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Cultural Differences: The Question Of National Identity In Australia

What Is Australian, And What Is An Australian-Born Chinese (ABC)?

In China, Guangzhou, on a stopover in Dengba Youth Hostel (登巴客栈) near Beijing road, I came to make friends with Max, a Chinese girl working as reception behind the counter.


Max was born in Maoming (茂名), her Chinese ID (身份证) states she is from Guangzhou, and one of her parents lived in Hong Kong running an exporting business.  She speaks fluent English, and often travels overseas.

I found from our late-night conversation, she has had an interesting life.

We branched out to talk about a whole sleuth of different topics.  She told me about all the different countries she has travelled to.  Australia is one of the countries she had travelled to.

I was surprised to hear that she had an Australian-born Chinese (ABC) boyfriend.

The Question Of National Identity Versus Race

She asked me, “What do you think about that?  Do you think if he is born in Australia, he is Australian?”

It sounded like she had been having this argument with her Australian-Born Chinese boyfriend, trying to convince him that he is Chinese, by race, when in fact he is Australian, by identity.

I told her my opinion.

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I said, “There are only a few things that bond people in Australia, but being Australian is one of them.”

“If you are born in Australia, then everyone else in Australia knows that you are an Australian person.”

…“People immigrate to Australia from every other country in the world.”

… “Also, they are born to immigrants in Australia, and grow up in Australia.”

…”When I was younger, I had a group of friends whose parents came from Italy, The Middle East, Lebanon, Serbia, Iran, Britain, France, Vietnam, South Africa, Korea, some were Aboriginals born in Australia before white settlers arrived, and then there was me with parents immigrating from Macedonia together with them.”

…“We all looked different and had different-colored skin, but the thing that made us all the same is that we were all born in the same country, so we were Australian.”

… “On top of that, if you have an Australian accent, then everyone is going to accept you as an Australian.  They are not going to think any different.”

The Cultural Identifiers Of Australia

I explained how in Australia, race does not divide people, and ethnicity is not widely celebrated.  You will not have Chinese immigrants walking around Chinatown in Sydney dressed in a cheongsam (旗袍) for example.



I continued, “Australia does not have much of a culture, but we all follow the same things.  We all follow sports, and wear thongs to the beach, so if you follow these things, you are one of the Australian people.”

“That is what an Australian is.”

“Just because he looks Chinese, it does not mean that he is not going to be treated like an Australian person.”

“If he was born in Australia, and grew up in Australia, then he is definitely an Australian.”

“That is the bottom line,” I told her.  “Being born in Australia makes you Australian.”

Unconvincingly, she said, “Mm, okay.”

I guess she tried to convince the Australian-Born Chinese (ABC) that in fact, he was Chinese.

Her shock would have sounded like, “Come on!  We are both from the same race.  Your parents were born in China.  You are Chinese!”

I think her Australian-Born Chinese ex-boyfriend held a different opinion about his national identity.

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Author: 钨宝

The author of Diary Of A Mad Chaos from 1996 to 2018, The Lost Years book, Wubao In China (猎艳奇缘) book series, and Foreigner (华人) an exploration of race relations in Australia. Fluent in Chinese Mandarin, Macedonian, and English, the author currently resides in China, Guangzhou where he continues to make comparative analysis of the cultural differences between Eastern and Western societies.

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