China Books

The Eurasian Face

The Eurasian Face cover. Image: Blacksmith Books

Blacksmith Books, a publishing house in Hong Kong, is behind The Eurasian Face, a collection of photographs by Kirsteen Zimmern. Below is an excerpt from the series:

Image: Blacksmith Books

Adrian Da Silva
Musician / Songwriter

I was born in Hong Kong, my mother is British and met my Macanese Chinese father here when her family moved to Hong Kong.

As a child, being Eurasian had no real impact on me. I went to an international school and everyone was different. Now I am older, I appreciate the ambiguity of being Eurasian, I kind of like not belonging to any particular ethnicity. It’s good to not be defined by any nationality and its accompanying stereotypes (although it has to be said that sometimes Eurasians have their own stereotype of being smart and good-looking!). Saying that, I think that this ambiguity is not the preserve of Eurasians alone. Being such a cosmopolitan place, people in Hong Kong generally have a choice to take what they want from each culture. Even if you belong to a nationality, it doesn’t mean that you have to be immersed in that nationality. A lot of Asians identify with other countries, for example in following football, or being fans of different music.

I play and sing in a band and although sometimes it seems a bit weird to be playing English music to a mostly local crowd, I feel that music is truly international – it doesn’t matter about language. Everyone knows who Michael Jackson is.

Being Eurasian has not really affected my music career. The only time it really comes up is during interviews when I’m always asked how I can look kind of Chinese and have lived here for 29 years and not speak Cantonese. The only answer I can give is that in the international school bubble, many if not most of us couldn’t speak Cantonese regardless of how long we’d been in Hong Kong or even if we had been born here.

When I meet other Eurasians, I don’t necessarily connect with them. There are so many types of Eurasians. I don’t like being labelled but I don’t mind being labelled Eurasian – to me, Eurasian is opposite to a label because it is something so undefined.

Within all cultures and nationalities there are so many divides, so the divide within myself is not important. I’m just proud to be from Hong Kong, to have grown up freely in a multicultural city.

Gillian Sadler-Wong.jpg
Image: Blacksmith Books

Gillian Sadler née Wong

My father is Chinese from Malaysia and my mother is English. My father came to England in his early twenties. My mother first saw my father at a bus stop when she was just sixteen and they married when she was seventeen. My father used a whole year’s salary to buy her an engagement ring and he has devoted his life to making her happy ever since.

We were the first Chinese family in Perivale. Although it was a very multi-cultural part of London, there were no other Chinese there. I was born in England and lived with my family in London until about six years ago. I never faced any discrimination or racism at school but there was one family on our street who were very jealous of us and they used to shout things like ‘go back to China!’.

My dad is Buddhist and my mother an atheist. That’s not the least of their differences but they’ve agreed to disagree! Only one of my dad’s brothers took issue with their relationship and as Eurasians, my twin and I were well accepted by the family – especially by my grandmother with whom we would have dinner twice a week. When I was growing up, it was my dad who did the cooking so we always ate Chinese food. We also celebrated all the Chinese festivals and always had a close association with Asia, going to Malaysia three times a year.

Although I do have some family in Hong Kong, I actually came here for work. Because of my Chinese background, despite having lived all my life in London, I didn’t experience any real culture shock. My outlook has always been quite Asian – I’m somewhat superstitious and believe in karma. It’s interesting: although my twin sister was brought up in the same place, in the same way, I would say that I have always been more Chinese than she is.

When I was modelling a few years back, Eurasians were an extremely popular choice for their appearance. Saying that, people often cannot tell that I’m Eurasian. In New York they think I’m Hispanic, in London they think I’m Italian. In Hong Kong, it is rare that someone guesses that I’m half Chinese.

I love being Eurasian. In my mind, Eurasians are exotic and beautiful and can have an effect on places and people. I think we have a presence.

There are currently 7 Comments for The Eurasian Face .

Comments on The Eurasian Face

What's interesting is that in both these cases, the parents are Asian dads and Western moms -- which goes against the old stereotype of Western rich men and their Asian arm-candy girls.

In Hong Kong, this stereotype is pretty outdated anyway, unless you count guys trawling for dates in the red light district. Among my friends, we have every possible combination of races, and nobody thinks much about it.

I once interviewed Nancy Kwan, the famed actress and sex symbol who played Suzie Wong back in the 1960s. She was the first Hong Kong woman to make it big in Hollywood.

Her dad was Cantonese and her mom was Scottish. I asked how she dealt with the discrimination and disadvantages of being Eurasian at that time -- after all, society wasn't as liberal 40, 50 years ago. And she said something like "What disadvantage? If you're smart, you turn everything to your advantage. I did."

Their experience is quite different from mine. My mom is Chinese from Hong Kong and my dad is a White American. I look more White, and I grew up in Hawaii, where most people are Asian American. Hawaii is pretty mixed so I felt like I fit in most of the time, though sometimes locals would make fun of my being White.

When I went to Boston for university I saw that the cliques were very segregated, and I ended up mostly hanging out with Koreans, who were the largest Asian group there, but I was always kind of an outsider. Sometimes at Asian parties some drunk guys would get hostile towards me because they thought I was White.

Now I'm in Orange County, where it seems most Asians think I'm White and most Latinos think I'm Latino, and some Whites actually think I'm full Asian. When I was teaching English in China I got really annoyed how when I left the city people would stare and point at me and shout "Hello" or "Laowai!" I see myself as a certain kind of Chinese American, but I also recognize that my experiences are different from most Chinese Americans. Most of the time I wish I looked more Chinese because I grew up around Asians and mainly identify with them. But I'm grateful for my experiences nonetheless. Some people have it a lot harder off, like half Black half Chinese who grow up in China. I saw a video of a kid like that getting beat up in Guangdong, it was really messed up.

I think that the Eurasians don't suffer discrimination like the full blooded Chinese do so "What disadvantage?" applies to that. I don't agree that Eurasians are nicer looking but they are treated better. I still like the babies no matter how they look - sometimes quite funny looking - but I mind when they feel superior to Chinese children which I think is very unkind and permanently unforgivable.

Is "Eurasian" in this context a new word? I'd never heard it until a couple of years ago, but now it seems to be everywhere. Whenever I hear someone described as "Eurasian", my first thought is still that they're from one of the former Soviet states like Kazakhstan.

Eurasian: every single human being living between Spain, India, and Korea.

Is there some weird reason why Chinese think the world consist of them and white people? Everyone else is just a pawn?

Amerasians for those mutts with American roots. "Eurasian" sounds too pretentious.

A lot of people, no matter the race, think in very strict racial categories. The racial categories we use change over time and are different from place to place. That is why many Chinese and White people think of "Eurasian" as being a "mix" of an "East Asian" and "White" parent. They're used to these racial categories, so they consider the offspring of these categories to be "mixed." But in fact, what is considered "mixed" is culturally determined. Genetic difference and phenotypical difference is continuous as you move from one place to the next. Central Asians, some Nepalese, some Italians, some Russians, and even some "full-blooded" Chinese also look "Eurasian." Appearance does not completely change when you cross the border, it changes gradually. This is because different populations have been interacting and having children since the beginning of time and we also physically evolve to fit the physical environment. Our brains, however, evolve far slower than our skin and physical appearance because our brains are already very adaptable to any kind of situation. After all, culture, which helps humans adapt to our environment, is passed through learning, not genetically through instinct. All the scientific evidence shows that culture is not tied to genetics. Just ask that half-Chinese half-Black lady Lou Jing. Culturally, she is just as Chinese as any "full-blooded" Chinese.

People would like to believe that we all fit into discrete racial categories, when the science proves that is not true. Wherever we draw the line between one "race" or "ethnicity" and another is at least partly arbitrary and very culturally determined. For example, because of U.S. history, anyone who is part Black is usually considered to be Black. Also, the idea that there are 56 ethnicities in China is the result of a government classification project from the 1950s and could easily be contested. Also, there is more genetic variation within "races" than between them. For example, some "Han" Chinese are genetically more similar to a typical Vietnamese or Korean than to a typical "Han."

I can also say that some Chinese are fascinated by Eurasians, and while that can be a temporary ego boost, it is quite empty because I know they are just fascinated by some stereotype they have in their mind. I would rather be treated just like any other person. Some Chinese automatically assume that because I'm part White I must be morally loose or that I don't know anything about Chinese culture.

Also, many Eurasians are seen as Asian or Hispanic by White people, so you can't say they don't ever face discrimination from Whites. I am strongly against racism towards full-blooded Chinese too, and I try to educate myself about the struggles my full-blooded Chinese brothers and sisters face. I do think that more Eurasians should make an effort to do this.

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