Learning in Hong Kong—in English or Cantonese?

English: Hong Kong colonial coat of arms ‪中文(香...

English: Hong Kong colonial coat of arms ‪中文(香港)‬: 香港盾徽 ‪中文(简体)‬: 香港盾徽 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

by Liz Ma

I am writing a paper on education system in Hong Kong and Chinese immigrants. I want to know how exclusive (or not inclusive enough) the education system is, especially the medium of instruction, i.e., Cantonese and English. Here, I recognize as Chinese immigrants those who migrated from China, in particular, those who migrated after 1997.

Hong Kong used to be under British rule, thus the official language of the public sector and government departments was English, instead of Cantonese or Chinese. The foreign language was highly engaged in the general public’s life. The language environment gives rise to two problematic issues. The first is that parents debate hard on whether they should send their children to EMI (English Medium of Instruction) or CMI (Chinese Medium of Instruction – here I mean Cantonese).

Back in the days of British rule, being accepted to EMI schools was a prerequisite for “the winning group”. The reasons behind parental preference, if not the child’s own choice in most of the cases, are multiple. However, the most powerful pull and push factor is that English was the official language in Hong Kong and outside the border. Positions in the government (still running the pension system) and foreign invested companies (highly paid jobs) were the easiest way to achieve promising career prospect. To get those keen competitive positions, the least requirement was high English proficiency. If you were able to master the language, you enjoyed a higher chance of promotion, and being appointed as an overseas manager.

Flag of Hong Kong (1959–97) ‪中文(简体)‬: 香港殖民地时期旗帜

Flag of Hong Kong (1959–97) ‪中文(简体)‬: 香港殖民地时期旗帜 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Similar to the Chinese boom in many countries nowadays, English is a very preferable foreign language in Hong Kong. Not to mention how attractive going abroad is, most students holding a foreign degree (the United States and the United Kingdom are the top two choices for studying abroad) get a very sound job when they return. Some top government officials can speak very fluent English, Anson Chan was one of the well known ones. Therefore, we can see how people look towards English speakers (even if they are Asian rooted). People believe learning English means knowing how to achieve a successful life. In Hong Kong, Cantonese makes you normal, while English helps you to stand out of the crowd, to become elite.

We can see a discrimination created by government in silence, because of how the system operates, how discrimination is rooted and generated and confirmed by parents and then among students. EMI schools are desirable. It is true that most of the top ranking secondary schools are EMIs. The top university in Hong Kong puts more emphasis on scores on English subjects rather than Chinese subjects during their admission and interview process.

As for Chinese immigrants, most secondary schools do not provide support to them when they first come to Hong Kong. As I mentioned above, English is viewed as more important when compared with Chinese. Chinese immigrants in classroom therefore become the inferior group, and in term of attention from teachers, naturally less than their classmates. It might also because of teachers’ poor level of Chinese. It is a fact that Chinese has never been a must to learn. The situation has changed gradually in recent years, I believe.

I am still doing research on the subject, but it seems the first issue takes up the main part. Information now in my hands contributes, more useful for building up the first issue.

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Selling whiter skin for beauty

by Kohsei Ishimoto

In Evelyn Nakano Glenn’s Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Matters (2009), Joanne L. Rondilla looks at the different techniques are used in the cosmetics industry. When looking at the Philippines, advertisements focus on ‘whitening’ the skin, because the people in the country tend to have darker skin. On the other hand, when looking at European countries, advertisements look at ‘brightening’ the skin, for there is the idea that people in these countries naturally have light skin.

When looking at these advertisements, it can be seen that to be beautiful, you must have white skin. Rondilla explains that there are many people in the Philippines who buy skin-whitening products to look beautiful, but is being ‘white’ really being beautiful? The main answer to why ‘white’ is thought to be ‘beautiful’ is colonization. To the countries that had been colonized, the European countries had been superior, fixing the image that ‘whites’ are ‘better’.

When reading Rondilla’s chapter, however, it can be seen that there are various ‘types’ of white skin. One is the European beauty that was mentioned earlier, and the other the ‘Asian beauty’. This refers to East Asian countries, such as China and Japan. Filipinos are actually looking at ‘Asian beauty’, possibly because these countries are closer to them. In Japan’s case, the country looks at being ‘white’, trying to achieve the European look. This statement can be said to be wrong however, for recently Japanese people want to be seen as individuals.

When looking at various advertisements, it can be seen that models of different skin tones are used. For advertisements that use ‘white’ women, companies state that they are the ‘result’ of the product. On the other hand, companies that use models of a darker tone state that it does not look ‘right’, telling the consumers to change by buying the product. It is a fact that many purchase skin-whitening products to gain their ‘beauty’, but exactly how close are they to their ideal image? Will consumers ever believe that they are beautiful enough? The answer to this is probably no. The cosmetics industry has control over the consumers, by selling only a small portion of a product, or changing advertising techniques to trick us into believing that our images are not yet satisfactory. When thinking about this, it is interesting to wonder why people use cosmetics in the first place. Can not having any make-up on be considered beautiful? The answer to this can be explained through society; how people see you, and how you want to be seen.

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Mimicking the non-existent

Anonymous student post

Body alterations are a strange thing. Just the words themselves—“body alterations”—make them seem so foreign to our lives, like they’re not something natural. Yet looking at people throughout my life has made me realize that body alteration has become the norm for many people, and desired by, perhaps, many more. If we were to look at how many people use make-up, have surgery, aim for a different body weight/composition, or even just get a piercing, we would see just how widespread this notion of changing our bodies is.

Yet, after reading Terry Kawashima’s (2002) article on racial indicators, I find body alterations strange in another sense. Kawashima discusses this idea of mimicry, in particular the mimicry of “white” traits by Japanese people, arguing throughout her paper that this is not the case for most of Japanese society. But it raised an interesting question about mimicry in relation to body alterations for me: When someone aims to alter their body, is it because they are trying to mimic something or someone else?

This can be a tricky question to navigate, as some will find it too broad a question while others will point out that there are as many reasons for changing one’s body as there are people. Despite this, I can’t help but feel that, at least from what I’ve seen and read, the answer just might be yes, but not in the way that the question is worded. The cautious reader will be skeptical, and thus, I suppose, explanations are in order.

Part of my answer is reinforced by some particular experiences of mine. Growing up with sisters can be difficult, especially when they are constantly attempting to put make-up on and dress fashionably, even when it makes you late for school. Anxiety, I learned, fueled my sister’s actions; she wanted to look “normal”, and thus she would groom herself constantly. For her, body modification was a way of becoming invisible. This resonates with my own experience growing up with raised bumps on my back. My mother, in all honesty, was more worried about them than I; she blamed them for the way I dressed and the activities I gave up when I was older, as well as for my shy and withdrawn personality. She went so far as to offer me a chance to have plastic surgery. Unable to explain to her (or myself) why my scars were not a problem to me, I consented.

After having plastic surgery on only two bumps, and after having grown up with more time to mull over that experience, I’ve realized that my mother believed I couldn’t think of myself as “normal” while I had something “subnormal”, especially when she saw the anxieties my sister held. Body modification, in this context, meant to her an attempt to elevate myself back to “the standard”.

Broadened to a larger scope, we can see in other’s experiences through things like blogs and academic literature that body modification extends across the board. It affects how people relate their body to race, gender, age, culture, health, and all these other touchy subjects that people seem afraid to address sometimes. And—again, from what I’ve seen and read—I think that all these changes that we make to our bodies has something to do with trying to obtain an ideal. In the end, it’s difficult to say that there’s some definitive “real” thing that people try to mimic, because most of the things I’ve listed are just social constructs. Race doesn’t biologically exist, health is relative, and age is reliant on different perceptions of time. In the end, perhaps all people are really trying to do is aim for something that’s not really obtainable because it does not exist in any measurable way. So in a way, we are trying to mimic something; it’s just not something that we can point to and say “there it is”.

Curiosity, slow down!

tattoo_1038

(Photo credit: doviende)

by Sheena Sasaki

Curiosity is one of the important phenomenon to how individual acts. I believe that sharing of culture is not taking place only to understand each other for world peace, but also with curiosity towards things which you are unfamiliar with. With curiosity, people are attracted to unknown cultures of the communities outside of theirs.

When I lived in the United States, I saw many non-Japanese having tattoos of kanji (Chinese/Japanese word character) as part of their fashion. One of my friends also had kanji tattoo as well. He told me that he had strong interest in Japanese cultures and traditions and would like to major in Japanese practices in the future. His curiosity was the base of his view of what he wanted to do in the future.

He also proudly said that he chose by himself the kanji he asked to have tattooed on his body. What he wanted as his tattoo was “ogre.” In kanji, it is written as “鬼 (oni)” My friend did not know the kanji for the word, but the tattooist told him that he knew. The reason my friend was interested in this kanji of oni was its definition and meaning behind the single word. The word does not simply mean “ogre” or “monster.” It also refers to ghosts and souls of dead people, something hidden and invisible, something of abnormal physical characteristic, and something which curses people. All of this definition combined created the monster of oni. Although I am not the person who deeply knows and practices my country’s culture, I felt proud to some extent. However, at the same time, I also felt some uneasiness when I took a glance at his tattoo. As I wrote, the kanji for oni is “鬼,” but what was tattooed on his arm was “豚,” which means “pig” or refers to some who is very fat.

This type of small misunderstanding is seen often. I have also seen people walking around in kimono with right side crossed bottom which is how dead bodies wear kimono. I remember my kimono teacher saying, “I am very happy that many people outside of Japan began to hold interest into kimono, but I feel sad at the same time when I see wrong practice of kimono wearing is widely known.”

It seems that some people fulfil their curiosity just by touching or experiencing only the atmosphere of the unknown culture. I believe the wrongly mimicked cultures make people uneasy or to some extent sad since to them, it may mean to them that foreigners do not really have interest and understanding to their culture. Mimicry may be a first step to knowing the new culture; however, stopping at the stage of mimicry strikes people as incongruous. This sense is similar to when your name is wrongly remembered. You know that the person did not purposely misremember the name, but you still feel some uneasiness. Curiosity helps people to hold interest into cultures they have never practiced. Meanwhile, small curiosities may lead to misunderstanding or wrong practices of certain cultures.

Accepting a Cheap Imitation of “White Features” as Beauty in Japan

Anime Drawing / Download & Color it yourself!

(Photo credit: Serena.)

by Yuta Kobayashi

Shoujo Manga has existed in Japan since the early 1900s. Consisting of sensitive artwork and a storyline aimed for young girls, these visual novels have been a part of the lives of many Japanese women since childhood. Although the original target audience of these Shoujo Manga was the young female population in Japan, the release of animations and live action dramas of these mangas in recent years have broadened the target audience towards a much larger population. For this reason, Shoujo Manga can be currently considered to be a widely accepted genre within the Japanese society.

Shoujo Manga is generally known for their sensitive artwork and their dramatic storyline. In most cases, the audience understands that the stories and characters involved are purely constructed from the imaginations of the authors and realize that these visual novels do not necessarily portray reality. However, at the same time, it can be considered true that these visual novels have the potential to influence the lives and the behaviors of the audience in reality.

In “Seeing Faces, Making Races: Challenging Visual Tropes of Racial Difference,” Terry Kawashima (2002) suggests how in Japan, the modern ideal image of beauty consists of a mix of both traditional Japanese and White values. She introduces the fact that some of the features of the modern Japanese concept of beauty, for instance, large eyes, small hook like noses, small mouths, and a round face, are represented on the characters illustrated in Shoujo Manga. In Japanese society, women tend to value beauty very highly. As suggested by Kawashima (2002), what is considered as ideal and beautiful within the Japanese society will be performed and “imitated.” In essence, young women who read these Shoujo Manga will unconsciously attempt to imitate the beautiful looking role models in the novels.

Kawashima (2002) introduces the idea that the modern concept of beauty in Japan can be considered a cheap imitation of Western beauty. To an extent, this can be considered true. In Japan, hair coloring and the usage of Bihaku, or skin lightening, products as a means to enhance looks, especially among women, are common. This artificial form of beauty, in essence, can be obtained through the consumption and usage of cosmetic products. In this manner, it can be assumed and accepted that the modern concept of Japanese beauty is heavily influenced by various aspects of Western beauty.

Kawashima (2002) suggests that Japanese beauty is “oppressed” by Western values. For some people, it may seem odd that Japanese people prefer beauty that is considered not their own. To deny one’s own sense of “traditional” beauty for something artificial or foreign may be interpreted negatively by others. However, I believe that it is not always bad for one to accept an oppressed concept of beauty, especially if the society is willing to accept the idea. The concept of beauty is forever changing. The spontaneous behavior of people in society to act in such way is natural. To add, in a society like Japan, to be beautiful means many things. This cheap imitation of beauty may be interpreted negatively by some people, but for many Japanese people living in the Japanese context, this cheap imitation of beauty is an essential part of life in society.

Some Questions:

Who decides what Japanese people should look like?

Should Japanese people be free to define for themselves what Japanese beauty is?

References

Kawashima, T. (2002). “Seeing Faces, Making Races: Challenging Visual Tropes of Racial Difference.” Meridians, Vol. 3 – 1 (pp. 161-190).

Colorism in Latin America; Not about Race

by Oscar Manzano

If you are reading this blog about colorism and you already have prior knowledge on the subject, chances are that you don’t agree with the title of this piece. This may be because Latin America’s preference, or more specifically the preference in México and Brazil, to talk more freely about a person’s skin color as opposed to race may seem like a contradiction to you. Why? I suppose it is because many believe that skin color or other characteristics that we attach to race, in order to be able to identify and categorize people, are indicators of race. It is this idea that I believe is incorrect, which leads me to believe that when Mexicans or Brazilians talk about skin color they are not talking about race as an American might see it. In this context I believe that color talk in México and Brazil is not the equivalent of race talk in America.

My reasoning for questioning color talks being the same as race talks draws upon human history and humans themselves. Humans have always had a history of migration and settlement. This alone prevents us from applying skin color or other characteristics to a certain racial group. So, unless we believe that Whites with certain characteristics grew out of the ground in Europe, and Blacks in Africa and Browns in Latin America and they all remained stationary, then can one possibly make a correlation with race and physical characteristics. However this is not so, and when we hear Mexicans and Brazilians talking about skin colors so nonchalantly, we believe that they what they are really talking about is race.

So if Mexicans and Brazilians are not talking about race, then what are they talking about when they refer to skin color? I believe that when Mexicans and Brazilians refer to skin color, they are acknowledging the great diversity and mixture of physical characteristics that have been as a result of human migration. Not physical characteristics of race but characteristics of human diversity. In saying that color talk is not a talk about race does not mean that colorism is preferred or more desirable over race talks, or that it is immune to social and moral problems that race deals with. On the contrary, the problems that color ideology faces are similar to those that race ideology faces. But the problems are not similar because racism and colorism are the same thing; rather, the problems stem from the fact that we have been socially trained to see physical differences and categorize them under a racial stereotype, confusing color and race.

A second reason as to why racism and colorism share similar social problems is because both are the result of global inequality. This brings up the issues of colonization. Why were White European countries the ones able to colonize? It would be difficult to say that Europeans were able to be the colonizers simply because their skin was white or their race was a certain specific one. It goes beyond that, and the ‘why was Europe the colonizer’ question involves a multi-sided understanding to find the answer to. Possible reasons include the amount of wealth, resources or strength those countries had and as a result, once colonization was achieved, the aggressors implanted various forms of discrimination based on race and color. In this sense it is possible that racism or colorism didn’t create inequality but inequality created racism and colorism.

Colourism in the Philippines: Behind the Veil of Whiteness

by Adelle Tamblyn

A few days ago, my mother, who is of Filipino and Spanish origin, told me some events that happened to her not too long ago. At church, my mother had met another Filipino woman, but much older. This woman was half Filipino and half Spanish. This woman, on hearing that my mother was also Filipino, started asking about my mother’s background: “Are you 100% Filipino?”. “No”, my mother replied “I’m half Spanish”. The older woman apparently looked at her in a disbelieving manner: “Then why are you so dark?”, she questioned.

Why are you so dark?  What a silly, churlish question, I thought. It seems so odd, I thought. You don’t just ask someone that. But the more I thought about this woman’s question, the more I thought about why she asked it, and what significance does skin colour hold amongst Filipinos?

I began to rack my brains for signs of fair-skin preference amongst the Filipinos I know, whether it was something they said or did. There is one saying in Tagalog: “She could be beautiful; it’s just a pity she’s dark”. I have heard harsher comments on other Filipinos: “Look at her skin colour, and her NOSE! She looks like a maid”. I know one woman who uses a concoction of bleaching creams and soaps religiously. Are these all signs of colourism amongst Filipinos?

Colourism is evident not only in India, but also in the Philippines, Korea, Japan, Nigeria, Pakistan and in South American countries, to name a few. In the Philippines, Television programs are saturated with light-skinned people, a great majority of whom are half-Filipino, typically of the highly-sought-after mestizo/mestiza variety (“mestizo/mestiza” meaning a half-Filipino with fair skin and Spanish-like features). Furthermore, there are shopping malls filled to the brim with skin whitening products in the Philippines. However, this does not necessarily reflect the look of the average Filipino. Nonetheless, the saturation of white-skin ideology in a society whose natural skin colour is typically brown are marginalising Filipinos into thinking that there is only one type of beauty: white.

In the Philippines, skin colour and nose shape are of high importance. In a country where the majority of the people are naturally dark, why are people equating white to beauty?

Whilst some would argue that having mestizas in the media and selling and producing skin whitening products is simply a reflection of what Filipinos want, others would argue that the root of this issue goes much deeper than that. In an interview by Al Jazeera’s ‘The Stream’, Yaba Blay, the Co-Director of Africana Studies at Drexel University, suggests that the desire for whiteness in many countries is due to colonialism. The colonialism argument is not a new one: the idea is that during the time of colonialisation, manual labourers would get dark as they worked all day in the sun; the wealthy and powerful lived a life of leisure indoors, therefore staying fair. The Philippines is no stranger to colonialism: the country has been colonised by the Spanish, the Americans and the Japanese. In line with Blay’s argument, fair skin ideology is linked to power, civility, social mobility and beauty.

The white ideology from colonial times has been passed on from one generation to the next: today, it is perpetuated in the selling of skin-whitening products and constant media exposure to the equation that white equals beautiful. But does it really matter so much that countries like the Philippines see white, fair skin as beautiful? On the surface, fair as beautiful may not seem like such a big issue; however, in a country where the skin colour of its people are naturally of a darker skin tone, sending messages of “white is better” only seeks to suppress its people, simply for being dark.

Link to video referred to: http://stream.aljazeera.com/story/201308212347-0022992