When the cannons of colonialism blasted through the iron ports of China, the history of Chinese immigration to North America began. Thousands of Chinese crossed the Pacific Ocean to come to Canada. They came in search of Gold Mountain, but instead, they were hired to work on the transcontinental railway through the Rocky Mountains. They say that for every mile of railway there is a dead Chinese worker. A broken promise to pay for their return home caused the workers to remain in Canada and build Chinatowns. Ironically, the railway to unify Canada as a nation also scattered Chinese immigrants across the country. After the seed of Chinese culture was sown, it began its long growth. Immigrants were first only allowed to work in laundries and restaurants. Now they are professionals in every field.
A thousand rivers flow into the ocean. North America is like a deep cultural ocean, attracting people of diverse cultures riding on the tide of immigration. Chinese food, produce, acupuncture, tai chi, aesthetics and philosophy have become a part of mainstream culture. In New York city schools, Chinese Lunar New Year has been declared an official holiday. In a Chinese Montreal church, a mural depicts Jesus and his disciples as Chinese of two thousand years ago. The priest explains this allows churchgoers to understand Christianity through the lens of their own culture. From the pop icon Bruce Lee to the present Academy Award-winning film Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Chinese culture has found its way onto the world stage. A hundred and fifty years ago, Chinese immigrants came to North America for gold, dreaming to take Gold Mountain home with them. In the 21st Century, the gold rush has finally hit China.
Myriad billboards and advertisements selling modern commodities, such as cell phones, Nike shoes and Marlboro cigarettes, fill every corner in China’s massive cities. Since Beijing’s triumph in winning the bid for the 2008 Olympics, learning English ash become widely popular. English is business.
It was a shock: Starbucks moving into the Forbidden City. Two tables and a few chairs attracted widespread protest in the Chinese media. The only change made was to move the ominous “Open” sign inside, rendering Starbucks a secret and exclusive locale for the sophisticated café crowd. To my surprise, I discovered a shocking product unavailable in North America: Kungfu Coffee.
Kodak also has a store inside the Forbidden City. However, it is a seamless merging of designs, a subtle adaptation to the yellow and red imperial colourings. This is the new strategy of post-colonialism: clever camouflage hiding manifest changes to the landscape and life. In a funeral supply storefront, portraits of Mao and Audrey Hepburn hang side by side. Mao symbolizes Chinese totalitarianism, while Hepburn is the ideologically antithetical, but surprisingly complementary.
In Chongqing, China’s largest metropolis, dozens of Western monuments riddle a city park. The majestic Mount Rushmore is a modest hill, and the Statue of Liberty is placed in a little lake, surrounded by greenery and high-rise apartment buildings. Her symbolic importance is instantly belittled, and she adopts, instead, an air of isolation. She is only a guest in a foreign place. Her sister, the Chinese statue of Democracy at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, empathizes greatly. Other monuments include the Eiffel Tower, L’Arc de Triomphe, the Sydney Opera House and the London Bridge. They evoke stories of human migration, cultural clashes and transformations, shrinking the world to a humble size. The global economy soaks into every corner of the world. A single culture cannot stand alone in the world any longer. I am inside of you, and you are inside of me.
It seems that no matter how far we wander from home, we cannot escape a sense of familiarity. We can drink original Starbucks coffee, eat Pizza Hut pizzas, furnish a home with Ikea furniture, watch CNN news and chat on the Internet in China. We can taste real Sichuan cuisine, drink high-quality green tea, watch Chinese Central TV broadcasts and make overseas calls for a few cents a minute in North America. The flow of difference, whether economic or cultural, has become undeniable and unstoppable. In this dynamic movement, each culture reacts and blends with others, creating a new hybrid identity.
– Gu Xiong, 2002