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An anthropological study of ethnicity and the reproduction of culture among Hong Kong Chinese families in Scotland

An anthropological study of ethnicity and the reproduction of culture among Hong Kong Chinese families in Scotland
Eona Margaret Bell


Department of Anthropology, London School of Economics and Political Science, London WC2A 2AE, UNITED KINGDOM.


This thesis is about inter-generational relationships and the reproduction of culture in the family lives of Hong Kong Chinese people in Scotland. It is based on fifteen months of ethnographic fieldwork and informal interviews in family homes, Chinese language schools and community organizations in Edinburgh. A central question is that of ethnicity and how people learn to “be ethnic” while living in a Western, multicultural society.

The first part asks what Scottish-born Chinese children learn about ethnicity through growing up in families who work in the ethnic catering trade. Chapter 1 introduces the themes of ambition and achievement, and the mixed emotions associated with this sometimes-stigmatized occupation. Chapter 2 focuses on ideas about the duties of parents, drawing on life stories of three generations of Chinese Scots to describe their decisions concerning childcare and schooling.

The second section concerns the learning of specific cultural practices – language and handicrafts – in the institutional context of Chinese complementary schools. Chapters 3 and 4 show that these are important spaces where people feel part of a group with shared moral responsibility for the maintenance and transmission of culture. The question of “authenticity” in both cultural practice and interpersonal relationships is discussed.

Chapters 5 and 6 explore how Hong Kong Chinese Scots are responding to the rise of China as a global economic and cultural power. Ethnographic data from Chinese New Year celebrations in Edinburgh, and Mandarin language classes for Cantonese-speaking children suggest that people may engage in “inauthentic” cultural practices for strategic economic or political reasons. However, these articulations of ethnic identity are also important for the nurture of inter-generational relationships.

The thesis concludes with the argument that Chinese Scots take a future-orientated approach to family and community life, drawing selectively on the resources of inter-ethnic ties and language to prepare their children for a changing economic and social environment.