A little update on the Malaysian Chinese? Chinese Malaysian? post.
A week ago, I went for a jogging session. The last time I ran seriously was 4-5 years ago. So as for whatever is left of my paltry stamina, I hope I don’t faint and fall into the West Lake.
After the run (took me 1 hour to complete a miserable 5k), I sat down with the runners + hashers and tokok. There’s this Chinese (Han) looking dude with an American accent. I eventually found out that his family migrated to USA when he was very young.
Half way talking he was curious that I’m a Malaysian, but with a Chinese (Han) face, and a weird accent (yes, we Malaysians have an accent).
So he asked me what am I. And so I replied him that I’m a Malaysian, but my of Chinese ethnicity.
Then he started off with his rant about how the term Chinese is actually a fairly recent word. It was created by one Chinese leader of the recent past (couldn’t remember: Chiang Kai Shek? Sun Yat Sen? ).
The actual meaning of the word ‘Chinese’ is to define the people under the rule of China. It was brought about to unite the people of China by using a common term/word.
Therefore, he continues, the word Chinese does carry any reference of race or ethnicity. It is supposed to be a identity of the people (emotionally, culturally, nationally) attached to the country China. And for this reason alone, I should not be saying that I’m a Chinese… or that my ethnicity is Chinese.
An example he gave me is that: the people in Xinjiang are Chinese, because Xinjiang is part of China. But their race/ethnicity is Uighur. And the same goes for many other minority race (少数民族) in China and Taiwan.
(If I may add: technically, we should be calling them Uighur Chinese.)
The correct way of indicating my ethnicity is to call myself a ‘Han 汉’ instead. Because the word ‘Han 汉’ is the only word use to identify the ‘Han’ people — 汉族.
And I fully agree with him. In fact, when I tell the gwailos that I’m Malaysian… they later follow up with another question: “You look like the Chinese people.” Then they fumble a little before finally asking in a very subtle + polite + politically-correct manner, “I mean, are you Han? As in does your ancestry trace back to China?”
I was often surprised by this reference of ‘Han’, and I’ll reply, “Yeah, my ancestors came from China.” Now I know where did that curiosity came from.
Perhaps I should add this line when I answer the same question in the future, “I guess you could call me a Han Malaysian if you like. But I would prefer that you just call me a Malaysian.”