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September 18, 2009

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Half and half, Chinese and Western, get best of both worlds

MORE and more mixed-blood people - half-Chinese, half-Western - are showing up in Shanghai. Not surprising since there are so many Western men with Chinese women.

They're known as hun xue, or mixed blood, and many just say of themselves, "I'm half."

In fashion and entertainment, they are popular as "fusion" models as they are taller than most Chinese and have distinctive features.

For some who are bilingual, it's the best of both worlds and they can understand and savor the culture of both China and the West.

Bilingual mixed-race guys are frequently approached by Chinese women who want to get married.

Mixed-race babies and toddlers are popular in product advertising.

There's a perception among Chinese that hun xue are especially attractive and more intelligent than most people.

For a mixed-race girl with an American father, there's no excruciating pressure to excel in school and sacrifice her childhood to academics so she can get into a good college.

She can go to a US university.

For those who are part African American and only speak Chinese, avenues are open. However, when it comes to marriage and family - all-important in China - there are hurdles to overcome.

The attraction in China of mixed-race people is understandable.

In a rather homogenous society, it is intriguing for people to see a different look, especially when the difference is mixed with similarities that are easy to understand.

Patrick Liu, who is Chinese and not mixed, did his dissertation on the family history of a half-Chinese, half-American family in Nanjing, capital city of Jiangsu Province. He's getting his master's degree in sociology.

He comments: "For historical reasons, most parts of China are rather homogeneous.

Most people, with similar physical features, grow up with similar backgrounds and have very few contacts with a different world except through TV or the Internet.

"Given such homogeneity in culture, they are more likely to be curious about or admire a different culture."

He says people who are interested in the West may feel more at ease with a mixed-race person than a foreigner.

Commenting on the stereotype of mixed-blood people being especially pretty/handsome and unusually intelligent, Liu says that perception reflects both pride in Chinese culture and respect for foreign culture.

"Although they are all in the 'mixed-blood group,' each person deals with identity and their culture quite distinctively, depending on their own experiences," he says.

It's impossible to generalize, but each "mixed" person's experience reveals interesting aspects of being "cross-cultural."

Shanghai Daily talks to three quite different mixed-blood people in Shanghai, each with a distinct experience.

There's Catherine Ann Reid, 14, a Chinese-American in international school; Lou Jing, 21, a Chinese African-American who wants to be a TV host; and Gregory Chow, 28, a Chinese Frenchman who is just discovering his roots and learning Chinese. 'Go your own way and let others talk' "Chocolate Angel" Lou Jing, who is mixed Chinese and African-American, speaks perfect Shanghainese and wowed the audience with her singing, acting and Huju Opera performance on a TV talent show, "Angel."

Lou's mother is Shanghainese and her father African-American; she was born in Shanghai and grew up with her mother.

Lou, 21, is majoring in TV hosting at the Shanghai Theater Academy.

She recently performed in the Dragon TV star-making show "Angel," but didn't make it to the final 10.

Lou, who has a darker skin and doesn't "look" Chinese, amazed many people with her perfect Mandarin-Chinese and Shanghainese.

She doesn't speak much English, however, and has started to study spoken English. The attractive young woman says she is often approached by Westerners who want to speak English and think she's probably African American.

Raised by a single mother after her father left, Lou is devoted to her mother and grandmother.

She didn't know she was "half," a fusion, until she was 16 years old. For years her mother told "white lies" to explain her darker skin: She said she had eaten too many traditional Chinese herbs during pregnancy.

Today Lou appreciates how difficult it was for a single mother in the 1980s-90s and even today.

"My mother has taught me optimism in the face of adversity," Lou says. "One motto for me is that 'go your own way, and let others talk'."

She calls herself a "typical Shanghai girl" who loves shopping, cooking and going to the movies. She makes authentic bullfrog in hot pot and boiled sliced fish in chilli oil.

She hopes that somehow her father would see the "Angel" show and find her.

Lou doesn't speak about personal issues, but because of her darker skin she is likely to have trouble finding a Chinese husband and starting a family. So learning English is likely to be important for her future. 'I won't leave until I find my missing part' "I don't want to leave China until I understand it well and find the missing part in my life," says Gregory Chow, 28.

He is a French citizen with a French mother and a Chinese father who was born in America.

Chow's grandparents went there in 1947. He grew up in France and has been in Shanghai for two years, working for a French company as an urban transport planner.

He is just learning to speak Chinese.

As a "half," Chow looked more Chinese when he was little and was identified by his French classmates as Chinese. At that time, there weren't so many half-French, half-Chinese people in France. He was teased a lot in school for looking Chinese.

"I wasn't that upset," he says, "because we were all just kids, they were being mean without any purposes. They were just reacting to something beyond their known world."

From an early age, Chow naturally realized that he was different though he didn't actually ask his parents about it.

"It's both an advantage and disadvantage to be a mixed blood, and it's hard to say which part is more influential," says Chow, who now looks more Western than Chinese.

He recalls one incident in the art class when he was little. For his collage homework project, he used Chinese calendars sent from his Chinese grandparents and arranged the Oriental images on paper. His art teacher loved it, his classmates thought it was strange.

Yet Chow wasn't exposed to much Chinese culture.

His father, who was born in the US and grew up in France, usually spoke French to Chow and his sister. Although Chow often visited his Chinese grandparents, who moved to France, and spent Chinese Lunar New Year with them, he really didn't know much about China than his French friends.

In 2006, Chow felt the need to "find the missing part in my life" and flew to China, taking just his backpack for two months in summer. He "couchsurfed" and visited many Chinese cities.

"I began to feel closer to the other half of my identity," he says. "Although I wasn't exposed to much Chinese culture as I grew up, I felt I understood Chinese people more easily and naturally than other expatriates."

Chow decided to explore that affinity, so he went to work for a French company in Shanghai on urban public transport. That was in early 2008. Being 'half' a big advantage "I am definitely American, but I can't imagine what my life would be like if I wasn't part Asian," says Catherine Anne Reed, 14, a sophomore at Concordia International School Shanghai.

Being a person of fusion has brought mostly advantages so far.

"My identity as a person with mixed blood is a big part of my life. It has greatly influenced my culture and individuality, says Reed, a US citizen who is half American and half Chinese.

Though born in the States, she has spent more time in China than in the US. Her mother is Chinese from Taiwan.

"I see being half as a big advantage because I understand both sides very well. I don't get the extreme pressure to do well in school that I might if I was completely Asian. But I do get all the good food!" she says.

Being bilingual, of course, has made it much easier for her to live in Shanghai and make friends with both Asians and Westerners.

"Sometimes people just enjoy having someone around who understands both sides," says Reed. "It's special and you can really appreciate aspects of both cultures."


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