Reconsidering Assimilation Theories: The Case of China

by Yuan Mingyang

Although the new assimilation theory supported by Alba and Nee (1997) and the segmented assimilation theory in Portes and Rumbaut (2001) to some extent explain the experience of immigrants and their descendants in the United States, some flaws can be found in the basic conceptions in both theories. For example, Jung (2009) pointed out that the notion of race has been largely overlooked and misinterpreted in both the new assimilation theory and the segmented assimilation theory. These flaws might become more obvious in the context of countries other than the U.S. since both researches are largely based on the U.S., and therefore in the following paragraphs I will examine some key concepts in the assimilation theories in the situation context of China. The aim is not to criticize these theories but to reconsider whether it is appropriate to take these concepts for granted in the assimilation theories.

The first problematic concept is “culture”, which is also mentioned in Jung (2009). Segmented assimilation theory has been criticized to blame everything to “culture”, which tends to essentialize social groups into certain good or bad social images (Jung, 2009). The segmented assimilation theory also uses the term “culture” without making a clear definition of it. Without a clear definition, culture can literally mean everything in human society, and as a result, the argument of the segmented assimilation theory that some groups successfully assimilated in the U.S. due to their culture becomes hollow.

The notion of culture in both theories also fails to analyze the interaction between the groups that are sometimes considered as sharing similar cultures. Lin (2012) made a research about how Taiwanese assimilate in the mainland society. Lin found that the key for Taiwanese to assimilate in the mainland is a Weberian social stratification, instead of a vague notion of culture. Lin argued that it is possible for Taiwanese to assimilate in the mainland society, but only into the group of people with similar socio-economic status and taste, since a large number Taiwanese in the mainland settle in large cities and are businessmen of higher socio-economic status. The segmented assimilation theory would not be able to provide an answer for this kind of cases. Indeed, the segmented assimilation theory might not even notice this kind of cases if it kept overemphasizing the effect of a blurred notion of “culture”.

The term “assimilation” is also hard to be defined in the assimilation theories. Culture is not a good criterion for defining assimilation as discussed above. Although both theories more or less use socio-economic status as a criterion for assimilation, these two theories seldom mention the situation where a group of higher socio-economic status are trying to assimilate in the host society, for instance, Taiwanese in mainland China discussed in Lin (2012). It is also hard to determine whether Taiwanese in China, most of who are businessmen with high socio-economic status, have assimilated in the mainland society, and therefore socio-economic status might not be able to measure assimilation.

National policy, which is part of context in the theory of Portes and Rumbaut (2001), might be another way to examine whether a group is accepted as a member of the country, but usually policy is different from reality. For example, although pluralism is prevailing in the national discourse in China, and many national policies preferred minority ethnic groups over the Han majority, minority ethnic groups usually live in specific areas and are of relatively low economic and education standards (Myers et al., 2013). Although multiculturalism is written in the Constitution, the government focuses more on unity and has a strong control on the autonomous regions of minority ethnic groups (Ibid).

The final point comes to the definition of migration itself. If we define migration only as people moving from one country to another country, we might be blind to the things happening inside the borderline. Both theories are restricted by the international system composed of sovereign states since they only focus on people across the border. The groups that are inside the border from the beginning will not be considered in the theories even if they do not share similar social norms and economic standards with other members in the same country. The neglect of race (Jung, 2009) might also be a result of this kind of theoretical assumption which only focuses on people moving across the border. In the case of China, since Korean, Russian, Mongolian, Tibetan, Uyghur, Uzbek, and many other minority ethnic groups are living inside China (see Myers et al., 2013 for details), their live and the interactions among minority ethnic groups and the majority Han will never be covered by assimilation theories. It is necessary to reconsider from the beginning what we should really focus on and what do all these conceptions really mean when we are studying migration.


Alba, R., & Nee, V. (1997). Rethinking assimilation theory for a new era of immigration. International Migration Review, 31(4), 826-874.

Jung, M. (2009). The racial unconscious of assimilation theory. Du Bois Review, 6(2), 375-395. doi: 10.1017/S1742058X09990245

Lin, R. (2012). Birds of a feather flock together: Social class and social assimilation of the Taiwanese in mainland China. Soochow Journal of Political Science, 30(2), 127-167. (Original text in Chinese)

Myers, S. L., Gao, X., & Cruz, B. C. (2013). Ethnic minorities, race, and inequality in China: A new perspective on racial dynamics. The Review of Black Political Economy, 40(3), 231-244. doi: 10.1007/s12114-013-9165-7

Portes, A., & Rumbaut, R. G. (2001). Legacies: The story of the immigrant second generation. Berkley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press.

Assimilating into stereotypes: exchange students and 2nd-generation immigrants

Anonymous student post

When I read the articles about assimilation and learned about assimilation in the class, I was recalling my experience in high school in the U.S. as a one-year exchange student, and try to consider assimilation issues based on that. However, as I try to compare a situation of second-generation immigrants and my case, I began to think my experience was totally different from that of second-generation immigrants.

In the U.S., I was called an “Asian” instead of Japanese, and Asian usually refers to East Asia. It did not take long for me to notice or feel what kind of stereotypes American people have for Asians. In general, Asian students in the U.S. were considered as studious, serious, geeks, etc. To be straightforward, as far as I felt, they found Asian students “boring” in general. Due to such stereotypes, they did not really expect me to say jokes or be athletic. When I said some jokes (even not really funny ones) or played sports better than normal students in the U.S., they were surprised and impressed, and gave me compliments. I assumed that this happened because they had a low expectation for Asian students in terms of humor or sports. I found it lucky to have sort of negative racial stereotypes because I can get attention and positive impressions just with little efforts. This actually motivated me to make efforts to be funny or popular in school.

I was then wondering if negative stereotypes could work positively for a certain race or ethnic of second-generation immigrants with negative impressions, and motivate them to succeed socioeconomically in a host county. However, while I was discussing this with professor Moorehead, I realized that negative stereotypes would work differently for second-generation immigrants from people who stay in a host country for a short period of time, like me.

It was completely a new experience for me to see people’s reactions when I did not meet their expectation of Asians. Thus, I was able to enjoy it. On the contrary, for second-generation immigrants, they have been dealing with such stereotypes repeatedly for their entire life. If they repeatedly felt that others are having a low expectation for them, they would be more likely to feel offended than be motivated.

In addition, I consider that these negative racial stereotypes would affect their performance more negatively if they felt they were “American”. In my case, I was nationally Japanese and considered myself Japanese, so did not really feel being offended being labeled as Asian, even when it was linked to some negative stereotypes. For those second-generation immigrants who considered themselves American, it would probably be more difficult to accept such stereotypes and fight them because they feel they identified less as Asians. Therefore, in my assumption, second-generation immigrants with a strong American identity would face more difficulty to fight their negative racial stereotypes and overcome them.

Mixed Race Assimilation in Japan

Anonymous student post

According to most assimilation theories, the highest indicator of assimilation is intermarriage. In her 2010 article “What happens after segmented assimilation? An exploration of intermarriage and ‘mixed race’ young people in Britain”, Miri Song explores the identification of mixed race people. The subjects of her study were those who had a single British parent and one immigrant parent, and had grown up in Britain. When asked what group they identify with, many chose the category ‘British’ – claiming that culturally they were British. I believe such findings may be applicable in other settings, not just Britain.

Japan is infamous for not being open to migration. There are only a small percentage of immigrants, especially compared to many other “developed” nations. However, this does not mean there are no intermarriages. In fact, intermarriages have been rapidly increasing recently and Hafu (the term used to call half Japanese, literally meaning ‘half’), have become less of a rare sight. Flick through a few television channels or pages in a magazine and with a high possibility, you will find a Hafu model or celebrity. Recently, Hafu are not only constrained to modeling because of their foreign looks, but also other roles in entertainment.

Comedy duo “Denisu”Here, I would like to bring up the case of Yukio Ueno, a member of the comedy duo ‘denisu’, who is half Japanese and half Brazilian. His character and portrayal in media is a great example of the position of Hafu in Japanese society.

The audience will roar in laughter as he introduces his extremely Japanese name, and mentions that he grew up in Suita city of Osaka. He talks of how he is usually assumed to be a foreigner and treated differently from his Japanese peers. What makes Yukio Ueno funny for the Japanese audience is the fact that he is culturally Japanese but looks foreign.

Yukio Ueno and other similar Hafus symbolize the Japanese attitudes towards at the moment. You can have a Japanese parent, have Japanese nationality, speak Japanese, have a Japanese name, be born and raised in Japan – yet not be treated as Japanese due to features you adopt from your non-Japanese parent. It becomes important for Japanese born and raised Hafus to assert their Japanese-ness, as can be seen in the case of Ariana Miyamoto. Ariana Miyamoto won the Miss Universe Japan contest for 2015, but being half African-American, has been receiving internet abuse for being unfit to represent Japan.

Japan is still less accepting of foreign looks for sure compared to Britain. However, I do believe the Hafu that are born/raised in Japan do identify as culturally Japanese – just as most of the subjects in Song’s study (2010) claims.

However, not all of Song’s subjects (2010) chose the British category. Half-black people chose to identify as the minority category. We see the race of the non-immigrant parent plays a large role in the identification and assimilation of a ‘mixed race’. Race does matter in Japan too. The treatment of a ‘Hafu’ is effected by the race of their immigrant parent. Being half white is usually an advantage over other races. This is perhaps due to the adoration of Caucasian features as aesthetic.

As people continue to move over borders and mixed race people increase, how will concepts of assimilation change??

An unexpected “gaijin moment”

English: Signage for hostess bars in Kabukicho...

English: Signage for hostess bars in Kabukicho, Tokyo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Robert Moorehead

At the beginning and end of each semester, my college faculty and staff gather for a fancy meal at a restaurant before a smaller group moves on to an Irish pub for a nijikai (second round of drinking). The nijikai crowd eventually shrinks down to a smaller group that heads to a third bar, for a sanjikai. At each place, everyone shares stories, laughs, and enjoys each other’s company in a mix of Japanese and English. Despite the fun, at the third stop I had a “gaijin moment.”

A “gaijin moment” is my Japanese adaptation of Eli Anderson’s “n**r moment,” in which non-Japanese are starkly reminded of their outsider status in Japan. In this case, the reminder came despite the smiles, laughter, and joyous karaoke singing of my colleagues.

The sanjikai took place at a small Japanese-style bar. The 16 people in our group settled in on couches in the back of the bar, as three Japanese hostesses came over to pour drinks for us, serve us snacks, and engage us in conversation. Thankfully, these women avoided the more dramatic flirting found in hostess bars, where the job is to flirt with customers, smile, sing, and get customers to buy drinks—what Rhacel Parreñas has defined as a form of sex work. (Anne Allison and Parreñas have produced great ethnographies of hostess work, for those interested.)

A Japanese woman in her 30s sat across from me and another foreign professor, poured us some watered-down drinks, and asked questions that non-Japanese often get—do you speak Japanese, where are you from, how long have you lived in Japan, etc. To her credit, she avoided exaggerated responses like “Oh really? Wow! That’s great!” Or maybe she read the look I probably had on my face.

English: Kabukicho, Tokyo

English: Kabukicho, Tokyo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While I understand the history of the hostess role, I also understand the gender dynamics of paying women to serve me. Pouring drinks, wiping moisture off the glasses, re-filling drinks (with extremely watered-down booze), clapping their hands in time to the karaoke singing, and pretending to be interested in whatever I might say. I couldn’t separate their smiles from the fact that they were being paid to show those emotions … that I was paying them for those emotions.

At that moment, I realized that I am unable to turn off the sociologist in my head. I couldn’t get comfortable with the hostess-customer relationship. While there’s no shame in working as a hostess, I would have preferred to have gone to Ing, a rock bar that several of us had unsuccessfully lobbied for. At least the bar we went to was better than the place we’d gone to previously, a depressingly dark bar where the hostesses routinely yawn, check their watches, serve stale snacks, and pour drinks that are essentially watered-down gasoline.

Then came calls for me to join the karaoke. I demurred, as I listened to my colleagues sing one Japanese song after another, from pop to rock to dance music, generations of Japanese songs I had never heard. A few English classics, like Elvis Presley, the Beatles, and Frank Sinatra, made their inevitable appearance. But it was the endless medley of Japanese songs that made me feel like a gaijin. Everyone was nice enough, and even the hostess eventually moved on to other people. But sitting through song after song that I had never heard before, but all my Japanese colleagues seemed to know by heart, made me realize that, despite all the music that we had in common, we grew up listening to very different things.

Black Sabbath 1977 Ozzy Butler Iommi - "R...

Black Sabbath 1977 Ozzy Butler Iommi – “Reality Show” (Photo credit: Whiskeygonebad)

Odds are that if my Japanese colleagues had found themselves listening to people (try to) sing the heavy metal and rock tracks I grew up with (time for some Black Sabbath or Iron Maiden karaoke, anyone?), they would have felt similarly. As people pushed me to look for songs to sing, I drew a blank. Feeling like an outsider, I couldn’t even think of what I’d look for. Not that I really wanted to sing, but I felt like such an outsider that I couldn’t imagine anything I liked being in the computer system.

Eventually, I got forced to sign the last song of the night, and while people were originally searching for “Hey Jude,” I got stuck with “We Are the World.” Seriously. It would not have been my first choice, or my second, or my 153rd.

The next day, all sorts of songs popped into my head, making me wonder even more about what had set me off. After more than 7 years in Japan, it’s interesting to see that I can still feel like a total gaijin.

So a little empathy is in order whenever a native complains about foreigners not fitting in. Fitting in is a long, bumpy road. And just when you think you’re in the clear … more bumps.


Adolescence and migration: Struggling to fit in

by Tomoka Adachi

Currently in global society, there is a comparatively broad definition referring to people who leave their home country and immigrate overseas as global citizens. An increasing number of transnational migrants have been challenging such concepts of the nation-state (Ohno,S 2008). The term immigration is not unfamiliar at all and has even been highlighted in recent years as more issues have been discovered.

Immigrants can be broadly categorized by generation, based on the period of time in their lives that they moved to the host country. In the more precise language of social-science research, the term second generation is usually reserved for those children of immigrants who are born in the host society, while the children who arrived at a young age and thus receive part or all of their schooling in the new society are called the 1.5 generation, a term invented by the sociologist Rubén Rumbaut (Alba & Waters 2011).

Adolescence is one of the most significant steps in the formation of self-identity. There are  outcomes internally and externally for children who migrate at a younger age. In the first place,  immigrant children have to get used to the new environment in the receiving countries, while apart from other close family members, peers and friends in the home country. Homesickness may appear in numerous forms as the result of the diversity of language usage, diet, customs, school system, and citizens from different ethnic groups. All those features certainly depend on the culture and social similarity and differences between the receiving country and home country.

Nevertheless, the efforts immigrant children should take is because they are disadvantaged under many conditions. They are considering who they are and what they tend to be, whether to change or not in the receiving countries as heavily affected by the relation to their surroundings. While at the same time still requires the recognition from people around. Youth immigration demanded changes to the social identity and culture identity in the social and culture environment. The youth may cope with the psychological pressure produced by such dissonance by seeking to reduce conflict and to assimilate (literally, to become similar) within the relevant social context (Rumbaut 1994). However, the invisible pressure which forced assimilation may lead in another direction, in a  reaction of refusing to fit in. For the 1.5 generation, the possibility of segmented assimilation happens in most cases.

In addition, when it comes to 1.5 generation regarding to assimilation, children more or less have the concept of certain social and culture value of their home country, so that it becomes  more of a challenge to define self-identity in the receiving countries. The border and notion of national identity in relation to citizenship belongings blurs.

Furthermore, the reality is that the mass of society tends to offer limited options to classify immigrants. Categories by questioning whether to belong to one culture or not, to socially belong to our culture or outside of our culture. Hence, the lack of social recognition for those who culturally maintained in the middle, such as the 1.5 generation, led those people to fill in the gap and to struggle to connect their self-identity to nation-state citizenship in order fit in the current social position.


Alba, R & Waters, MC. (2011) “The Next Generation: Immigrant Youth in a Comparative Perspective Dimensions of Second-generation Incorporation. New York: NYU Press.

Ohno, S. (2008) “Transnational Citizenship and Deterritorialized Identity: The meaning of Nikkei Diasporas’ Shuttling between the Philippines and Japan.Asian Studies 44(1):1-22.

Rumbaut, RG. (1994) The Crucible within: Ethnic Identity, Self-Esteem, and Segmented Assimilation among Children of Immigrants. International Migration Review 28(4):748-794.

The 1.5 Generation: Succeeding for the Family

by Tomoka Adachi

Among international immigrants, there are issues from family as well society, and those factors impact the 1.5 generation. Various external elements pressure each individual immigrant and help to develop the social life of immigrants in relation to the society, whether in the native country or the receiving countries.

Mostly, the social status in the home country is less significant when people migrate overseas. Social ties and qualified careers become less useful and less important in terms of the immigrant life in the host countries. There is a status shift for immigrants, especially the first generation, resulting in various forms which heavily affect the performance of the 1.5 generation. As a consequence, 1.5 generation children are under family pressure in terms of the parents’ expectations to have better performance and social success compared to native speakers.

I would like to take a personal experience to illustrate this problem. I am a 1.5 generation migrant to Japan. I migrated with my family right after I finished primary school. Even though my mother worked as a high school teacher for 15 years in the home country, she was working in the restaurant, shops and so on service-related sectors for part-time work, which are considered as lower-class jobs in Japan. Thus, I tend to push myself and want to improve Japanese language ability as soon as possible to cope with the school curricula.

There are mainly three reasons that drive me to think that way. The first reason is an acknowledgement of the sacrifice of my family members to fulfill my education and expenses in Japan. My parents are not only giving up their stable careers but also social status in the home country to migrate to Japan. This is an invisible and indirect pressure that has influenced me to take the responsibility to work harder on my school studies and activities outside of school to financially support the family.

The potential disadvantage as a foreigner in Japan is the second reason. Scholars have argued about the notion of ‘immigrant optimism’, in that Immigrant parents tend to have expectations about their children’s advance that are significantly higher than those of natives, or the working-class (Alba & Waters 2011). Although in Japan there are privileges as a foreigner, the 1.5 generation is not able to benefit from them. Sometimes they may even have a negative influence. Compared to my classmates, our starting line is different. I am disadvantaged in various means, such as a lack of language capability, social participation, access to the job market, and the possibility to enter university. Under this circumstance, I have been forced to take more effort to compete as a 1.5 generation migrant.

The limited education support and assistance in school is the third account I took. While I was in junior high school, it was tough for me to catch up with my academic studies because there were fewer learning directions and treatment by teachers to me as an international student. Thus, Japanese public schools, like their counterparts in other countries, continue to face the responsibility of preparing immigrant children for their futures in Japan (Moorehead 2013).

Overall struggles within the 1.5 immigrant generation are likely to be ignored, based on what is appeared on the surface.


Alba, R & Waters, MC. (2011) “The Next Generation: Immigrant Youth in a Comparative Perspective Dimensions of Second-generation Incorporation. New York: NYU Press.

Moorehead, R. (2013) “Separate and Unequal: The remedial Japanese Language Classroom as an Ethnic Project” The Asia-Pacific Journal 11(32):3.

Citizenship and migration: Questions of identity and belonging

English: Coat of arms of the Philippines

English: Coat of arms of the Philippines (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Mayumi Futagami

As I read the article “Citizenship and immigration: multiculturalism, assimilation, and challenges to the Nation-State,” I am reminded of my own family’s multi-cultural experiences with Japanese culture and Filipino culture. The book says that “immigration challenges and reaffirms identity” (Bloemraad, 2008) I also think that is true, because immigration makes you know and acknowledge a new environment in which you will be found out anew. These new things will change your knowing about the culture that you used to know.

Citizenship is important to have a legal status of “belonging to a country”. I know that we should belong to a country to group ourselves. However I have this kind of doubt for those people who have double blood lineage of other countries. Do we really need to be divided? How can we answer questions such as: What is your nationality?

In a situation in which you are born in the Philippines, your mother is Filipino, and your father has Japanese nationality, because of visa problems these parents have to apply for you to have Japanese citizenship because that citizenship makes it easier to go abroad. They think of your future. For instance my sister is “half” Japanese and Filipino. When you ask her what her identity or nationality is, at home she will proudly say “I am both Japanese and Filipino”, however when you asked her outside (e.g. supermarket, malls, schools) here in Japan, asking “Are you Filipino?, she will say “urusai” means “shut up”.

I feel that citizenship also matters through images. The rule of Japan that you could have a dual citizenship until age 22 is like just giving you time to think. It makes it really complicated for those young people for they are forced by the imagined tradition of the society. Citizenship makes the pressure of participation model in the society (ibid). When you say that your citizenship here in Japan is different, even if you have the lineage blood of Japanese you may feel a little shame. For as the transnational says about the image of your home country or maybe the home country of your mother or father, maybe both, does make differences good or bad. You may also think is true for the superiority of the country in which you live (e.g. comparing Japan and Philippines).

I don’t really feel ashamed of where I come from in social saying that I have Filipino and Japanese blood. However, it makes me feel sad and embarrassed when they compare those 2 countries in culture or tradition or daily lifestyles. It is because when they say something about it I feel like a little loss of which identity. I feel that why do we need to choose between 2 nations to find citizenship?

Sweden adopted dual citizenship in 2001 (ibid.). I envy this kind of policy in some points that when I am here in Japan I could say that “I am Japanese”, and if they say that “no you’re not”. I could say that, “even though I am Filipino I have Japanese citizenship.” As well as I go back to the Philippines I could also say the same thing because I already have the both culture that already compiled in my daily life.

Migrating for me here in Japan at first was a big challenge for even though I am Japanese in DNA, I felt at that time I am completely Filipino. However, as I migrate here and my father is Japanese I could find myself that I have the capacity or right to have the citizenship of Japan. I applied for it and did easily get it. I just feel it’s strange that we really need to have one kind of citizenship to define what kind of people we are. And some are forced, for there is what they called the “beautiful culture” of Japan and some “bad image” of the Philippines (in which people come to Japan to find jobs) which affects children.

Of course there are some exceptions of having the citizenship of the host country, e.g. Japan. Either you are born there, live there for long years, or marry a citizen there. This could happen to people who are old (come for work) or young people (come for education), etc. Taking Japan as a place where people migrate, there are many people do this and that they could find some loss of identity. Even though they are fully strangers in the host country, they feel that they somehow belong to it for they were able to adopt the culture and lifestyles.

A friend of mine in school here also feels that even though she is not really Japanese she could feel that she “culturally” and “traditionally” belongs to Japan. I don’t mean that it is citizenship that matters, I just mean that citizenship relates to identity. I see that citizenship is easy to answer when you never been out of the country. However as you try to move, taking the question where I belong is a really hard question, especially when you need to choose. I think it is not a matter of the society but also matters from your family decision of what to choose. I thought one reason was the importance of culture, or how advantageous it is to have that citizenship in the country or even overseas.

That is why I feel that citizenship matters in many aspects, where you belong, what you take important the most (culture or superiority), and more. In my point of view, citizenship is a hard thing to choose. However if I just think which is better for my future, Japan or the Philippines, maybe I certainly choose Japan as my citizenship for it will be easy for me to travel abroad.

The Contradictory Cultural Identity of Rural Children in China

guoby Dream Guo

Recently, a Chinese reality show called “X-Change” received widespread attention and initiated topics among Chinese people. In the show, two children from totally different backgrounds, one is from a well-off urban household, and the other is from an extremely poor rural family, exchange their lives for nearly thirty days.

The audience will see how the city boy changes his personality and behaviors from extremely traitorous, selfish and hedonistic to sensible, obedient and considerate of others during his thirty-day severe life in rural area.

At the same time, the rural child who has hard-working, observing all rules and regulations and honest high morals will first time see the outside world and adapt new modern culture and city life-style. The reforms of the city boys are always successful, since at the end of the show, the city children will turn over a new leaf and become good children at home and school. Meanwhile, the rural children will be judged by people and baptized by urban culture, and at last due to the public opinion, two kinds of identities of them which are contradictory will be constructed by the program.

Gao, one of the rural protagonists in the show is described as “backward” and “rude” when he first landed in the city. People made fun of him when he said he had never heard of Zhao Benshan (a famous Chinese comedian) and Liu Dehua (a famous Chinese singer); people laughed at him when he took a lift awkwardly; people criticized him when he wolfed down his food; people disliked and avoided him when he complained a lot and said he wanted to earn money. All these conducts give him a label – “backward”. Nevertheless, when we think about his background, which always makes him suffer from hunger, poverty, and information shortage, his conducts can be translated to cherishing food, curious about new things and fighting for life and easily be understood.

Thus we would find that people made comments actually based on a comparison, a comparison made by who has material civilization, consumer culture and himself is from urban city. As Gao was alone in the city, the dominant urban culture certainly became “advanced” while the minority rural culture became backward. Linking to reality, the urban population has always been dominant in cities, and therefore, the idea that urban culture is superior gradually became a national concept.

During the thirty-day-life experience in the city, when facing the concussive advanced urban culture, rural children will either adapt it or reject it. If the child adapts it, he will be considered as one who forgets the original source. If the child rejects it, he will be seen as a model of rural child, however, spending his entire life in the mountain.

Rural people are frugal in common. As a result, when Gao experienced the prosperous urban life, shopping, entertaining, he started spending money on snacks and amusement park by himself. Moreover, when he was asked whether wanted to go back to rural area, he hesitated for a moment and said “I don’t know”. Consequently, people blamed him, saying that he was lacking in will power when facing material life, and forgetting his roots and simple, thrifty characters. Yet, becoming a “spender” is the rule of urban cities. It is exactly what urban culture taught him and as well as what he needs to do to adapt to the environment, let say the development and rich resources would make him hesitate. Nonetheless, he was again blamed, just because that people saw his identity packed with frugality and they were not willing to accept him to adapt to their urban culture. People believed that going back to rural area and making contribution for his hometown was the right choice.

Seen this way, children like Shi and Luo were highly praised. Shi was always industrious and frugal. When he had time, he did not play or enjoy life, and instead, he did all the housework of the host family as he did at his home in rural area. Luo also refused the pocket money given by his host parents and refused help from school. He said he did not want to always rely on someone else, and he needed to struggle by himself. Then people praised them as having the self-discipline and being brave enough to challenge their poor fate. Nevertheless, more often than not, this praise would not appear if Shi and Luo did not refuse to stay in the city.

Hence, we can tell that rural people are welcome to experience urban life, however, if they stay in the city, enjoy spending, people will think they are affected by the temptation of materialism and addicted to material life. As a consequence, in the reality, it is hard for rural children to have both modern civilization as well as “high morality”.

Chinese as “honorary Whites” in Apartheid South Africa

“For use by white persons” – sign from the apa...

“For use by white persons” – sign from the apartheid era Español: “Sólo para blancos” – letrero de la era del apartheid (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Krishna Vanstraelen

If assimilation theory seems to oppose the general trend for first generation Chinese migrant in recent years, it however sheds light and corroborates segmented assimilation theories for the second and third generations. The first wave of Chinese migrants in South Africa in the early 1900s has followed a so-called typical way of integrating a culturally foreign society. Though what drove Chinese migrants in South Africa to follow classic segmented assimilation theories is the succession of two distinct historical events, their entrepreneurship and desire to access the higher sphere of South African society, which is striking and somewhat unusual, given the political and social nature of the host country.

Much like current Chinese migrants to South Africa, first generation migrants tended to send their offspring to China, both to learn and preserve Chinese tradition and culture and to receive what parents viewed as a “proper” education. However, in the early 1950s, the Immigrants Regulation Amendment Act enacted by the newly established Communist Party, along with the strengthening of institutionalised apartheid in South Africa, made it increasingly difficult for Chinese to travel in and out of China, hindering thus education in the home country.

When examining the case of first, second, and third generations, Yoon Jung Park, the most cited scholar in this specific field, refers to them respectively as shopkeepers, fence-sitters, and bananas. Shopkeepers because these children born in the 1920s and 1930s usually received Chinese education, had little to no English proficiency, and typically ended up helping their parents as shopkeepers or working in unskilled or semi-skilled positions in factories, retail shops, or offices. Though second generation children as well, fence-sitters were born from the 1940s through the early 1960s, and were labelled as such due to an ambiguous identity.

Although growing in a climate separating whites and non-whites, Chinese migrants and their children were given concessions and privileges as their social status shifted progressively towards “honorary whites”. Hence, most Chinese children born during this time period attended private white church schools by means of a progressive loosening of discriminatory rules and heavy financial sacrifices made by their parents. Ineluctably, as children were gradually losing their Chinese language ability and increasingly conform to western culture, their identity and place in the South African society became equivocal.

Lastly, the bananas refer to the physicality of the fruit; yellow on the outside, white on the inside. Born in the late 1960s through the 1970s, these children had little to no experience of Apartheid-era discrimination, as Apartheid and its institutionalized rules were gradually fading away—at least for Chinese residents/citizens, who enjoyed a full primary and secondary education alongside white children in government and private white schools. As a result, most children of this generation developed a strong affiliation to western culture, low relations to China and its language, and an ever-growing number completing tertiary education allowing them to climb the social ladder (Park, 2009).

The crux of Chinese assimilation that trails segmented theories is found in the early 1950s, when regulatory rules hamper Chinese migrants to follow customary patterns in regards of their low integration and their offspring. When returning to their home country became less of an option, Chinese migrants generally estimated that providing their children with better/white education will facilitate and increase their social mobility. Through massive financial sacrifices and the withstanding of discriminatory rules and societal norms, parents of children born from the 1940s through the early 1960s (and onwards) were able to send them to white schools, allowing these children to access tertiary education and gain a foothold and recognition in the South African society.


Park, Y. J. (2009). A matter of honour: Being Chinese in South Africa. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books/Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Brazilian immigrants children’s identities between expectation and reality

by Minako Sanda

“On the sports festival day, Brazilians were gathered and forced to dance Brazilian Samba. I hated it. While I was trying my best to assimilate to Japanese friends, being forced to dance with Brazilians felt humiliating. We studied about many countries, but there was no class that featured me (Japanese-Brazilian), but if any, I kept distance from or deleted those memories. Until I got into Junior High, I didn’t like to be seen as a Brazilian, in High School I started to think I don’t care, then in University I began to like it” (From an interview with a Brazilian immigrant, Amano, 2013)

The author’s interview with his Japanese-Brazilian friend sounded familiar to me because I have a friend in similar circumstances as this interviewee. I remember she had a hard time reading textbooks and had extended classes after school.

Nonetheless, I have known only a little about her feelings as a Brazilian immigrant as we spent a few years together in Kobe. I never saw my friend as someone different, except for what she knew about the different country where she had lived, and according to her—she belonged there. As a child I didn’t think ‘belongingness’ was something to ponder; we were in Kobe and that was where we belonged, at least I thought so.

Indeed, the feeling of belongingness is simple for those who lived in a culture and places where people speak a common language. The formation of self identity went along with the cultural environment. But those who have moved from one culture they know well to a foreign one, and then return to their home culture after assimilating to another environment, trying to identify themselves in multiple cultures suddenly starts to make them feel like their feet are off the ground, as if they were indecisive people in-between here and there.

Throughout our class, we have learned how some can choose to take advantages of an in-between lifestyle, for instance I now understand that I benefit by choosing to study abroad, knowing cultural differences, and assigning such advantages as part of my identity. However, for people who did not have choice—in the following contexts, children of immigrants—and therefore have had to struggle to identify where to call their home, the feeling of belongingness is not so simple.

I imagine this struggle is vivid in the case of children in lower grades of elementary school. Moving to another place when they may have just began developing solid identities does not simply mean the struggle of language acquisition. There must be an entire reconstruction of personality and identity in order to gain comfort ‘standard’, in other words, to be treated just the same as everyone else in host country.

According to Amano (2013), who interviewed migrant children, the parents of the interviewee (in the beginning of this paper) had a strong will to put him in Japanese education. Likewise, many immigrants recognize Japanese schools have better education than those in Brazil. This interviewee came to Japan with his parents when he was in grade 3, and studied in Japanese school till he graduated university.

I think this expectation puts a great pressure on Brazilian children who not only need to catch up with language but also learn the ‘standard’ level of contents. This was a serious task for them because they have to fight against the stereotype which tends to be easily put on individuals as ‘lazy’, ‘not serious’ Brazilian, despite the lack of adequate language support that matches the on-going contents of other Japanese children are learning.

“Japanese public education envisions an egalitarian and communal notion of citizenship, in which students become equal members of the nation-state and part of tightly knit, cohesive social groups. To this end, teachers strive to provide students the necessary skills. However, in the space between the school’s ideals and reality, many immigrant children are left behind in the Amigos Room to idly complete worksheets and play, as the years until graduation pass them by” (Moorehead, 2013).

Is this a failure of Japanese education system not providing tailor-made support to immigrant children? Even if they are giving special support to immigrants. somehow it ends up segregating the children from the average Japanese children’s learning contents? Or is it their parents who are putting too-high expectations on the children? Or, could it be, children who are really just lazy?

As a result, children stand between their parents’ expectations and reality. Their parents expect their children to grow as ‘successful Brazilians who got educated in Japan’, whereas in reality they are failing to identify themselves in neither a fully Brazilian community nor as well-assimilated foreigners in Japan.


Amano, Masato. (2013). Study of the Actual Condition of the Foreign Student in Japan by Interview ―The Importance of The Degree of Expectation and The Identity―. インタビューを通した日本の外国人児童の実態に関する研究 ―期待度とアイデンティティの重要性について―, Departmental Bulletin Paper. Aichi:Japan.

Moorehead, Robert. (2013). Separate and Unequal: The Remedial Japanese Language Classroom as an Ethnic Project. The Asia-Pacific Journal 11(32):3. Retrieved July 26, 2014 at