Chinese Culture vs Chinese Citizenship
Updated: Jan 16
At the urging of my friend, Oscar Tan, I have decided to pen my thoughts regarding recent brouhaha concerning Chinese-Filipinos.
Let me start off with a clarification. I am not taking the term “Chinese-Filipino” to mean that I am a Filipino citizen of Chinese descent. I am truly a mixture of heritages. I have Filipino, Chinese, and even Spanish blood.
I am probably less than half Chinese by blood percentage. Yet culturally, I identify mostly with the Chinese.
Note that I said, culturally.
I have no political ties to the People’s Republic of China, to Taiwan or any other state or territory.
Yet it seems to me that many people do not understand this. It has become trendy, even fashionable, to equate Chinese ancestry with Chinese citizenship, or at the very least, loyalty to ONE particular state, the People’s Republic of China.
The sad result of this kind of misconception is that many Chinese-Filipinos are already accused of being sell-outs by virtue of having Chinese ethnicity. Again, Chinese ethnicity is not the same as P.R.O.C. citizenship.
I believe that one major influence in Filipino thinking is the influence of the United States of America. Not that it’s a bad thing, but I would like to point out a humongous difference in the situations of ethnic Chinese vs American citizens.
The United States draws it’s strength from being a melting pot of different cultures. Ever since the Mayflower, scores of immigrants from all over the world were attracted by the words of Emma Lazarus,
“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”
Americans thus, in my fallible opinion, draw their unity from their citizenzhip. One may be from Europe, Africa, Asia… any corner of the world, but the unity comes from the pride of being a citizen of the United States. There is nothing wrong with that, and it is in fact a very effective way to unite a people – such tactics were used also by Lee Kwan Yew in his goal of uniting the mulitcultural society that is Singapore. Several ethnic groups, united by loyalty to the state. This also applies to China in a sense, since China is also composed of several ethnic groups. Nine out of Ten Chinese will identify themselves as being of Han heritage. The rest include Manchus and Mongolians, among many many others.
For the sake of discussion, I will equate the term “Chinese” with “Han” in terms of culture.
Now, Han peoples, just like many other ethnicities, have emigrated and spread throughout the world. Like other groups, they have both contributed to and have, to varied extents, been assimilated by the native cultures of their adopted homes. Second or Third generation Filipino-Europeans, to make an example, cannot be expected to be carbon-copies of Second or Third Generation Filipino-Americans. Even more absurd would be to think that Filipinos who grew up in let’s say, the United Kingdom, would be photocopies of FIlipinos who grew up in the Philippines.
So why are there apparently intelligent people willing to believe that everyone of Han descent are basically alike?
If we find it ludicrous to imagine that a Filipino who grew up in New York will have the exact same value set, and loyalty to the Philippine republic, as his Manileno counterpart, then why are some people so willing to believe that anyone of Han descent will automatically have political loyalties to a state other than where he grew up and was nurtured in?
I have traveled throughout the world, especially Asia. I have lived for an extensive period of time in the People’s Republic, studying Chinese Medicine there. I have also lived for months in Taiwan. I have been to Hong Kong so many times that I know their public transportation system like the back of my hand. I am in Singapore right now as I type this. I’m not even taking into account ethnic Chinese in Malaysia, (I should really visit KL sometime) and in Indonesia (only been there for a few days without meeting any ethnic Chinese friends).
There are times where they can be so different. Chinese Filipinos are influenced by Spanish and American culture. Hong Kong and Singapore Chinese, by British culture. The P.R.O.C. and Taiwan have alternated between being political enemies and business partners.
Only two things unite the world’s Chinese, in my opinion.
First is an undeniable love, for their OWN nations of citizenship. A Chinese Filipino is loyal to the Philippines, just as the Chinese American loyal to the star and stripes.
Second is the shared habits of civilization (thank Charles Saddock for the term) passed on by their ancestors from generation to since the time of the Han Dynasty. A culture that is Confucian, Buddhist, Daoist at the same time, so strong that it permeates through despite assimilation.
Citizenship defines what state one is affiliated with. One can choose to renounce citizenship and acquire another.
Culture defines the way of life that a people have grown into. One can choose which aspects to give up and which aspects from other cultures to adopt.
Confusing the two in the past has led to tragedies of history. It is imperative that we remember the distinction so as not to repeat the mistakes of the past. Only by recognizing and building on such matters that bring us together can we truly unite not merely as multicultural societies, but as a harmonious and united multicultural world.