A Pan-Chinese Identity?

So, I admit that I’ve been putting off a particular blog post for quite a while this semester.  Now that we are nearing our last weeks in Shanghai, I think it is appropriate to make some remarks about the pan-Chinese identity.


Growing up in small-town, middle-of-nowhere America as one of the only Asian-Americans in our town, I was aware of the idea that people perceived me as being part of an elusive “Chinese” identity.  When I was young, my father always took such great pride in being an overseas Chinese, and he tried to impart that sentiment on my brother, sister and I.  So in our family, there was an understanding that though our mother was from Pakistan and our father was from India, we felt a cultural connection to being “Chinese.”  While I grew up believing that I was characteristically Chinese, I now realize that there is so much grey area in trying to define what or who is Chinese.


The other day while Fuji was talking about his research after Dr. Rigger’s presentation, he mentioned that this trip to Shanghai started to affect his belief in a pan-Chinese identity.  Whenever I hear people speak of a pan-Chinese identity that manages to encompass all Chinese and overseas Chinese alike, I can’t help but find myself disagreeing.  If there ever was such a thing as a pan-Chinese identity, I don’t think it exists now, which has become a troubling realization to both mainland Chinese and overseas Chinese.


I came to this conclusion when Fuji asked me about my own self-identification preferences and when I spoke with the Taiwanese students at the DCPP meeting.  Because I am Hakka, the only reason I ever call myself Chinese is to conveniently link a culture to a place for those who struggle to conceptualize a culture that is not linked to a nation-state.  To Chinese mainlanders, I am willing to admit that I am a huayi (a person of Chinese ancestry), since my ancestors did indeed migrate from China.  In either case, I almost begrudgingly admit that I fall into the Chinese identity, and I’m sure others do the same.


What keeps so many huaren (overseas Chinese) and huayi from identifying themselves as Chinese?  The different experiences that huaren, Chinese mainlanders, huayi and China’s ethnic minorities endure add so much to their individual identities and have inevitably led to fragmentation among Chinese mainlanders and their counterparts.  This fragmentation leads to questions of what and who is really Chinese.  But this only further begs the question of who gets to define what is really Chinese.  Some mainlanders can argue that they get to legitimately define Chinese culture since they are of course in China.  Other mainlanders often comment that the Taiwanese or other overseas Chinese are more traditional, and therefore, more Chinese.  When I asked my father what he thought of the Taiwanese in relation to Chinese culture, he also commented that he believed their culture was more akin to the “real” Chinese culture; I responded by asking him if it really was more Chinese or if he just believed it was Chinese because Taiwanese culture happened to match up more with how he understood Chinese culture.


There is obviously disjunction in the Chinese experience across the world, making it impossible for a pan-Chinese identity to really exist anymore.