What does it mean to be Chinese? Three articles this week highlight the complexity of being Chinese.
Seeking Identity, 'Hong Kong People' Look to City, Not State (October 7, 2014, The New York Times)
As protests in Hong Kong enter their third week, many of the stories out of the city this week tried to drill deeper into the heart of what is going on and what is driving the protesters (who certainly must know that Beijing is not going to back down). Writing in the New York Times, Edward Wong and Alan Wong helpfully remind us that one of the main issues is that of identity:
If there is one phrase that has come to define the protests that have swept across Hong Kong in the last week and a half, appearing on handwritten billboards and T-shirts, and heard in rally speeches and on radio shows, it is this: "Hong Kong People." "I wouldn't say I reject my identity as Chinese, because I've never felt Chinese in the first place," said Yeung Hoi-kiu, 20, who sat in the protest zone at the government offices on Monday night. "The younger generations don't think they're Chinese."
More than 90 percent of Hong Kong residents are ethnically Chinese. However, ask residents here how they see themselves in a national sense, and many will say Hong Konger first — or even Asian or world citizen — before mentioning China. The issue of identity is one that the Chinese Communist Party has grappled with since Britain turned over control of this global financial capital to China 17 years ago. But what the student-led protests show is that Beijing's efforts have backfired, helping turn the issue into an occasionally explosive problem as members of an entire generation act on their sense of alienation from China and its values.
When this is all over, the people of Hong Kong should probably brace themselves for a new round of Beijing-directed "patriotic education."
The Kitchen Network: America's underground Chinese restaurant workers (October 14 edition, The New Yorker)
This story will be of particular interest to anyone who's eaten in a Chinese restaurant in the United States.
There are more than forty thousand Chinese restaurants across the country—nearly three times the number of McDonald's outlets. There is one in Pinedale, Wyoming (population 2,043), and one in Old Forge, New York (population 756); Belle Vernon, Pennsylvania (population 1,085), has three. Most are family operations, staffed by immigrants who pass through for a few months at a time, living in houses and apartments that have been converted into makeshift dormitories. The restaurants, connected by Chinese-run bus companies to New York, Chicago, and San Francisco, make up an underground network—supported by employment agencies, immigrant hostels, and expensive asylum lawyers—that reaches back to villages and cities in China, which are being abandoned for an ideal of American life that is not quite real.
The writer, Lauren Hilgers, follows one such worker, "Rain" to get a glimpse of what life is like within the shadowy world of Chinese restaurant workers:
I met Rain in New York's Chinatown, standing under a sign that read, "Lucky Days Employment Agency." He had left his previous restaurant job, at a takeout place in Connecticut, a week before, and after a few days off he was looking for a new job. "You can look online, but nobody does," Rain said. "This is easier."
The corner of Eldridge and Forsyth, at the foot of the Manhattan Bridge, is cluttered with employment agencies that do business in Chinese. Signs identify the Xingdao Restaurant Employment Agency, the Red Red Restaurant Employment Agency, and the Successful Restaurant Employment Agency. "There are only three jobs a Chinese immigrant can get without papers," a woman from Beijing told me. "You can work at a massage parlor, you can work doing nails, or you can work in a restaurant." People come here looking for work as busboys, waiters, or cooks.
A Beautiful Glimpse Into The 'Hidden World' Of Young Muslim Women In China (September 29, 2014, The Huffington Post)
The Huffington Post published a fascinating photo essay on the lives of Muslim women in China:
Artist Giulia Marchi describes her project, "Call Her Fatimah — Musilin," as being at the intersection of gender, religion and ethnicity. And she's right, her niche photography series centers on the female muslim population in China, a group of individuals that challenges most onlookers' perceptions of what it means to be a woman and religious outside of Western culture.
Through her series, Marchi documents the daily lives of young women navigating the ins and outs of a Muslim identity in contemporary China. The project began with the experiences of Ding Lan — Fatimah is her Muslim name — a 22-year-old whom the artist met in Cairo, Egypt. "Many young Muslim students move from their country to Egypt to learn about Islam," Marchi explains in a statement. "They are Muslim — but they do not know much about this religion. Once in Egypt they discover it through the study of Arabic, the Koran, and through life in Cairo."
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