Self-Identity of British-born Chinese by Pearl Chu

The United Kingdom is one of the top three choices of migration destinations in the world. As of 2012, there were 6.5 million immigrants of (all nationalities) residing in the UK. Of those, nearly 400,000 are of Chinese descent with more than 100,000 residing in London alone.

Although there is a large proportion of Chinese people residing in London, not much attention has been given to them in terms of research as they have a smaller population than other minority groups, such as Pakistani and Bangladeshi. Searching for and establishing a self-identity is a vital part of development. For migrants or the minorities in a country, cultural self-identification plays an important role in adolescents’ development as adolescents have to make a choice or strike a balance between the culture of the majority group living in the country and their own culture.

A pilot study was conducted regarding the development of cultural self-identification in British-born Chinese young people in the United Kingdom. The study was administered in the form of a self-report online survey that consisted of both open and closed questions. All except for one respondent were second generation British Chinese (parents were not born in the UK).

The aim of this study was to provide insight into factors which may be associated with such development. Factors such as self-esteem, subjective wellbeing, and differences between aspirations and expectations for one’s future were looked into. A significant positive correlation was found between self-esteem and comfort level of growing up with two cultures. This meant that the more comfortable one is with growing up with two cultures, the higher one’s self-esteem was, and vice versa. However a causal relationship could not be identified based just on self-report surveys, i.e. we cannot say that having a high self-esteem led to the increased level of comfort in growing up with two cultures.

We can only say that when the level of one factor was high, the level of the other factor was high as well. On the other hand, there was a significant difference found between aspired occupation and expected occupation at the projected age of 25. This meant that respondents’ dreams were different from what they thought they would do in reality. For example, many respondents aspired to be of a high rank in the industry that they were working in but expected to be of a lower rank in reality. Another striking point was that there was a small group of respondents who aspired to be working in the art, education, or welfare industry (e.g. designer, teacher, or NHS worker) but expected in reality to take over their family’s business or work in the finance industry. Reasons for these differences were not known but were predicted to be due to Chinese being a collective culture thus the welfare of the family would be considered as priority.

This reasoning, however, was contradicted by the finding that the majority (61.7%) of the respondents had selfish life goals, i.e. life goals that mentioned only the self and not others. Perhaps it was the 48.3% which accounted for the differences in aspiration and expectation due to culture. Although the nature of this pilot study brought out more questions than it did answers, knowledge brought about by this study can be used to guide future studies in this area of research. Further research would definitely be required to gain a better understanding of the development of cultural-identity in British Chinese.

A full write-up of this pilot study can be found by clicking here

Pearl Chu was a postgraduate student at the Institute of Education, University of London. This pilot study was her dissertation in partial fulfilment of her Masters degree in Developmental and Educational Psychology.

Pearl was born in Hong Kong and migrated to Singapore at a young age. The topic of cultural self-identification intrigued her, as growing up she struggled with her own cultural self-identity even though she was living in a country that was predominantly Chinese. She faced discrimination from people of the same ethnicity which contributed to her struggle in identifying with the country she grew up in. Thus she wanted to find out if other migrants faced the same issues she had faced. Today she is proud to say that she is a Singaporean who has her roots in Hong Kong.

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