Born to a Chinese family in the British colony of Hong Kong, I spent my teenage years in an oriental and patriarchal culture that was conditioned, on the one hand, by traditional Confucius and Buddhist values, and shaped, on the other, by the western and Christian way of living due to the influence of the British. At 19, I left the colony to receive university education in Canada. Without knowing it at the time, my departure from my place of birth, meant to be a 4-year hiatus for higher education and better future, turned out to be a permanent exodus that determined not only where I would reside and raise my family for the rest of my life, but also what country my children – and my children’s children – would be proud to call home: Canada.
On this 150th anniversary of my country – the country that extended its welcoming arms and embraced me lovingly 35 years ago when my place of birth rejected me in so many ways, my heart is filled with jubilation and thankfulness: jubilation because this wonderful country of 35 million people is a land uniquely adorned with incredible wonders of nature, enormous resources, polite and pleasant people whose diverse origins are the reason for mutual respect – not conflict, and a constitutional architecture that protects diversity, promotes freedom, and ensures justice and equality under the law; thankfulness because my Canadian citizenship – the immense good and human dignity that it garners – is in the final account not the result of my personal pursuit or anybody’s kind assistance but God’s special grace.
Some people see a person’s ethnic and cultural characteristics as the overriding factors that define his national identity, i.e. his country. The absurdity of this view, which we shall call “nationalism of ethnic and cultural identity”, is that, when taken strictly it means Canada is not a real country! With the exception of the aboriginal peoples, the ethnic and cultural origins of the 35 million people in this country are not Canadian, which according to this view means Canada is not their country! To the people who see me in the light of this position, my response is this: as an ethnic Chinese, I pledge my personal allegiance to my Chinese heritage, including my ancestors and 5,000 years of Chinese culture; the former is in my DNA and the latter my heart and sentiments. But as a human being who treasures freedom, dignity, and constitutional rights, as a family person who seeks to marry and raise children, and as a national subject who entrusts his livelihood, health, education, and personal well-being to the governance of a state, I do not hesitate to identify myself wholeheartedly and unreservedly as a Canadian.
The newspaper this morning is like a Charles Dickens novel – a tale of two cities or two places. As celebrations of 150 years get underway here across Canada with fanfare and jubilation, Hong Kong, which is 12 hours ahead in time zone on the other side of the globe, has just finished a solemn remembrance of 20 years of British handover of the colony to China. At this watershed moment of the two places, my heartbeat rises and falls with every jubilation of my country and anxiety of my birthplace….