G’day Ching Chong: Exploring the Chinese-Australian Identity

G'day Ching Chong.

(noun, informal) = Hello. An Australian form of greeting
(noun, informal) = A word to describe someone of Asian descent, usually Chinese. Gained prevalent usage during the 19th century gold-rush era in Ballarat, Australia
(onomatopoeic) = used as a mimic of the Chinese language
(literal) = “Hello Chinaman”
(informal) = “Hello fellow Asian Australian”
(actual) = a sound piece exploring the Chinese-Australian identity

G’day Ching Chong is a sound piece exploring the Australian identity through young ethnically Chinese people who now live in Beijing, China.

Making a move from their diverse Australian environments to a city of more than 22 million where they can be easily mistaken as a local, they’ve come to discover that what they look on the outside doesn’t necessarily reflect what they feel inside.


Alice Pung (AP):
The very first stereotype I guess is that we’re good at maths; we end up becoming doctors and lawyers; you eat cats and dogs; you steal jobs from the locals. They think we must be from some exotic land. “Go home Chingers,” y’know (laughs)

We don’t look white Australian, we have yellow faces.

Australia is a country of migrants.
There are no real Australians except the indigenous and the fact that we perpetuate this myth that there’s a true white Australian – back from the convict days, and everyone else is just a sham – is just ridiculous. It’s 200 years old. It’s a terrible myth.

MUSIC: Jin – “Learn Chinese”

My name is Alice Pung and I come from Melbourne. I work as a writer and I work as a government lawyer as well.

Generally when people ask me “where I’m from?” I know they’re just interested. I take it as a cultural phenomenon because I lived in America for six months and Americans don’t ask that because they know it’s impolite and they know Asian-Americans have every right to be part of American culture. In Australia, we’ve always had a history of assimilation. Even recently on Australia Day you had slogans saying, “fit in or get out” and that has always been the mentality until 1980, which is why when Australians express fascination for people of different cultures they ask you that question, “oh where you from, you must be from somewhere interesting.” Personally I don’t take that as an insult but culturally we’re like a black and white television in the era of colour.

CLIP: “Tiny Delights” cooking show by Elizabeth Chong

Monica Tan (MT):
I don’t know about the food, I don’t know about the customs, I don’t know about any of the pop culture of any Asian country. My upbringing has been not very Chinese at all. So within like the first few minutes of meeting me you’ll forget that I’m Asian because I’m so not Asian.

Hi my name’s Monica Tan. I’m Australian and I’ve been in Beijing for six months. I study at Beiwai, studying Chinese…

Mark Hiew (MH):
My name’s Mark Hiew. I’m Australian Chinese. I’ve been in China about two and a half years…

Anne Lin (AL):
I’m Anne Lin and I’m from Sydney. I’ve been in Beijing for a year now and I’ve been studying at BLCU and my interests include watching live music and reading.

I grew up in Bunburry, Western Australia. It’s pretty homogenous; it’s a very white town. And I face a lot of outward discrimination probably on a weekly basis at least.

If you’ve heard a racial epithet about Chinese people, I’ve probably received it.

I also remember when I was in high school and my cousin and I was playing cricket and a couple of Aussie boys came and they were playing with us for a bit but then, they were starting to intimate the sort of physical hostility and I remember they made some sort of remark about us being “chinks” or something like that and just remember that epitomising my experience most of the time.

Growing up in Sydney, a very multicultural city, I can’t say that I’ve really experienced racism at all. But recently on Australia Day I happened to go to Foster. And my sister and I were on the beach and we were just chilling out and this local comes up to us and was like, “Konichiwa”. And I corrected him and was like, “we’re not Japanese we’re Chinese,” and then he’s like, “oh, you know, we don’t get many Chinese tourists out here.” And I had to qualify again, “we’re actually Chinese-Australian”. And he’s like “oh you’re Aussie then, OK OK,” and he was kinda hearing our accent. We chatted for a bit then when we were wrapping it up he was like, “well it was really cool to meet you, I’ve never met a Chinese person before,” and I was shocked and I literally was like “what? But there are so many of us.” And he’s like, “oh, but not out here. The only Chinese out here are the ones who own the Chinese restaurant”. And I’m like OK. And he’s like, “Yeah make sure you bring out all your friends out here,” y’know, all my Chinese friends I guess. And it was quite strange. He was being quite friendly and everything but it really did made me feel like an outsider. I mean a white person would just never experience that. So, I thought it was a pretty ironic thing to happen on Australia Day.

CLIP: 2008 Australia Day Ad

I grew up speaking Cantonese at home and my mother, also like a lot of other Chinese people growing up, sent me to Chinese school so I did grow up with a lot of Chinese influences, and I was very aware that I had two very separate identities, being Australian and being Chinese.

Since I’ve been in China I’ve actually found myself feeling more Australian than ever before. Ethnically I’m Chinese, but my nationality is Australian. So I can’t help the fact that in my DNA I’m Chinese looking but I don’t feel any of those ties towards China.

CLIP: Dave Chappelle “Untrained Eye”

All these Australian-Chinese now who were born and raised in Australia, we’re coming of age, we’re hitting our thirties, we’re becoming a part of the landscape in Australia. We’ve really negotiated very well these two ideas of having your ethnic identity as well as doing the whole Australian thing. And now to be Aust is not so narrow as it was before. You don’t just have to be a “bogan surfie” or live in the country. You can be in the city, live whatever lifestyle and hold that title of being Australian.

Part of the thing that I take as being uniquely Australian is the sense of fairness and justice as well a sort of larrikin ability to laugh at oneself. These are the sorts of things that a 21st century increasingly cosmopolitan Australia will be embracing and will retain and these are the sorts of values I cherish and hold as very dear.

Australian television is all white and there will be the occasional ethnic. Until we infiltrate popular media with images of a multicultural – and not just in an ethnic sense – oh look at them they’re doing dragon dances or look at them eating felafels – as in Asians buying bread, Aboriginal people advertising toothpaste, it’s going to take a long time.

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  • bingding

    Good article.

  • Megan

    “I take it as a cultural phenomenon because I lived in America for six months and Americans don’t ask that because they know it’s impolite and they know Asian-Americans have every right to be part of American culture.”

    LOL clearly it was only six months. I’ve lived in the U.S. for 20+ years, and I still get that question on a monthly basis.

    • John Long

      Hey Megan…I lived in China for 17 years, and I still get spoken to in (very poor) English by anyone who meets me, even though my Chinese is better than many locals now…just because of my skin color. And my white friend who has a Chinese passport (yes a rarity) is STILL required to go through the “FORGEINER’s” line at customs – because he doesn’t look Chinese. They simply drag him out and point to the “white people” line. When he shows them his Chinese passport they just laugh and point to his big nose – and still won’t let him through there. So Chinese Americans/Australians need to get over it. Choose who you are and either be “Chinese” or “American”, and stop complaining. You also make assumptions about white people “oh you must have descended from the English” so everything your saying is just sooo hypocritical.

      • nereis

        The difference is the reasonable assumption that in a country composed largely of immigrants and the descendants of immigrants and in which a sizable population of second and third generation migrants exist of all colours, just because the person you’re talking to has a different skin colour to you does not necessarily mean that they are foreign. To make that assumption then betrays your own lack of cultural awareness with respect to the wider cultural context in which your nation was founded.

        On the other hand, in a country where the majority of foreign nationals do not ever intend to take up residency let alone citizenship and has never had a history of materially significant immigration from a peoples of different cultural background to the founding peoples, it would be a reasonable assumption that when you see a person who visually different; that they are most likely a foreign visitor.

        That would extend to the differing expectations regarding racial sensitivity between the two countries. A nation with a large degree of racial variation is expected to be more conscious of how offensive judging someone based on skin colour is as opposed to a racially homogeneous society.

        Hence, the analogy of the white citizen in China compared to the asian citizen in Australia/America is not particularly apt.

        • thekills

          very well put.

          • lollipop

            Nereis, your arguement only extends to urban Australia. The reasonable assumption of 2nd and 3rd generation immigrants of all colours falls apart in rural Australia. It is indeed rare to find those of Asian heritage out in the country. The story from Foster is illustrative.
            Your entire second paragraph could apply as equally to rural areas where multiculturalism is limited.

            Mainland China also has a fairly large amount of racial variation, physically and in terms of population, but only if you take of the Han tinted glasses. Uighyers and Kazahks and countless other minzu are quite routinely treated as “Foreign Visitors”. Nothing reasonable about it; its hard to see why you seek to justify the situations as being different. One act is as inexcusable as the other.

            I think the White Russians are a recognised minority group in China, just to throw a final spanner in your weird explanation.

  • Rod

    Sounds similar to what I experience as a white guy in China. After I came back after Chinese New Year, I wasn’t out of the plane for more than 5 minutes before someone was asking

    Where are you from
    What do you do
    Why can you speak Chinese
    How long have you been here
    How much do you make
    Why is your nose so tall
    Do you like hamburgers
    Do you like rice
    When are you going to have a mixed baby with a Chinese girl

  • Iseastars

    Cool piece and props to Mark Hiew, my roomie back in 2009!

  • iseastars

    Props to my former roomie mark hiew!

  • dim mak

    Is it acceptable to say “ching chong” in Oz? It sure as hell isn’t in Canada.

    If anyone says that to you you should sock them in the jaw. Or at least sue the shit out of them. Fuck yeah.

    • Tie Ridge

      I say it in every country I have been. Im not putting down any one.

    • Chinggis was here

      The author hasn’t used the derogatory word used by Australians for Chinese people. In my opinion, I’d say “ching chong’ rates about equal with ‘laowai’ in offensiveness.

      It’s certainly not acceptable or condoned by anyone I know. I haven’t heard ‘ching chong’ since I was in primary school and as such socking a 10 year old, although deservedly, wouldn’t go down too well, as for suing a brat, well possible but hardly lucrative.

      To take the heat of white cunts, as referred by some of our indigenous brothers and sisters, there are a sizeable number of Australians whose parents were born in Vietnam. I’m not sure how they refer to Australians who look Chinese, but from observation, I’d guess it’s not pleasant.

      • Where’sMyFace

        “I’d say “ching chong’ rates about equal with ‘laowai’ in offensiveness.”

        I am Australian, to clarify: A white Australian, and I would have to say that “Ching Chong” is most definitely a racist term.

        However I feel Laowai is open to perspective.

        Glass half-empty perspective: Old foreigner who once tried to, sorry did, make we Chinese people weaker by introducing opium and bringing death and destruction to the oh so peaceful middle kingdom.

        Glass half-full perspective: 老 means old right? Yes. But do you feel that 老 has a negative meaning in these terms: 老师; 老虎; 老手; 老板, 老婆.

        I am a firm believer that you can not 100% photo-translate a language and the character 老 is a perfect example as 老 means so so so much more than just old.

        • -____-

          老师used to be some what offensive to teachers (prob decades ago) but later on no1 cares, 教师 should be used instead, thats wut my mum told me.
          in addition ‘chingchong’ is ok to me, ‘aussie’ isnt offensive right? i personally think ching chong is just like ‘aussie’. unlike ‘chink’ which sounds harsh and mean by its own.
          btw im an aussie :) with chinese background, ABC

          • thekills

            The term “ching chong” is not the same as “aussie”. Ching chong has a long history of being used in a racist mocking way in countries where there are Chinese or any Asian immigrants. It was “the natives (i.e. white people),” be it Australian, American, or Canadian, using the racial slur AGAINST Asian people. Whereas Aussie is a term created by white Australians to describe themselves. It was never used against anyone.

    • mr. wiener

      Depends on who you say it to. If you said about a mate of mine there would definitely be trouble. If it’s between mates and he calls me “Whitey” or “Skip” then I could call him “Ching Chong” back.
      It’s very primary school though, I’d probably call an asian mate “Power plug” instead.

    • nameless

      foreal man, you gonna sue me if i call you a chinky ching chong, a chang ge chang chang! WELL CALL YOUR LAWYER MAN!

  • Longman

    Interesting topic, reminds me of this excellent piece on Chinese-Americans, by Beijing based reporter Stephy Chung, check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=45Llkj58ujY

    and part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2c3BEO3Ggxg&feature=related

  • derek xu

    “Ching chong”, “chink” and “Chinaman” are very racist and do not need to be discussed.

  • nameless

    JIN SUCKS ASS BTW, hence he never made it in hip hop. He should have tried Chip Chop.

  • Jeremy

    Great piece Shuk-Wah!

    That’s a great picture too ;)

  • Maitiu

    ProTip: If you want people to stop thinking of you as being of another culture, stop emphasizing that you are of another culture. As long as you add a hyphen, you’re making a statement. By calling yourself “Asian-Australian”, “Australian-Chinese”, or the like, you’re stating that you are of Asia, or China, rather than just Australia.

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