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Struggles 2nd Generation Chinese Americans Face

From the series Reaching 2nd Generation Chinese Americans for Christ

So far, I have written about how my passion to serve the Chinese church developed and how that transitioned to my doctoral dissertation, which focused on Reaching the 2nd Generation Chinese Americans for Christ. I have addressed the importance of family. This cannot be overemphasized, as family has the biggest impact on youth and the second generation. I also encouraged church leaders to be there for them, listen and then help answer their questions. It is also important to give them opportunities to serve.

In this post we’ll look at the struggles that second generation youth face.

It seems like yesterday when I was young. Of course, my youth is getting further and further away as I get older. The struggles I faced, the ones you faced or are facing, are similar to the ones that those who have gone before us faced. Yet, there are new issues that second generation Chinese Americans  face that others did not have to address.

I’ll put these into two groups: basic issues and specific issues. There are basic issues all youth, young adults, and children face. As they get older their bodies change. Boys and girls also try to find their individuality. Tension regarding schoolwork arises with their parents. For some, sadly, they face issues of abuse and bullying. Then there is the questioning of authority. I addressed such questions in the previous blog, but imagine a second generation young man or woman who is inundated with media and friends who question authority. What will they think? What will they do? How will they respond within their own family? Sooner or later, they will ask questions, bringing friction. These are basic issues that nearly every youth or young adult goes through, regardless of the culture in which they live.

However, in the West, the culture is very different than in the East. This leads to specific issues second generation Chinese Americans face. One factor is a possible language barrier. Language is an inseparable part of culture. Often, second generation youth are limited in Chinese, because they are immersed in an English-speaking environment. This can cause communication problems that need to be overcome, requiring patience, open discussion from both, and also an understanding of the differences in worldviews.

There are two worldviews or ways of looking at life that second generation youth are caught in between. Though this is an oversimplification, it is crucial. Western thought is very different than that of Eastern thought. Neither is better or worse, but they are different. For example, the collective thinking of Chinese society in general is contrary to the individualistic thinking in American society. In the States, we celebrate individuality. Yet in China, the family, or group is considered of more importance.

Another worldview difference is how to address conflict. While conflict occurs in any family, culture, church, or country, the way it is dealt with, or not dealt with, differs. Americans discuss conflict openly. This would rarely, if ever, be done in Chinese families or society. This is where “saving face,” as mentioned previously, comes in. These worldviews clash.

Another difference is the expression of love. For a Chinese family, generally speaking, a parent works to provide, thus showing love. A parent might say, “I love you” but often love is not expressed verbally. Yet, in American families, parents not only work to provide, but verbal affirmation is given. Many second generation youth see this with their friends, and long for their father or mother, to say, “I love you.” This can cause problems between the generations, because of this differing perspective on how love is expressed.

One more factor is education. In my research, with additional research proving this, many second generation Chinese Americans feel smothered by their parents when it comes to their studies. There is a heightened expectation not prevalent within American society. Yes, education is important, but that importance is multiplied many times over for Chinese families. There are various reasons for this, but this often causes conflict within the home.

Thus, two different worldviews are at war within the minds of second generation youth. Many feel they are stuck with no way out. Then there is also their personal worldview and a Biblical worldview, which will be developed in a future blog. The fact is, the second generation will not have the same worldview as the preceding generations. Both groups need to understand these different ways of thinking and come together in open and honest communication. Both need to make the effort to understand each other’s view.

A new area of potential conflict is the impact of social media around the world. While social media has benefits, it has drawbacks. It impacts communication, relationships, thinking, and more. Boundaries must be set, and parents need to be an example to their children about good habits when it comes to the use of technology, particularly phones.

At the core, the second generation struggles with identity—Who am I? Am I Chinese? Am I American? Am I both? This is where they struggle the most. Our identities are formed through various factors, and when there is a struggle between worldviews, thinking, ways of doing things, and more, it is very hard for the second generation to understand their identity.

What can be done? Families and church leaders need to come together to help the second generation see their identity in Christ. Then, help them see that they are also Chinese Americans. Families need to understand the different ways of thinking between their homeland and their new home. Effort needs to be made to bring together the best of both worldviews to try and understand their kids, work with them, encourage them, listen to them, and help them to see that in Jesus, they are a new creation in Christ, no matter where they came from.

Some Helpful Resources


“Challenges the Second Generation Face,” part 4 of Reaching the Second Generation for Christ.


Already Gone: Why Your Kids Will Quit Church and What You Can Do to Stop It by Ken Ham and Britt Beemer with Todd Hilliard.

Growing Healthy Asian American Churches edited by Peter Cha, S. Steve Kang, and Helen Lee.

So the Next Generation Will Know: Preparing Young Christians for a Challenging World by Sean McDowell and J. Warner Wallace.

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Image courtesy of the author.
Michael Weis

Michael Weis

Michael Weis was born in West Virginia, heard the gospel in upstate New York, and put his faith in Jesus as a young boy. Upon graduating from college with a Bachelor's degree in Technical Theatre, he moved to Florida to work in the entertainment industry and began studying Christian …View Full Bio

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