Letters Home From Chinese Migrants

Rachel Leow reviews Dear China by Gregor Benton and Hong Liu

In the opening scene of Ang Lee’s 1994 movie Eat Drink Man Woman (飲食男女), a silent father caresses a banquet into being. Moving amidst bubbling soups, smoking oils and steaming baskets, he lavishes upon the array of dishes a tenderness he will go the whole movie without once matching in words. The diners to whom this feast is borne – his three daughters – meet it with a different quality of silence: blank looks, tinged with boredom, even exasperation. They sit to eat. Conversation stutters. Family news is stiffly exchanged: wretched, half-spoken words. Dinner is cut short by a phone call, an abrupt exit. At any rate it had been criticized – “father, the ham is over-smoked.” We learn only later of the daughters’ fears for their father’s deteriorating health, marked by his declining sense of taste – fears that ran so deep that they could hardly be spoken at all.

This scene captures an emotional core to what many would recognize instantly as Chinese family life. 


Home is Everywhere

Rachel Leow reviews Home Is Not Here by Wang Gungwu

“No matter where you live in the world, we all share one origin. There is a place for all of you here at home.”

In so many words, this is the single message which the People’s Republic of China’s Overseas Chinese Office (Qiaoban) channels to ethnic Chinese across the world. It is a relatively new sentiment. The idea that ethnic Chinese of foreign nationality (huaqiao) are not ‘blood traitors’ (hanjian) but patriots-in-potentia – talent (rencai) to be lured ‘back home’ to contribute to China’s wealth and power – has not long been in gestation. But since the 1980s, it has been written with ever more depth into the PRC’s long-term visions. Conceived under the KMT and established by the new PRC in 1949, the Qiaoban languished in the Cultural Revolution and was revived by Deng Xiaoping, who saw in the huaqiao a source of support for reform and opening. 

Three decades later, Xi Jinping’s ‘China Dream’ counts huaqiao, not just Chinese citizens, among its dreamers; his One Belt One Road strategy is designed with huaqiao in mind, as business collaborators with critical local knowledge.