Date
28 July 2017
Their heritage notwithstanding, children of Hong Kong immigrants face multiple hurdles when they return and try to settle into the city. Photo: GovHK
Their heritage notwithstanding, children of Hong Kong immigrants face multiple hurdles when they return and try to settle into the city. Photo: GovHK

Struggles of ethnic Chinese expats in Hong Kong

With the mass migration of Hong Kong families to Western countries amid fears over the Communist takeover of the territory in 1997, it is no wonder there are a number of second-generation returnees in the city today.

The trend has picked up momentum since 2015 after the government rolled out incentives to woo the children of Hong Kong emigres back to the city for work or higher learning.  

These young expats are labeled as CBC (Canadian-born Chinese), ABC (American-born Chinese or Australian-born Chinese), BBC (British-born Chinese), and even NZC (New Zealand-born Chinese).

With family ties still in Hong Kong, many young professionals have found it appealing to settle into the city.

Those who were born here and/or with parents who were born here, can easily obtain a Hong Kong identification card that allows them to freely work and live in the city for as long as their hearts desire.

It’s an easy way to go abroad, without the pressure of having to stay here for good.

There is a familiar element at every corner – the Chinese dishes that resemble the dining table at home, the Cantonese conversations, and the comfort of having English signage all over the city.

Yet, even with these advantages, there are struggles that the Chinese expats have to recognize as they prolong their stay in the city. Things are the same yet different.

The language barrier

In a Chinese-dominated society such as Hong Kong, the common assumption is that if you are ethnically Chinese, then you must also speak the language.

For second-generation Chinese, this may not always be the case.

In fact, this really varies depending on their exposure while growing up. While some have fluency in both spoken and written communication, others may only have oral fluency or none at all.

This can be a result of them rebelling against the culture or of being completely immersed in an English-speaking culture, even at home.

When entering shops and restaurants, these expectations and limitations create barriers in communication.

It may even create a sense of shame, embarrassment and exclusion after the ethnic Chinese expat has begun to entertain the thought that he or she has fitted in with the community.

The ‘white’ privilege

As teaching abroad is becoming a good way for native English speakers to earn and save money, it seems the ideal job for many young expats.

Ethnic Chinese expats would think that because they have spent a good portion of their life in Western countries, Native English Teacher (NET) positions would also apply to them.

Unfortunately, they soon realize that their “Chinese” appearance is a disadvantage because it doesn’t fit the concept of many Chinese parents who are paying lots of money to learning centers for their kids to be educated by “English” teachers.

They don’t make good publicity on brochures of schools that advertise authentic, native English teachers since they look just like the rest of the population.

This is the reality that no one wishes to admit in the education sector.

Fighting with the local economy

As young expats, everyone is trying to gain experience but sometimes, finding jobs in the local economy can be tricky.

While it’s considered basic for locals to know how to speak Cantonese and read and write in Chinese, this is not always easy for second-generation Chinese who are more at home in the English language.

The situation becomes complicated when they are good in oral communication but not in reading or writing in Chinese, and they begin to doubt whether they are competent enough for the job, even if it is entry level.

Meanwhile, English-only jobs are reserved for senior-level executives while teaching jobs often go to the “tall and blonde”.

People say Hong Kong is where East meets West. People come from all over the world to experience the hustle and bustle of the city.

When you come from a Western country, with an Eastern heritage, which side are you really part of? I guess the answer is both.

But to local Hong Kong people, it boils down to one: Chinese.

– Contact us at [email protected]

CG

Local parents prefer white westerners over "ABCs" and "CBCs" as English language teachers for their kids. Photo: GovHK


Ethnic Chinese expats may be able to speak Cantonese fluently but finding a good job is still difficult if they cannot read and write well in Chinese. Photo: GovHK


HKU graduate student from Toronto, Canada; works in the education sector

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