Chinatown, Europe: An Exploration of Overseas Chinese Identity in the 1990s

Chinatown, Europe: An Exploration of Overseas Chinese Identity in the 1990s

Chinatown, Europe: An Exploration of Overseas Chinese Identity in the 1990s

Chinatown, Europe: An Exploration of Overseas Chinese Identity in the 1990s

Synopsis

Is Chinatown a ghetto, an area of exotic sensations or a business venture? What makes a European Chinese, Chinese? The histories of Chinese communities in Europe are diverse, spanning (amongst others) Teochiu speaking migrants from French Indochina to France, and Hakka and Cantonese speaking migrants from Hong Kong to Britain. This book explores how such a wide range of people tends to be - indiscriminately - regarded as 'Chinese'. Christiansen explains Chinese communities in Europe in terms of the interaction between the migrants, the European 'host' society and the Chinese 'home' where the migrants claim their origin. He sees these interactions as addressing several issues: citizenship, political culture, labour market exclusion, generational shifts and the influences of colonialism and communism, all of which create opportunities for fashioning a new ethnic identity. Chinatown, Europe examines how many sub-groups among the Chinese in Europe have developed in recent years and discusses many institutions that shape and contribute ethnic meaning to Chinese communities in Europe. Chinese identity is not a mere practical utility or a shallow business emblem. For many, China remains a unifying force and yet local and national bonds in each European state are of equal importance in giving shape to Chinese communities. Based on in-depth interviews with overseas Chinese in many European cities, Chinatown, Europe provides a complex yet enthralling investigation into many Chinese communities in Europe.

Excerpt

Chinatowns are symbolic centres of overseas Chinese communities. Even small places with few Chinese restaurants and shops are referred to as 'Chinatowns'. in Europe there are not many large Chinatowns, and most of them do not have the ghetto functions the American and Southeast Asian Chinatowns once had. This chapter will explore some of the aspects that keep the Chinatowns together and make them a focal point of ethnic identity.

One interviewee, talking of the situation in Hungary, where the Chinese only began to arrive in large numbers in the early 1990s, said:

Our aim is to have a Chinatown after some years, a Chinatown that belongs to the Chinese and is managed by ourselves. in this Chinatown, on foreign soil, it must be like walking down our own street, and we'll create it as a comprehensive thing with eating, drinking, leisure and culture. I believe it can be ready in two or three decades' time.

(047//178)

The interviewee emphasised the ethnic significance of the Chinatown and the pride that would be associated with it. Ownership and management by the Chinese community would be the source of pride, 'like walking down our own street'. the aspiration links ethnicity, Chinese culture, leisure and catering. Does he mean culture, leisure, eating and drinking mainly for the Chinese community? Or does he refer to business activities directed towards Europeans? Is it a cultural space and emblem for the Chinese, a cultural refuge from the outlandish Western society? Or is it an ethnic ambience for Chinese business? He does not say and he does not make the distinction. Either way, the emblematic significance is obvious, made up of symbols aimed at evoking feelings of cultural home and Eastern mystique, respectively.

The ethnic pride and symbolism of Chinatown are important rationales for overseas Chinese leaders. the belief that the Chinese, wherever they live on foreign soil, tend to settle in Chinatowns and lead culturally distinct lives provides powerful ideals for overseas Chinese in Europe. Some have lived in the large Chinatowns of Phnom Penh or Vientiane, and others regard the Chinatowns of San Francisco

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