Chineseness across Borders: Renegotiating Chinese Identities in China and the United States

Duke University Press
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What happens when Chinese American youths travel to mainland China in search of their ancestral roots, only to realize that in many ways they still feel out of place, or when mainland Chinese realize that the lives of the Chinese abroad may not be as good as they had imagined? By considering programs designed to facilitate interactions between overseas Chinese and their ancestral homelands, Andrea Louie highlights how these programs not only create opportunities for new connections but also reveal the disjunctures that now separate Chinese Americans from China and mainland Chinese from the Chinese abroad.

Louie focuses on “In Search of Roots,” a program that takes young Chinese American adults of Cantonese descent to visit their ancestral villages in China’s Guangdong province. Through ethnographic interviews and observation, Louie examines the experiences of Chinese Americans both during village visits in China and following their participation in the program, which she herself took part in as an intern and researcher. She presents a vivid portrait of two populations who, though connected through family ties generations back, are meeting for the first time in the context of a rapidly changing contemporary China. Louie situates the participants’ and hosts’ shifting understandings of China and Chineseness within the context of transnational flows of people, media, goods, and money; China’s political and economic policies; and the racial and cultural politics of the United States.

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About the author

Andrea Louie is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Michigan State University.

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Additional Information

Publisher
Duke University Press
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Published on
Mar 22, 2004
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Pages
256
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ISBN
9780822385615
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Language
English
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Genres
Social Science / Anthropology / Cultural & Social
Social Science / Ethnic Studies / Asian American Studies
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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Chinese adoption is often viewed as creating new possibilities for the formation of multicultural, cosmopolitan families. For white adoptive families, it is an opportunity to learn more about China and Chinese culture, as many adoptive families today try to honor what they view as their children’s “birth culture.” However, transnational, transracial adoption also presents challenges to families who are trying to impart in their children cultural and racial identities that they themselves do not possess, while at the same time incorporating their own racial, ethnic, and religious identities. Many of their ideas are based on assumptions about how authentic Chinese and Chinese Americans practice Chinese culture.

Based on a comparative ethnographic study of white and Asian American adoptive parents over an eight year period, How Chinese Are You? explores how white adoptive parents, adoption professionals, Chinese American adoptive parents, and teens adopted from China as children negotiate meanings of Chinese identity in the context of race, culture, and family. Viewing Chineseness as something produced, rather than inherited, Andrea Louie examines how the idea of “ethnic options” differs for Asian American versus white adoptive parents as they produce Chinese adoptee identities, while re-working their own ethnic, racial, and parental identities. Considering the broader context of Asian American cultural production, Louie analyzes how both white and Asian American adoptive parents engage in changing understandings of and relationships with “Chineseness” as a form of ethnic identity, racial identity, or cultural capital over the life course. Louie also demonstrates how constructions of Chinese culture and racial identity dynamically play out between parents and their children, and for Chinese adoptee teenagers themselves as they “come of age.” How Chinese Are You? is an engaging and original study of the fluidity of race, ethnicity, and cultural identity in modern America.

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