Being Eurasian

Being Eurasian: Memories Across Racial Divides

Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Being Eurasian
    Book Description:

    What was it like being a Eurasian in colonial Hong Kong? How is the notion of Eurasianness remembered in some Hong Kong memoirs? Being Eurasian is a description and analysis of the lives of three famous Hong Kong Eurasian memoirists, Joyce Symons, Irene Cheng and Jean Gittins, and explores their very different ways of constructing and looking at their own ethnic identity.'Eurasian' is a term that could have many different connotations, during different periods in colonial Hong Kong, and in different spaces within the European and Chinese communities. Eurasianness could mean privilege, but also marginality, adulteration and even betrayal. Eurasians from different socio-economic sectors had very different perceptions of their own ethnicity, which did not always agree with their externally prescribed identity. Being Eurasian explores the ethnic choices faced by Hong Kong Eurasians of the pre-war generation, as they dealt with the very fluidity of their ethnic identity.

    eISBN: 978-988-220-035-7
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-4)

    The term ‘Eurasian’ could elicit very different responses at different times and in different places in history. Oftentimes, it has the power as Michael Omi suggests, of arousing momentarily a crisis of racial meaning—of suddenly undoing all our fixed and secured conditioned ideas about race. Yet it is precisely this power of Eurasianness, I believe, which could make us re-think and re-examine all those fixed and clearly defined boundaries about races.

    Interracial marriages have become quite a common phenomenon in Hong Kong. Looking back half a century ago, a European was often thought to be ideologically liberal and progressive...

  6. Part 1 Historical & Generic Considerations
    • 1 The Vanishing Community?
      (pp. 7-12)

      It is true that the Eurasian community was (and still is) only a very minute segment of the Hong Kong society. Yet its presence in this city could hardly be ignored. Numerous attempts by the Hong Kong Census, between 1897 and 1931, reflect a gross under-estimation of the size of the Eurasian community. The figures that appeared in these reports strongly point to the fact that a great number of Eurasians often declared themselves as Chinese and, in some cases, Europeans. As a result of the fluid collective identity of the Hong Kong-Eurasian community, they were often perceived as not...

    • 2 The Birth of a Eurasian Community
      (pp. 13-26)

      Unlike their Portuguese counterparts in Macau, the British colonial attitude towards miscegenation had never embraced the kind of free liberalism promoted by its neighbour. Under the Portuguese colonial ideology, miscegenation was officially hailed as a positive step towards social harmony and a form of the ‘benign consummation of Portuguese panracialism’ (C. Cheng, 156). As C. Cheng says, extensive miscegenation becomes the distinctive pattern of Portuguese presence in Africa and Asia. Affonso de Albuquerque, who Braga describes as being the greatest of Portugal’s governors of India and an important figure in the building of the Portuguese empire in Asia, had already...

    • 3 Pioneer Hong Kong Eurasian: Ho Tung
      (pp. 27-36)

      Few leading Hong Kong figures have inspired so many written words as Sir Robert Ho Tung. Vignettes and stories of the Eurasian magnate can be found in almost any book on the origin and history of Hong Kong, Hong Kong travel books, biographical encyclopedias, Who’s Who, popular magazines and other similar publications. His ambiguous ethnic background, legendary wealth and his dynastic power captured the imagination of popular writers like James Clavell and Robert Elegant.¹ His personal chronicle over time has become a part of the Hong Kong story. Ho Tung himself often symbolizes not only the successful compradore but also...

    • 4 Memoir as a Self-asserting and Self-censoring Tool
      (pp. 37-42)

      Before discussing in detail each of the selected Eurasian memoirs, I wish to consider some generic issues concerning the memoirs and how they stand within the traditions and history of life-writing.

      The memoir, as a mode of writing through which the memoirist recalls and records her own life story is perhaps one of the most popular forms of autobiographical writing. The autobiographical motivations behind writing memoirs vary. Some write to preserve, commemorate, celebrate or immortalize one’s life’s experience and achievements. Still others write to confess, explain, to talk back, or to break a silence. But there are also others who...

  7. Part 2 Readings
    • 5 Joyce Symons
      (pp. 45-106)

      Looking at the Stars: Memoirs of Catherine Joyce Symons was published in 1996, a year before the handover, during a time when every bookstore in town was suddenly inundated with an abundance of books on Hong Kong, books re-thinking Hong Kong’s colonial past, speculating on its Chinese future and questioning the notion of a Hong Kong identity. Looking at the Stars is very much an individual version of the common quest for identity at this uncertain period in Hong Kong.

      Joyce Symons was born in Shanghai in 1918. She came to Hong Kong when she was six years old. After...

    • 6 Jean Gittins
      (pp. 107-180)

      Out of the three lives examined in this book, Jean Gittins’s is probably the most traumatically ‘marked’ and painfully ‘branded’ by history. Joyce Symons, as we saw in the last chapter, was a bitter witness and an indignant spectator of the Japanese invasion of Hong Kong. Yet, the war remained very much a historical deluge, which she was protected from through her shelter in Macau. Placing the two narratives side by side, the subject in Looking at the Stars remains, to a large extent, a keen observer of the violent forces of history, watching anxiously from a relatively safe distance...

    • 7 Irene Cheng
      (pp. 181-256)

      Irene Cheng is one of the older sisters of Jean Gittins. This chapter, apart from looking closely at Cheng’s own self-writing, will bring together and juxtapose the memoirs of the Ho Tung sisters, namely, Irene Cheng, Jean Gittins, and occasionally Florence Yeo. It will also examine their respective autobiographical representations as members of the Ho Tung family. The purpose here is not to ascertain the veracity or the referentiality of these memoirs. But by putting together these autobiographical writings, this chapter considers how memory and the retranslation of memory in a narrative reflect the sisters’ ideological orientations, cultural propensities, and...

  8. Epilogue
    (pp. 257-260)

    After reading the lives of these Eurasian memoirists, what emerged is a wavering continuum of their varying self-definitions of their Hong Kong Eurasian heritage. At one end of the continuum, we see Joyce Symons representing her interpretation of her Hong Kong Eurasianness as more British, less Chinese, colonial, isolated and tied to mercantile/treaty-port history. Moving away from Symons and edging towards the middle, there is Jean Gittins, whose notion of her Eurasianness is based on an indeterminacy and undecidability, though at most times it tends to lean more towards Symons’s direction of being British. Occasionally, the pull from her Chinese...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 261-270)
  10. Glossary
    (pp. 271-272)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 273-280)
  12. Index
    (pp. 281-286)