Hi Ching's story
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( HI CHING )

Hi Ching was born in the UK, but spent his early years in Singapore before returning to British soil in his teens. Drawing on his own training as a dancer and singer, he has worked extensively on UK-based art and heritage projects on the themes of ethnicity and inclusiveness. He has lived in the Isles of Dogs, London, for over 20 years, drawn by the close community spirit and diverse multicultural neighbourhood.

EXTRA IMAGES

  • Hi Ching family 2
  • Hi Ching family 1
  • Hi Ching family 3

INTERVIEW AUDIO EXCERPTS

THE ABRIDGED INTERVIEW ( Full Interview )

THE FULL INTERVIEW ( Abridged Interview )

My name’s Hi Ching. I was born in London, then was brought up in Singapore. I came back here to study and have lived here ever since.

Hi Ching, could you tell us a bit about your upbringing?

What I know is that my great-grand parents on my dad’s side came to Penang, in Malaysia, from a village in Fujian. My paternal grandmother was Hakka, from British Guyana, and there is a very interesting story about how she met my grandfather. Her family were moneylenders, and her parents used to keep her wealth in gold ingots in a safe. Grandmother was a pretty rebellious spirit. One night, she managed to get hold of the key to the safe, dramatically snipping the necklace the key was attached to as great-grandma was asleep, took one gold ingot and used it to flee British Guyana for London, where she met my grandfather who was studying at Cambridge. They married and she came to settle in Penang.

"I think straddling two different cultures has given me an insight into the insularity each has. I watch Al Jazeera and their news items bring home that in both British and Singapore media, neither have the range of news I feel is important for me."

Mum was adopted. Her adoptive mother was a nurse and adopted her two girls from destitute families. Mum’s parents were supposedly also Fujianese emigrants, but she could never find them. Mum was the first generation of girls that were educated in Penang and she became a teacher. My great-grandparents were very keen on education, so my grandfather and father were educated in Cambridge and were barristers. I think this has been passed down the family, as most of my paternal aunts and uncles have had some sort of university education.

My parents were brought up in strikingly different households. One was affluent and influential and the other was humble and very grass roots. They didn’t get on! So when I was around two, as soon as mum had got her degree, she upped and left home. She used a small car her mother bought for her; she drove all the way from Penang to Singapore on her own with me. This journey was very difficult in those days as the trunk road isn’t what it is today. I would consider her extremely brave to have done what she did. When she arrived in Singapore, she got a job and met my step-dad who married her. He was a doctor and Queen’s Scholar, a socialist, and set up his clinic in the poorest part of Singapore, called Rakyat Clinic – the People’s Clinic.

What was it like for you being brought up as a product of different cultures, in the UK and Singapore?

I guess I spent more of my childhood in Singapore than in the UK. I returned to the UK when I was seventeen. The notion of cultural identity got stronger for me after I moved to the UK, because it seemed to be quite important for people here in Britain to niche you into something. The cultural identity parameters are very different here than they were in Singapore. In Singapore I knew I was Chinese, but not necessarily strongly Chinese as such - I was Singaporean more than anything else.

Now however, I feel more British, especially after I came to live in the Isle of Dogs during the 1980’s. I was astounded at the history of the area and at the integration of different types of people in the vicinity, and that made me feel more at home. And the first Chinatown in London was down here; I was fascinated by that and even though it is no more the history of the area makes it feel more familiar to me.

I think straddling two different cultures has given me an insight into the insularity each has. Despite Singapore and London being both metropolises, I feel the media is very insular. I watch Al Jazeera and Russia Today and their news items really bring home the fact that in both British and Singapore media, neither have the range of news I feel is important for me, or anyone for that matter.

Do you ever see certain facets of your values that are typically Chinese?

My understanding of myself is that I am very tolerant – hopefully - of a lot of stuff: I always try and understand the perspective of different people, which kind of informs me because then it questions what I’m doing, why I’m doing things, and why I have relationships in a particular way with people. I think that is due to my upbringing in a multicultural society. I guess that is quite Chinese as the culture seems to me to promote a more philosophical outlook – whilst China doesn't have any homegrown religion as such, it does have philosophy: Confucianism and Daoism.

Do you think a lack of a formative religion in China has influenced how the British Chinese have settled in the UK?

I think so. There’s no overriding religion like here in the UK, but the most prominent religion that Chinese here in Britain have is Buddhism, which is not really a religion. My theory is that it’s popular with the Chinese because it’s a philosophical religion, which ties in well with the fact that Chinese communities here are so varied. They come from all parts of the world. Although China is about a fifth of the world’s population anyway, so there’s bound to be a lot of variety within the Chinese people! For me one interesting place of religion is the Fo Guang temple in the centre of London around Oxford Street – despite the variety in the Chinese people here, that’s a place where I found a lot of different Chinese communities have congregated and connected.

"I am a Fujian person that has been and gone through the experience of emigration to another country. But I feel like I am very different from the Fujianese from China because as emigrants, we have lived abroad and not through Communism and the Cultural Revolution."

What do you know about the migration history of the British-Chinese community?

My own lao jia – my origins, old home - are Fujianese. I am a Fujian person that has been and gone through the experience of emigration to another country. But I feel like I am very different from the Fujianese from China because as emigrants, we have lived abroad, whereas the Fujianese in China remained there and have lived through Communism and the Cultural Revolution. They come from rural areas - there are a lot of rural areas in Fujian so many are very, very poor to this day.

The Chinese from Hong Kong have been in the UK for quite a long time. Since the 1960s really, when the new Chinatown developed with people mainly from Hong Kong, who set up their restaurants. So there has been a bit of conflict between them and the mainlanders from China, who have recently been the main immigrants from Chinese areas to the UK.

There are also a lot of Chinese people in Britain that are descended from Chinese from countries you might not have thought of – such as the Chinese from the Caribbean. My grandmother is from British Guyana, and she’s Hakka. So I do have a bit of Hakka blood. I think the Chinese world is as international as anything. It is not one world and one identity fits all. It’s just so vast, you know.

Do you feel like there should be more understanding as to the different cultures within the British-Chinese culture?

Definitely. There is understanding within the Chinese community but not otherwise, because we have no representation really in the media. I mean no media characters are written, nobody knows anything about the Chinese. The amount of take-away people I’ve seen! Always waiters, or triads. The Chinese are a lot of people in one. They have a lot of aspirations and they live their lives very differently. They’re not only gangsters and they’re not only restaurant people, so I think that needs to change really.

My name’s Hi Ching. I was born in London, then was brought up in Singapore. I came back here to study and have lived here ever since.

Hi Ching, could you tell us a bit about your upbringing?

What I know is that my great-grand parents on my dad’s side came to Penang, in Malaysia, from a village in Fujian. My paternal grandmother was Hakka, from British Guyana, and there is a very interesting story about how she met my grandfather. Her family were moneylenders, and her parents used to keep her wealth in gold ingots in a safe. Grandmother was a pretty rebellious spirit. One night, she managed to get hold of the key to the safe, dramatically snipping the necklace the key was attached to as great-grandma was asleep, took one gold ingot and used it to flee British Guyana for London, where she met my grandfather who was studying at Cambridge. They married and she came to settle in Penang.

"I think straddling two different cultures has given me an insight into the insularity each has. I watch Al Jazeera and their news items bring home that in both British and Singapore media, neither have the range of news I feel is important for me."

Mum was adopted. Her adoptive mother was a nurse and adopted her two girls from destitute families. Mum’s parents were supposedly also Fujianese emigrants, but she could never find them. Mum was the first generation of girls that were educated in Penang and she became a teacher. My great-grandparents were very keen on education, so my grandfather and father were educated in Cambridge and were barristers. I think this has been passed down the family, as most of my paternal aunts and uncles have had some sort of university education.

My parents were brought up in strikingly different households. One was affluent and influential and the other was humble and very grass roots. They didn’t get on! So when I was around two, as soon as mum had got her degree, she upped and left home. She used a small car her mother bought for her; she drove all the way from Penang to Singapore on her own with me. This journey was very difficult in those days as the trunk road isn’t what it is today. I would consider her extremely brave to have done what she did. When she arrived in Singapore, she got a job and met my step-dad who married her. He was a doctor and Queen’s Scholar, a socialist, and set up his clinic in the poorest part of Singapore, called Rakyat Clinic – the People’s Clinic.

What was it like for you being brought up as a product of different cultures, in the UK and Singapore?

I guess I spent more of my childhood in Singapore than in the UK. I returned to the UK when I was seventeen. The notion of cultural identity got stronger for me after I moved to the UK, because it seemed to be quite important for people here in Britain to niche you into something. The cultural identity parameters are very different here than they were in Singapore. In Singapore I knew I was Chinese, but not necessarily strongly Chinese as such - I was Singaporean more than anything else.

Now however, I feel more British, especially after I came to live in the Isle of Dogs during the 1980’s. I was astounded at the history of the area and at the integration of different types of people in the vicinity, and that made me feel more at home. And the first Chinatown in London was down here; I was fascinated by that and even though it is no more the history of the area makes it feel more familiar to me.

I think straddling two different cultures has given me an insight into the insularity each has. Despite Singapore and London being both metropolises, I feel the media is very insular. I watch Al Jazeera and Russia Today and their news items really bring home the fact that in both British and Singapore media, neither have the range of news I feel is important for me, or anyone for that matter.

Do you ever see certain facets of your values that are typically Chinese?

My understanding of myself is that I am very tolerant – hopefully - of a lot of stuff: I always try and understand the perspective of different people, which kind of informs me because then it questions what I’m doing, why I’m doing things, and why I have relationships in a particular way with people. I think that is due to my upbringing in a multicultural society. I guess that is quite Chinese as the culture seems to me to promote a more philosophical outlook – whilst China doesn't have any homegrown religion as such, it does have philosophy: Confucianism and Daoism.

Do you think a lack of a formative religion in China has influenced how the British Chinese have settled in the UK?

I think so. There’s no overriding religion like here in the UK, but the most prominent religion that Chinese here in Britain have is Buddhism, which is not really a religion. My theory is that it’s popular with the Chinese because it’s a philosophical religion, which ties in well with the fact that Chinese communities here are so varied. They come from all parts of the world. Although China is about a fifth of the world’s population anyway, so there’s bound to be a lot of variety within the Chinese people! For me one interesting place of religion is the Fo Guang temple in the centre of London around Oxford Street – despite the variety in the Chinese people here, that’s a place where I found a lot of different Chinese communities have congregated and connected.

"I am a Fujian person that has been and gone through the experience of emigration to another country. But I feel like I am very different from the Fujianese from China because as emigrants, we have lived abroad and not through Communism and the Cultural Revolution."

Even the mainlanders from China - for example the Han ethnic group, which is the major group in China – come from all over. They come from Fujian, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Taiwan – all over! They’re all so spread out and so far flung that when they come and congregate here, they’re bound to come with cultural differences. So that’s the other thing that annoys me - when you have to tick boxes to say you are ‘Chinese’, or ‘Non-Chinese’, or ‘Other’. And of course you don’t fit into that box - I mean the Chinese don’t anyway!

What do you know about the migration history of the British-Chinese community?

My own lao jia – my origins, old home - are Fujianese. I am a Fujian person that has been and gone through the experience of emigration to another country. But I feel like I am very different from the Fujianese from China because as emigrants, we have lived abroad, whereas the Fujianese in China remained there and have lived through Communism and the Cultural Revolution. They come from rural areas - there are a lot of rural areas in Fujian so many are very, very poor to this day.

The Chinese from Hong Kong have been in the UK for quite a long time. Since the 1960s really, when the new Chinatown developed with people mainly from Hong Kong, who set up their restaurants. So there has been a bit of conflict between them and the mainlanders from China, who have recently been the main immigrants from Chinese areas to the UK.

There are also more Chinese people coming here from Taiwan. I have a friend who’s Taiwanese, and he actually sees himself as the repository of Chinese culture because he’s descended from Chiang Kai-Shek and the nationalist party. The Taiwanese regard themselves as more Chinese than the mainlanders who have been through Communism where everything was eradicated!

There are also a lot of Chinese people in Britain that are descended from Chinese from countries you might not have thought of – such as the Chinese from the Caribbean. My grandmother is from British Guyana, and she’s Hakka. So I do have a bit of Hakka blood. I think the Chinese world is as international as anything. It is not one world and one identity fits all. It’s just so vast, you know.

Do you feel like there should be more understanding as to the different cultures within the British-Chinese culture?

Definitely. There is understanding within the Chinese community but not otherwise, because we have no representation really in the media. I mean no media characters are written, nobody knows anything about the Chinese. The amount of take-away people I’ve seen! Always waiters, or triads. The Chinese are a lot of people in one. They have a lot of aspirations and they live their lives very differently. They’re not only gangsters and they’re not only restaurant people, so I think that needs to change really.