Frances Yeung is a Coventry based digital designer / multimedia artist. Having lived in the UK for majority of her life, she has witnessed first-hand how British Chinese are often underrepresented, long been referred to as a ‘silent minority’, whether it’s in politics, art and culture scene or wider society. And within this minority group, women are the quietest of them all. If these stories were never told, will the group cease to exist?
Frances is embarking on a culture identity journey that she felt compel to take on… she yearns to discover more untold everyday Chinese women’s stories in the UK, and through doing so, she hopes to find answers to her own identity and sense of belonging. She is running this project as part of her Fellowship at BOM (Birmingham Open Media).
Frances’s family migrated from Communist China to westernised, capitalist Hong Kong, when she was 5, at the time still a British colony. Her parents were both University educated, which is the ‘intellectuals’ Chairman Mao wanted to target. During the cultural revolution they were sent to the countryside to be ‘re-educated’. Red guards took her mother’s family possessions overnight and all literature books passed down from generations were burned. She thought nothing of her parents’ conversations when young, all the while just felt she didn’t fit into the Hong Kong society. The niggling feeling of not belonging was always there.
Growing up, she looked the same as any other HK Chinese, but 80s stereotyping and negative portrayal of immigrated mainland Chinese has made her question – why being born in a different place could made some of us feel ‘less of a person’ or inferior? Why one can be belittled by their birthplace? We don’t have to look different to be discriminated against. When she came to the UK at 17 as a student, the ‘outsider’ experience started all over again. The ‘Alien’ status British government labelled her, her green little book marked ‘stateless’. Frances’ younger self was still finding her feet, the sense of rootlessness and ‘not belonging’ just added another layer. As a newly arrived student back in the early 90s, she desperately tried to hide the fact that she had to visit the local police office once a week to register and report her whereabouts.
Fast forward another 20 years, ‘you are not from around here?’ ‘are you a student?’ ‘you speak very good English’… Even though she lived in the UK for the majority of her life, rooted herself, these comments still occurs on a regular basis. The unsettled feeling intensified, “When can I call this place my home?” This constant reminder of where one was born somehow matters a lot.
In today’s British society, if you look closely, Chinese women compared to the last generation are a lot more ‘visible’. Plenty of successful Chinese females in different sectors and industries, but as a whole, our voice still don’t seem to be heard. If we have to draw parallels to other ethnic minority groups, we hear movements like #blacklivematter and the well-known LGBTQI+ parade in London. Other than the annual Chinese New Year, and maybe a few Chinese themed celebrations dotted here and there, where are the places where we can express our authentic voices rather than just stereotypical cultural traditions?
For her project with BOM, she wishes to interview as many Chinese women as possible, to get an insight into lives of these women in the UK across generations. She believes behind every Chinese Takeaway, there’s a Chinese woman, who is working hard behind the scene to make it all happen! She was saddened to hear a dismissive comment from a second generation British born Chinese male colleague about his mother, saying her generation “didn’t do much, just stay at home and look after them”. The dedicated mother deserves more recognition from the family and wider society.
Using multimedia such as video and audio, social media and dynamic fun games with Chinese themes to engage the audience, Frances wishes to explore questions such as ‘What is it like bringing up children in the British landscape? Are we doing enough for our next generation Chinese? Are they turning their backs against their heritage and only care about immersion into the British culture? What does integration mean?’ Frances also hopes to encourage the Chinese community to engage more in art and cultural activities, to express themselves through art.
The two quotes below sum up the tune Frances would like to approach the project – there is a light-hearted side, but also a more serious expressions of who we are.
“The world is full of white people eating yellow potatoes, and yellow people eating white rice.”
“If you do not sing the songs,
if you do not tell the stories and
if you do not speak the language – you will cease to exist.”
– Taiaiake and Corntassel
If you would like to share your story, please do get in touch!