some of these communities also suffer from disadvantageous social background and economic conditions.

A few additional remarks are in order:

- Among these trends, the third one might be the most preoccupying one. In history, such strategies have led to the annihilation/assimilation of populations living in Muslin societies and professing other faiths. Strategies vary according to the size of the proportion of the Muslim population and the overall political situation. A distinction is to be made between Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Malaysia on the one hand, and the other countries of the region where Muslims are a vocal minority, sometimes with complaints rooted into national history. At the same time, further comparison between Bangladesh and Pakistan for instance might help us to assess better the role of cultural or international factors in religious attitudes: Bangladesh prides itself of a spirit of tolerance and accommodation seemingly lacking in Pakistan. This opposition of style between two Moslem countries leads back to an array of cultural and political factors deeply anchored into the collective memory of the two protagonists.

- In countries with Muslim majority, Christians of tribal origin generally constitute the most vulnerable population when it comes to forced conversion and discrimination. At the same time, Christians who are social leaders because of their wealth, occupation or educational level are often at the frontline of ongoing confrontations (this is patent in Pakistan).

- Of course, besides the Islamic revival, other sources of concern exist, which strongly influence interreligious conflicts and cooperation on the continent as a whole: authoritarian States manipulative of religions or even of interreligious dialogue; revivalist political/religious currents and organizations that might go with the assertion of a “national’ religion (in a Buddhist context, the phenomenon can be observed in Sri-Lanka); materialism and consumerism as they are cutting off the very roots of interreligious dynamics and dialogue.

- With the exception of Vietnam maybe, one notes everywhere a strong growth of Protestantism, most of the time under a fundamentalist and proselytizing garb, which often exacerbates tensions already existing. Proselytism also characterizes new religions, which are in the rise in many countries. As a consequence of this increase of religious communalism, a country like China is much less “syncretistic” than in the past and, witnesses a new assertiveness of believers who are conscious of clear-cut confessional divisions.


bv_buddhist_temple_bkk_2010

In a Buddhist temple in Bangkok (July 2010)

What is to be done?

1) In a context marked by potential or actual confrontations, but also by encounters and fluctuating frontiers, believers should not renounce the ideal of living and praying side by side as a privileged form of dialogue. Sometimes, and in different circles, there have been hesitations and reservations on a form of interreligious dialogue rooted into the fact of praying side by side. Still, one can reasonably think that God takes more pleasure in seeing people praying together than killing each other… Prayer often manifests itself as a kind of “revolutionary force”, and religious leaders are well advised to let and encourage people find their own way of associating their prayers in times and places of conflicts, natural disasters, or just for building up brotherly neighborhoods. Actually, what might be the most dangerous feature of violence is the fact that it exercises a kind of fascination that leads all people involved to a hardening of their own identity, fostering a chain of violent reactions - violent in spirit even when not in deeds. In this light, and even if such posture looks “idealistic”, the importance of a spiritual, even “mystical” approach towards interreligious understanding cannot be overlooked.

2) At the same time, it is impossible not to tackle directly the political dimension of interreligious encounters (understood as dialogue and tensions): ethnic or national revivalist movements and religious revivals are associated phenomena; ethnic, partisan and religious lines are often blurred. In the Catholic Church, a document of the Second Vatican Council, Dignitatis Humanae, has established the principle of religious freedom, associating it with a reflection on the mission, nature and duties of the state. At the same time, the text was strongly influenced by the American constitutionalism tradition. Asian religious leaders now need to clarify their stance about the secular state (which most of them tend to belittle or flatly reject.) Asian religions should debate of their political principles and, hopefully, agree on a few pressing tasks: (a) definition of the secular state, (b) pushing towards further regional union, encompassing a bill of rights emphasizing the spiritual roots of Asia (both their diversity and their strength), (c) working for equality among sexes (which might constitute the most important check against radical Islam on the long run)… Also going along this “political imperative”, arises the exigency to be always truthful about history. Interreligious and inter-ethnic encounters are made possible or are blocked by narratives that are shared or are conflicting. When they happen in a context where conflicting narratives are honestly recognized and retold, such encounters operate as a healing of memories.

3) Asia is a region marked by an irreducible linguistic, cultural and religious diversity. Traditionally seen by Christianity as a practical and theological challenge, such diversity is actually a treasure that needs to be assessed, appreciated and interpreted. Peace-building is thus to be seen as an ongoing endeavor inseparable from the development of interreligious dialogue: both tasks are anchored into an interpretative process through which cultures, creeds and world-views are perpetually reshaped. On the long run, the “translation” of traditional languages and narratives that the in-depth meeting with the Other makes possible nurtures a creative reinterpretation of one’s spirituality and faith.

4) Value education and other actions conducive to a culture of dialogue must target in priority women and the youth, as these two sectors are the ones who are susceptible to foster in the future a less rigid and more compassionate social culture. Value education starts from existential requirements such as the importance of honesty, mutual respect and joy. Interreligious cooperation is actually anchored into the nurturing of basic values that, ideally, could and should be taught in the schools of a pluralistic secular state.

A “musical” metaphor might help us to ascertain what is at stake in such encounters: we all have different musical tastes, different “ears”, and yet we are called to do music together. What then will come out of our musical disagreements? At the end of the day, we cannot bet for sure on the kind of music that God likes and composes. Maybe He does not compose in the C scale or in B moll, maybe He composes a kind of serial or computer-generated music that goes through disharmonies and rhythmic breaks – music that we do not immediately appreciate. Creative music generally challenges our listening habits - and we can assume that God indeed is a creative composer.


Friday, 22 February 2013 00:00

China’s shadow cast upon the textbooks of Taiwan and Hong Kong

In recent times Taiwan and Hong Kong have both gotten caught up in text book controversies, although these have root in different political contexts, they are both closely tied to the "rise" of China and its expansionist policies.


Tuesday, 30 October 2012 17:21

Sakenge Kazangiman: Law and the power of the People

My motivation for participating in this activity, stems from the fact that when I was evaluating the Canada international exchange which I took part in a year ago, I realized that, in certain aspects, aboriginal affairs and the law can work together, as well as internationally on top aborigines about modern law and traditional systems under attack and their response. Afterwards, I took part in the “Aboriginal international affairs personnel training”, which helped me to understand more deeply the influence that can be exerted by aborigines worldwide by establishing ties with each other, which then let me to realize the importance of promoting an international perspective. When I found out about the trip to Fiji, in Austronesia, this year, it made me feel all the more resolutely that I must try the experience again, I must go once more.

When talking to the locals, we realized first hand the similar high pitch of our languages which is proof of our common ancestry. We took part in a class by Professor Morgan of the University of the South Pacific. We asked him if the people of the villages thought they were originally part of Austronesia, and he said that most of them thought they originated from Africa. However, we were surprised by the fact that counting from one to ten sounded almost the same in all of our mother tongues, we could barely believe it! This also seemed to give irrefutable evidence to the Austronesian grouping of languages. I had always thought that the concept of Austronesia was just discourse, I had never experienced it in a heartfelt way. After going through this kind of experience, however, I felt quite strongly that, despite the skin color and external appearance having changed somewhat due to environmental factors; we have clear proof that our institutions, languages and culture share similarities, and this gives me a deeper sense of identity.

In the Oceania Centre for Arts and Culture performance area at the university, we found a pillar on which words had been written. The words were those of deceased scholar Epeli Hau’ofa in his influential essay Our Sea of Islands. The contents of this essay he discusses how the ocean is a means for developing an Oceanic identity. He claimed the ocean was the main link that joined together all the small islands, that we are the ocean. This concept allowed us to look upon the world and the ocean from a new perspective. Hau’ofa devoted himself to creating an Oceanic identity: the islands of Oceania are not isolated, but rather a community linked together by the Ocean, so we should connect with one another. And as a native of Oceania, I think that Taiwan should also be a part of this.

Photo by Sakenge

The indigenous Fijian people, unlike the young Taiwanese, don’t have any identity crisis issues. The indigenous Fijians are not divided into over ten different ethnic groups like the Taiwanese, the difference between some of these groups being the fact that the people are from a different village or with a slightly different dialect. Identity is very personal and subjective, and manifests in a natural way in one’s daily life. After this first personal level of identification, ethnic groups will often try to find reasons behind their defining aspects, using sociological, historical, and anthropological concepts to justify their identity and purposefully separate one group from another.

There are two types of tourism in Fiji; the first is run by foreign businessmen and consists mainly of large-scale resort hotels, and the other is a grassroots ecological experience promoted by individual villages. We experienced both during the course of this trip. I think that part of the negative effects of tourism stem from the fact that the managers don’t really understand the locals, so they present an overly simplistic form of their culture, in addition to adding all the comforts of capitalism. In order to cater to the expectations of the outside world towards Fiji’s culture and nature, these expectations are packaged to create the sense of a holiday paradise; for example the view of cannibalistic natives becomes a selling point for the business, which causes the local culture and ecology to come under attack. I think if some of the power to shape the way tourism works were to return to the village, that would be a good way to mitigate this problem. Villages should have autonomy when deciding how to manage tourism, how to present their culture, and how to defend their ecosystem.

From visiting the villages, we noticed that all of them had a very high level of self-determination and subjectivity. Muaivuso village in particular is collaborating with the University of the South Pacific to defend knowledge about traditional ways of life and protect the ocean through the creation of ocean conservation areas. Although the government provided some technological help, the main driving force has been the people from the village and their tribal spirit. Seeing this has motivated me to go back to the tribe and encouraging them by telling them just how many things can be achieved with their strength of will. This will show other people our achievements, will allow for many possibilities in our hometown, and can also be used as a bargaining chip with the government or mainstream society when trying to defend our rights.

IMG_5936sakenge

Fiji and Taiwan have a rather similar system of land division and land preservation. The difference, however, is that in Fiji all the land is collectively owned, which differs from Taiwan where it is privately owned. Land preservation is managed jointly by the iTaukei Land Trust Board and the traditional tribal chiefs. If a foreign business wants to make use of the land of any given village, they must first visit the village and gain its consent, before submitting an application to the Land Trust. After that the three parties will come together to discuss the terms and conditions of the contract, and to sign it if an agreement is reached. This high level of respect for the opinions of the tribe can serve as an option to ponder and an example to follow for Taiwan. Maybe we can use village meetings to exercise the communal rights of the tribe, such as discussing the usage of natural resources and the way we open up land for development.

After this trip, I think that establishing international connections and gaining an international perspective are very important! I decided that in the future, I would focus all my efforts on developing and studying tribes, so before I left Taiwan for this trip, I thought that just learning about development in Taiwan would be enough. However, when you represent only two percent of the population, how can you dialog efficiently with mainstream society, when you both have different views shaped by your differing culture?Most indigenous people are not the majority in their respective countries, so they need to use international connections and agreements to interact with the mainstream government, and on occasion even to resist it. However, indigenous people need to have a strong cultural foundation before trying to expand their international point of view. Only in this way can they become a medium of communication between the tribe and the world. Otherwise, the connection with their roots will be lost, including the ability for the tribe to pass on information. If this happens, then the internationalization of the indigenous people will have lost its meaning.

This international exchange was a great opportunity for young Taiwanese aborigine people to have a broader view of the world, as well as allowing us to engage in cultural diplomacy with different indigenous people from around the world. If we form connections with each other, then our youthful power will become ever stronger. I also look forward to the opportunities that will arise from participating in this event, such as becoming the foundation for building a relationship between Taiwan and Fiji, and making sure Taiwan is in sync with the indigenous people of the world.I hope that these international exchange programs can continue in a far-reaching and sustainable way, so that this meaningful activity can continue to help young Taiwanese aborigine students to broaden their horizons.

 

Translated from the Chinese by Daniel Pagan Murphy

 


Tuesday, 17 January 2012 18:33

CEFC Files: National Identity in the History of Taiwanese Film

Wafa Ghermani is currently a doctorate candidate in cinema studies (La Sorbonne and Lyon Universities). She focuses on the evolution of identities in Taiwanese film history since 1895 (the beginning of the Japanese colonial era) until today. She explains here how she delimited her field of research and gives some of its oultines while retracing for us briefly the timeline of cinema in Taiwan.


Wednesday, 23 November 2011 00:00

CEFC Files: Neighbour of China, Taiwan's Liminality

Stéphane Corcuff is a political scientist trained in Sinology and Geopolitics. When he is not on sabbatical research in Taipei, he is also a professor at Lyon Institute of Political Studies and lecturer at Paris’ National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilizations. When we visited the CEFC, Taipei branch, Stéphane explained some conclusions from his past research leading up to his current program of study based around identity politics in Taiwan and the geopolitics of Taiwan since the 17th century. He draws a parralel between Zheng Keshuang (鄭克塽) - the grandson of Koxinga (鄭成功) - who was briefly the leader of Taiwan (1681-83), and the incumbent President of the ROC, Ma Ying-jeou. He then uses this historical context to analyse the policies and consequences of the current Kuomintang regime.

Furthermore, for the past 15 years, Stéphane has been conducting research focused on the Mainlander population in Taiwan. His research leads him to consider the Mainlanders not as an ethnic group but a population of distinct collective identifications. Here Stéphane rounds up a tumultuous 20 years for Mainlanders  in Taiwan, since Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) split from the Kuomintang and so called process of 'desinicisation' began, before showing the identity consequences this has had for the 'Mainlanders'.

Stéphane Corcuff's latest book has been published this month "Zhonghua linguo / Neighbor of China. Taiwan's liminality" Taipei, Yunchen, 2011, 250 p. (Chi: Zhonghua linguo. Taiwan yujingxing / Fr: Zhonghua linguo / Pays riverain de la Chine. La liminalité de Taiwan). If you were interested in this content, Stéphane's latest book provides his most comprehensive compiling yet of his research on Taiwan's 'liminality'. Stéphane's publications can be found and downloaded at "Web de la doc" de Sciences-po Lyon or Association Francophone d'Etudes Taiwanaises. Stéphane is committed to bringing a higher level of sensory interactivity into his academia. Below is an interactive multimedia image of his current research program.


Monday, 26 September 2011 19:27

CEFC Files: The identity kaleidoscope of the first 'Taiwanese' generation

Dr. Tanguy Lepesant is an assistant professor at the National Central University, Chongli and a visiting researcher at CEFC Taipei. As part of our series of interviews with the team of researchers at CEFC Taipei,  Tanguy talked to us about his research on national and ethnic identity and nationalism of young Taiwanese born in the 1980's.Tanguy first came to Taiwan in 1997 when he was posted to the French Institute for 9 months, where as a political science doctoral candidate he quickly became interested in the political situation in Taiwan and changed his directions of study towards questions of Taiwanese identity and nation building. Tanguy chose to do his fieldwork on young Taiwanese born in the 80's as he felt they could form a "political and social generation" because they had been "socialised in a very different context to their parents". Here he introduces his research:


Monday, 27 December 2010 18:13

Do you know who you are or what you are? Does it matter?

'Everyone's favorite subject is themselves' so goes the saying. Yet, there is an incredible body of literature from religious figures, social scientists, psychoanalysts, mystics and writers on how to view ones own self and others.


Wednesday, 21 January 2009 00:00

My Linguistic Paradox

I was born in a multilingual environment as both my parents speak several languages. My father was born in Cambodia and mostly grew up in Vietnam from a wealthy Chinese family. Back then, when he was a child, he spoke fluent Mandarin Chinese and Vietnamese. Furthermore, with his parents, he would speak two Chinese dialects: Hakka with his father and, with his mother, Teochew (Chaozhou dialect) which is the most common Chinese dialect among Han merchants in South-East Asia. As my father was educated in French, he too mastered this language, and now that he has returned to Phnom Pehn, he can also speak everyday Khmer. My mother was born in Taipei, also from a Hakkanese family. Then, in her childhood, she was already trilingual: she would speak Hakka with her parents, with her brothers and friends she would use Holo (or Taiwanese) dialect and Mandarin at school. As she studied in Tokyo, she speaks perfectly Japanese and now that she has been living in France for twenty years, she’s also fluent in French.

Thus, my first twenty years were crippled by the drama of not being able to speak another language than French: from my recollection, my parents never spoke to me in Chinese. In fact, my mother must have spoken to me in mandarin when I was an infant as she couldn’t speak French yet at that time. I was living in a small town of Morocco and, according to my parents, once I came back from kindergarten to decree that from then on I would only speak French. My parents are definitively too liberal and I am still offended by the fact that they had accepted my whim with such easiness! In fact it was quite convenient for my parents that my brother and I couldn’t speak a word of Chinese: they would argue and discuss private matters without having to worry about preserving our innocence. I must say that children have a more developed intuition than what parents think as we were able to recognize and memorize at an early stage most of the vulgarities often used. Also, I missed a second opportunity of becoming a bilingual when I was four years old. I had started to take some classes of Arabic, after a few days, my father asked me what I had learnt and I just said loudly “Allahu Akbar” (“God is great”). My father probably thought that I was too young for that kind of education and he immediately removed me from the class. Soon after, we moved to Paris where I carried on my education in French.

At the age of 20, by a twist of fate, I enrolled in a Chinese Language and Culture Degree in a university of Paris and started to learn the language as a beginner. I have to admit that I studied Chinese in a rather dilettante fashion. However I managed to graduate and decided to take off for a year to study Chinese in a language center in Taipei. Chinese language centers are miniatures of the Tower of Babel: I had the chance to be in a small structure where people of the different countries were too few to form segregated gangs. There I dramatically improved my English and also discovered with pleasant amazement that I was even able to speak Spanish! (Actually I had learnt the language at school during seven years without having ever used it.) Suddenly I was no longer a miserable monolingual and soon I discovered the joys of speaking, thinking and even dreaming in other languages. This superimposition of languages in my family and, now, in my everyday environment triggers sometimes the most curious and interesting situations. Last summer, my mother came to visit, accompanied for the first time by her French companion and my brother. We decided to ride the Taipei cable car and I offered my Colombian friend to accompany us. We entered the car with a Taiwanese couple who gaped at us while we were chatting: my Colombian friend would speak in Chinese to my mother and I would translate in French to my brother and my mom’s companion, speaking in English or in Spanish to my friend. The couple must have found it strange that a foreigner could speak Chinese fluently while my brother who looked evidently Taiwanese was not able to mutter a word in mandarin!

My temporary conclusion is that Asia might just be one of the most suitable places to become multilingual.




Thursday, 19 April 2007 11:49

Egg or Banana?

 
Before arriving in Taiwan, I didn’t know I was “so Chinese”. Born in France to ethnic Chinese parents and raised in Paris, I am what one would call a “banana” (in between, I’ve discovered that the opposite – white outside and yellow inside – is called an “egg.”). As I look Chinese, it seems normal that Taiwanese people at first glance, would also consider me as a Taiwanese. When I first arrived in Taiwan, I was not used to specifying the fact that I am a “Huaqiao” or “Huayi” - that is to say “overseas Chinese” or “FBC” (French Born Chinese) - and would simply reply that I was French. An answer to which people usually responded with suspicion : “ You’re not Taiwanese, are you?” (I’m quite proud to say that I hear that sentence less often now, it must be a proof that my oral Chinese has greatly improved since then). People often gave me funny looks when I said with confidence that I am French, and they would also say, “I had no idea French and Asian people look alike so much…”. I also almost had an argument with a cashier once in a supermarket who kept insisting, “are you sure you are French? You must be Chinese, why do you speak Chinese with a funny accent?” to which I had to moderate my answer by explaining that my mother is Taiwanese but that I was born and raised in France etc… At the end she simply said, “Well, you are still Chinese, that’s all!”

Is being Chinese a fatality?

As soon as I arrived in Taiwan, I started having identity issues. Strangely, I almost never felt these itches while I was in France- particularly in Paris where people are of very mixed origins. Maybe some people would have mistaken me for a tourist, but everybody can potentially be a tourist over there, it all depends on the way you are dressed and your mannerisms rather than your physical appearance. It never occurred to me the need to say I am a French Born Chinese. Of course people would eventually ask me where my parents are from but my saying that I’m French had never been something strange or rare.

Here, in Taiwan, I’m actually experiencing a strange transformation: the “banana-becomes-an-egg” mutation. First, I gradually changed my answer, now I always mention the fact that my mother is Taiwanese, etc. “Nice to meet you, I’m Cerise. Don’t be surprised, I’m a French Born Chinese, my mother is Taiwanese but I was born in France and I have lived there almost all my life.” That became my name card. By means of saying again and again “I’m Chinese”, I really started to believe it - self-suggestion seems to work after all!

Is this what immigration and integration are about? Before coming to Taiwan, I didn’t know that I would acclimatize myself so well. Some of my Taiwanese friends say: no wonder, it must be in your genes. Then I, my mother and my brother must also have French genes because we are very well integrated in the French culture. For what I know, I am a “pure Han product”, I was born with two blue spots on my bottom (don’t worry, they disappear when the baby grows up) and I have a visible line on my forearm, both signs that are said to be the genetic marks of Han people. Both of my parents are Hakkas, a Chinese linguistic group and, when I was a child, my father used to say proudly that my brother and I were 100% Hakkas… with a “little something French”, he would add to make us laugh. Thus, from a genetic angle, I cannot claim to be the result of mixed heritage like many Americans, but on the culture front, I am the result of my parents’ past migration to France: a French girl with a little something of Chinese…

(Photo by B.V.)


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