People of all colors and creeds come from all over the world to work, study and travel in China. For more than 60 years foreigners have been allowed to study in the country. In recent years, one particular type of foreigner has become more common on the mainland: those with mixed-blood who have Chinese heritage.
Some grew up in China, others came to China to get to know their heritage and their ancestry. Some feel being mixed-race offers huge advantages, others face difficulties, and some, simply, don’t give a damn. In Chinese the word 混血 (Hùnxuè) means mixed-blood, while 华裔 (Huáyì) is a word that stands for people of Chinese (full or mixed) origin that live overseas from the second generation onwards. This term is often confused with 华侨 (Huáqiáo) who are first generation Chinese citizens that live abroad.
TWOC spoke with several young half-Chinese women to try to find out the difficulties and stereotypes they have been through, or just to let them enlighten us with their stories and how they feel about living in China.
Until recently Diana Logteva, 24, was a student in China; born to a Russian mother and a Chinese father, she thinks that being of mixed heritage can be a symbol for peace:
“I like being mixed, what I don’t like is when people are divided up into ethnic groups and you have to be either this or that. But here I am, both things, walking proof that everybody should be united,and these questions like which ethnicity you prefer need not to be asked.”
Being mixed, often leads to be people asking Diana about which country she prefers, and she finds such questions somewhat disturbing:
“A lot of people are asking me these weird questions, like do you think you are more Russian or Chinese? And which boys do you you like white or Asian? They are kind of asking me to choose sides. But it doesn’t bother me that much, because i don’t have to choose and I don’t even think about it. I think people that are saying this are a little narrow-minded”
Lotus Qi, 23, is a translator in Beijing. Her mother is Austrian and her father Chinese. She spent the first twelve years of her life in Vienna, and after that mainly resided in China:
“For me it really depends where I am and who I’m talking to. In Austria everybody assumes I’m Asian; they often can’t comprehend I might be Austrian,” adding, “in Beijing it is different. I guess I’m sometimes treated as a foreigner. When I tell, say, a taxi driver I’m Chinese they don’t believe me, and sometimes think I’m from Xinjiang or am a Chinese minority. Often I can’t be bothered with the explanations and just tell then I’m a foreigner and be done with it.”
On being asked if she is proud of being mixed, Lotus is contrite: “Well, no. It’s not like I spent my whole life working to some goal and was finally, ‘yes, I’ve made it to exactly 50 percent!’ So pride is not the right word but, yes, I do feel lucky and blessed.”
Lotus Qi (left) and her sister
Sara Sun, 22, is a Polish-Chinese student at BLCU and experienced difficulties when she came to China: ” Everybody expected me to speak Chinese from the moment I landed, just because my dad is Chinese. but I grew up in Poland, my parents live in Poland, and we speak Polish at home. I came here just like other foreigners, the expectations from me were higher than from other foreigners.”
One of the things that surprised her was a fact that a lot of Chinese and other Eastern friends of hers believed that if a person is hunxue, then he or she must belong to the ethnic group of the father. In her case it was Chinese.
Urielle Yunyi Beyens, 26, a student in Beida, born to a Chinese mother and a Belgian father, says: “People do ask me if I feel more Belgian or Chinese. I feel like I am too Belgian to be Chinese, because I grew up there. But I do not get asked that a lot, people rarely see that I am mixed. When asked these questions all over again I don’t get bothered a lot , but when I was a child I was annoyed, because everybody would ask me to say something in Chinese.”
She does say she had to overcome some stereotypes in Belgium, mostly the stereotypes that the Chinese had small, slitty eyes and stuff like that: “Even if they make fun of me, I feel special, different and unique, other things didn’t bother me at all.”
Often a hunxue grows up in China. Alcocer An Xiaoqi, 21, is one such case and has a Chinese mother and Mexican father. People always try to guess where she is from:
“In Mexico I guess it is obvious that I am a foreigner because I don’t speak Spanish, but I have been told I do not look Chinese. But in China people are 100 percent sure I am not Chinese, and there are some that think I look Indian, or hearing me speak, they realize I am hunxue, but nobody ever guessed it right.”
Speaking Chinese, but yet having a foreign passport, meant things change slightly when she started her higher education:
“In primary and middle schools in China, students are not divided into groups, we all studied together, so nobody treated me differently, but in high school and university they counted me as a foreigner because of my passport and my student ID”
And like all of many hunxue, she finds it fascinating to be mixed:
“A lot of people envy mixed kids because they think they are prettier or smarter due to the mix of different nations, honestly I don’t really think so. But if everybody says so, sure it makes me pretty happy about it. But when they find out I don’t speak Spanish they find it really weird. I personally think I am quite special. It is not that different actually, just people stare at me more than usual and they are trying to guess where i am from, or whether I look more like my mom or my dad. I think I look more Mexican, because my sister looks more Chinese, people don’t guess that she is mixed”
Alcocer An Xiaoqi
Main image courtesy of Urielle Yunyi Beyens