People > Labels
Updated: Feb 19
Dear Asian Youth,
We’re surrounded by labels. Labels for our gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, nationality, hobbies, music genres and style choices. Identity is confusing, and labels either bring clarity or cause more chaos. And what about the labels that other people create for you? How do they make you feel? Today, I wanted to talk about a few labels that I myself, and I’m sure many other Chinese people may often hear: 华侨(huá qiáo), 华人(huá rén), and 华裔(huá yì). These three labels are all used to describe “Chinese people”, but they all refer to different things.
First and foremost, a 华侨(huá qiáo) refers to a Chinese citizen that currently resides abroad. These individuals still have their Chinese citizenship, but are living in a foreign country for a long period of time. Although they may have permanent residency in a different country, they still retain their nationality as a Chinese citizen. There are normally two types of people that are labelled using 华侨(huá qiáo): Chinese students who travel abroad for education purposes or people who who live abroad for employment purposes.
Next, a 华人(huá rén) refers to a Chinese individual who was once a citizen of the People's Republic of China but has now become a citizen of a different country. Since the Chinese government does not allow the existence of dual or multiple nationalities, those who have acquired a foreign nationality and have cancelled their passports are all referred to as 华人(huá rén). These people are usually immigrants who’ve moved abroad in search of a better life with more job opportunities.
Last but not least, 华裔(huá yì) simply refers to any individual of Chinese descent. For example, children or grandchildren of Chinese immigrants who have acquired foreign nationality and are living abroad. This term includes a larger population of Chinese people, as it does not consider the proportion of Chinese heritage an individual has. Any individual with Chinese ancestry are classified as 华裔(huá yì).
You may have noticed that I’ve placed these labels in order of how “Chinese” person is in a legal sense. But these labels don’t just apply in a legal context, they also apply to social contexts too. In China, a 华侨(huá qiáo) is often considered as “more Chinese'' than a 华裔(huá yì). I always feel uncomfortable thinking about how some people can be seen as less Chinese than others, and how these labels may cause exclusion and segregation. I often feel as though Chinese people residing in China have a certain level of prejudice when interacting with Chinese people abroad.
I see this problem as one rooted in nationalism. China has a strongly collectivist culture, which, in simple terms, “creates a society that is supportive and protective of its members while sacrificing personal independence.” This nationalist sentiment of honoring, loving and remaining faithful to one’s country is prevalent amongst most Chinese citizens. This is where division occurs. Many Chinese people view emigration as an act of betrayal and abandonment. Although those who choose to migrate to foreign lands are leaving in search of better opportunities, this isn’t seen as a righteous reason in the eyes of many locals who choose to remain in China. The pride instilled in Chinese citizens has cultivated the belief that you should only make strides in this place you once called home. In fact, some locals do not view third-generation Chinese immigrants in foreign countries as “authentically Chinese” anymore.
However, amidst the #stopasianhate movement and other times of crisis, I cannot stress the importance of unity and support. Though I commend my fellow Chinese locals for their dedication and love towards their nation, I plead that they share this love for their people too. The positive essence of nationalism is unity, the very sentiment being ignored. Many Chinese Americans and Asian-Americans alike take strong pride in their ethnic heritage. In fact, the embracement of their heritage is one of the greatest catalysts for the movement as a whole. So to my fellow Chinese, I implore you to forget these labels to stand with me and stand with our people.
Cover Photo Source: YoYoChinese