So, we’ve busted our guts learning Chinese language in Australia. Naturally, we arrive at the following conclusion: Being engaged with Chinese language and society requires me to be in Mainland China or all or most of the time. Nice one. But let’s take a look at how we can move towards a more multilayered engagement with Chinese language and society.
For many China-engaged Australians with no Chinese heritage, spending extended periods of time living in Mainland China can become the only way we engage with Chinese language and society. Sure, Chinese language and society historically originated in modern-day Mainland China. But are we overlooking the breadth and diversity of Chinese communities outside the Middle Kingdom?
Like many Australians returned from Mainland China last year, I was forced to confront and pick apart this question. In doing so, I realised that I was not in touch with how Australians with Chinese heritage or Huaqiao (Chinese nationals living in Australia) saw – or didn’t see – their place within a heterogeneous Chinese society.
Australia Live with the ABC’s Chinese language news service
Seeking out work experience placements with Australian organisations who devote time and resources to engagement with Chinese-Australian communities is one way we can broaden our perception of Chinese languages and societies.
Interning with ABC Chinese (Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Chinese language service) as part of the University of Melbourne’s Master of Translation and Interpreting program has formalised and consolidated my return to Australia from Mainland China. The internship has allowed me to meet with and work alongside professionals who provide us with the platforms to practise multiculturalism on home turf.
Launched in 2020, the ABC Chinese Australia Live program is a live talk show streamed weekly on the ABC Chinese Facebook page. ABC Chinese reporter Jason Fang engages guest speakers from every walk of life on a range of topics concerning Australians with Chinese heritage as well as Huaqiao.
Jason Fang’s interviewees are community group leaders, academics and public figures, students and young professionals. Each guest possesses an intimate knowledge of Chinese society, reflecting on topics such as interethnic marriage, homosexuality as well as relations between Mainland Chinese and Taiwanese living in Australia.
Virtual portals laying the foundation for greater community engagement
Engaging with Australia Live as both a viewer and interviewee, I have been able to survey the diversity of Chinese-Australian communities beyond my native city of Melbourne.
Without leaving our front door, Australia Live with ABC Chinese gets us talking with one another. We visit community centres we may have been unaware of. We visit the offices of key public figures and thinkers we may never have listened to. We drop by the homes of fellow Australians whose insights on Chinese society are just as valuable as those of our Mainland Chinese friends and colleagues.
The Australia Live program and the newly launched ABC Chinese YouTube channel welcome interaction from their viewers. Submitting questions and offering commentary via the Facebook page or YouTube channel is not just about practising our Chinese to present our personal views on important social issues. It’s about something a little more than that…
Australians with Chinese heritage and Huaqiao often express their frustration when their diverse communities are over-simplistically represented in the public domain. By engaging with platforms like Australia Live, we’re discovering how to connect and engage with Chinese-Australian communities through culturally and linguistically diverse paradigms.
This is how we start moving beyond our tendency to view Mainland China has the only source of our deeper understanding of Chinese languages and societies.
Engaging with Chinese-Australian communities
Our relationships with native Chinese friends living in Mainland China must be maintained. Yet we should not neglect to engage with fellow Australians with Chinese heritage.
Recent changes to social engagement have particularly impacted Australia’s diverse and multicultural communities. The increased visibility and accessibility of regional and ethnically-diverse Chinese culture, cuisine and traditional festivals signals a new responsibility for China-engaged folk in this country; to actively encourage spaces for Chinese-Australian communities to express and share their diversity.
In our noble quest to become a Zhongguo tong (China expert), we spend most of our 20s shifting, moulding and setting our lives around being in Mainland China . But world events of yesteryear rudely remind us that our ability to remain in or get to Mainland China is a difficult and precarious undertaking.
Please don’t freak about your Zhongguo tong status just yet. Your Asia Options’ China Correspondents will seek not only to inform you of expanding virtual and hybrid avenues for China-engagement; we will also share with you how you can increase your engagement with Chinese-Australian communities.