With that liking comes the courage to share. Perhaps the scariest thing for a scholar is to be evaluated by the communities that first gave us life, but we also must not, I am reminded, take from the community without giving back by making the scholarship part of the commons for all of us to enjoy. I must share it and did so on my Facebook, and again here on this website, which has not been updated for some time. I have in fact promised it to a number of people who have been interested in it, some of whom are even named in the piece because they were either interviewed for it during my doctoral work as far back as 2011 and 2012 or because they are named in documents and books. That amount of persons is too many to count, and while I could have sent them all an email copy, I figure that if there was ever a time to use social media and a blog to spread it, it is now. I will not tag them so as not to single them out, but I look forward to their responses when they read it. Perhaps they will even reply to my social media posts, or they might seek me out via email at jkhtse (at) northwestern (dot) edu.
‘A Tale of Three Bishops’ is my attempt to parse out the Anglican realignment in Vancouver since the late 1990s. I argue that with all the talk about Anglicans splitting over sexuality issues, what is more salient in the Vancouver case is ideologies of the ‘global city’ and the concepts of ‘Chineseness’ that spin out of that urban economic fantasy. I think this is the most fair way to describe a fracture in which folks on all sides have their own stories to tell about a side they don’t like. I try to portray each of them in their own words, as the only stake I now have in this Communion is an ecumenical one, as an ecclesial outsider from the vantage point of my Eastern Catholic church and in my professional work as an Asian American geographer of postsecular Pacific publics. I hope that this work presents a modest but worthwhile contribution to the fields of Global Christian studies, Chinese Christianities, and the integral part that the Anglican Communion continues to play in the work of what the theologian Paul Murray calls ‘receptive ecumenism.’
I am thankful to everyone who went on the record for this when it was part of the doctoral dissertation and now is much expanded from the three pages in the doctorate to the published peer-reviewed article it is now. As I say in the piece, I consider myself friends with folks on all three sides, and I hope that our friendship is magnified, not diminished, by the publication of this piece. Indeed, a memorable line from one of the reviewers said that I was able to resist the temptation to editorialize and speak in the terms of conspiracy, preferring instead to write from the perspective of the participants themselves. While I am honoured by that affirmation, all errors of judgment are of course my own, and my gratefulness belies an openness to criticism, correction, and ongoing conversation with communities and persons whom I have loved for very long and continue to love with a full heart.
Yesterday in The South China Morning Post, Ian Young did another spectacular job trying to suss out some of the intricacies of the trans-Pacific social field that we find in Vancouver. In this most recent article, he wrote on how some Chinese parents associated with the British Columbia Parents’ Federation (BCPF) protested the teacher’s union, the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF), for the strike that is finally starting to come to an end. Young reached out to me for a comment, and this is what I noted about the BCPF:
Dr Justin Tse, an academic who has studied activism within the British Columbia Chinese community, said that although the BCPF’s desire to get children back in class was shared with other opponents of the strike, there was also a strong undercurrent of anti-unionism in general that ran through the protests.
“My sense is that there is a view that unions disrupt business, and most Chinese migrants have this view that unions get in the way of the free market,” said Tse, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Washington. “For them, it’s not really just the educational stuff – it’s the union stuff.”
The BCPF has garnered supporters via Chinese-language social media, and the couple of dozen members at Sunday’s protests all appeared ethnically Chinese. The federation has attempted to widen its outreach to non-Chinese parents, but these efforts appear to have been aborted, for now. A Facebook page and an English-language website seeking new BCPF members were visible on Sunday, but were taken offline that night.
“A lot [of Chinese immigrants] are kind of scared of public protest,” said Tse. “They want the media to capture their numbers at a protest, but they don’t want to be singled out as individuals, so you get the face mask thing. You can’t really have it both ways, but that is the sentiment.”
Tse said conservative Chinese political activism in BC was informed by “a specific vision of democracy” that focused on majority rule alone, without emphasising some of its other aspects, such as deliberation, consensus and accountability.
“There is this sense that democracy means you get to say your private views in public, no matter how outrageous, because that’s free speech, and that it is all about getting numbers,” said Tse. “This view is that democracy just means majority wins, majority rules.”
My comments here need to be read in conversation with a piece that I wrote on my blog, Religion Ethnicity Wired, arguing that the constitutional issues swirling around the BCTF strike provide a remarkable mirror to the democratic movement in Hong Kong, Occupy Central with Love and Peace. This is because what I said there qualifies what Ian Young and I talked about in relation to Chinese immigrants.
The impression that I do not want the public to get is that there is something about this nebulous term Chinese culture that is against labour unions, public protest, and deliberative democracy. Such a statement would not only be irresponsible — it would be empirically unsubstantiated. After all, if that were the argument, then movements such as the May Fourth Movement, the Beijing Spring of 1989 in Tiananmen Square, and the recent democratic movements in Taiwan and Hong Kong would have to be marked as un-Chinese. As Craig Calhoun insists in Neither Gods Nor Emperors, it would be more accurate to say that these democratic movements constitute a strand of Chinese tradition. So too, Asian American author Frank Chin observes in his novel Donald Duk that even Confucian concepts like ‘the Mandate of Heaven’ are a de facto form of democratic consciousness because it is a term that can be deployed by the people to criticize unjust power.
However, it is true that many of those associated with the BCPF were ethnic Chinese — its spokespeople seem to be Putonghua-speaking, and as their name suggests, they represent parents. Here, I also rejected the discourse of the ‘tiger parent’: Amy Chua’s essentialist caricature of Asian American (and Asian Canadian) parenting has simply reinforced notions of the ‘model minority’ that should have been put to bed in the late 1960s right where it started. This is not to deny that Asian Americans and Asian Canadians themselves take on the discourse of the ‘model minority’ as an identity statement — indeed, my work explores that at an ethnographic level — but using the ‘model minority’ as an essentialist explanation for Chinese parental behaviour stops the conversation at several points. First, it conveniently isolates Chinese parents from the general population, blinding us to how Chinese parents are saying some of the similar things as even Anglo-Canadians. The second is that it doesn’t get at the specific undercurrents that make up the discourse of the ‘model minority.’
What I’ve done here is to try to listen to what these parents are actually saying. They agree with the general population that the BCTF strike has crippled education in BC. However, while public opinion has been turning against the BC Liberal Government for its flouting of the Canadian constitution and the bargaining rights of the teachers, these parents are placing the blame squarely on the teachers for striking and thus using collective bargaining as a bullying tactic that has put their kids out of school. This sounded a lot like my dissertation research, in which conversations about the BCTF in 2011 (well before this set of strikes) quickly led into discussions of how a variety of labour unions tended to obstruct the free market.
Moreover, it sounded a lot like how many of my interview subjects and focus group participants wanted to participate in public protests, but were shy about having their pictures taken or being interviewed by the press. When members of the public engaged them in debate, they tended to see this as an attack on their freedom of speech instead of an opportunity for public deliberation. Their goal, as they told me, was to build an awareness that the majority in fact supported their positions because that was the point of democracy.
While this could be called ‘Chinese’ in some senses of the word, I prefer to think of it as part of a debate about the relationship between Chineseness and democracy. After all, while such majoritarian and non-deliberative arguments about the nature of democracy certainly comprise one faction in Greater Chinese and trans-Pacific contentions about democracy, there are movements as old as the 1970s — and dare I say, even the May Fourth Movement in 1919 — that advocated for a more deliberative form of democracy that also pays attention to minority rights. In other words, there is a political spectrum among ethnic Chinese views on democracy, and the BCPF represents one strand in a larger conversation. I was asked about the BCPF, so I answered along the lines of what the BCPF represented. But you have to read my blog post on Religion Ethnicity Wired to get the catch on what I said.
In short, I am very happy that Ian Young got me on record about the BCPF. As always, I enjoy my collegial relationship with journalists like Ian who are at the top of their craft. This incident certainly was of public interest in Vancouver, as well as in the trans-Pacific social field, and I look forward to this conversation piece doing what it’s intended to do — engender more conversation!
The fourth journal issue of the Society of Asian North American Christian Studies (SANACS) is out. The issue features some very interesting pieces, with contributions from Esther Chung-Kim, Amos Yong, Charlene Jin Lee, Richard Mouw, Miyoung Yoon Hammer, Andrew Sung Park, Annie Tsai, Jeney Park-Hearn, Andrew Lee, and Henry Kuo. During the course of my fieldwork in the San Francisco Bay Area and Metro Vancouver, I heard some of these pieces presented live, and my humble opinion is that some of them will become classics in the field of Asian North American Christian studies.
My small contribution (p. 153-6) is a book review of Jiwu Wang’s (2006) “His Dominion” and the “Yellow Peril”: Protestant Missions to Chinese Immigrants in Canada, 1859-1967. Wang’s general argument is that the racializing attitudes of Protestant missionaries in various Canadian Chinatowns led to the rejection of their Christian message even as it crystallized prevailing ‘Chinese’ cultural frameworks. The book also draws on an extensive array of archival sources, which makes it fairly valuable as a record of sources for further research.
Unfortunately, I also had to pan the book for its theoretical framework. As you will see in the review, Wang’s approach relies a little too much on what he calls ‘sociological conflict theory,’ in which two groups–in his case, the Anglo-Canadian Protestant missionaries and the Chinatown communities–reinforce each other’s cultural frameworks by conflicting with each other. There are two problems that I unfold in this review. The first is that Wang’s idea of what ‘white missionaries’ and ‘Chinese communities’ were is a bit too static, even drawing from traditional Chinese texts to explain ‘Chinese culture’ for these southern Chinese rural migrants. Second, this sociological conflict model fails to take into account the rich literature in Asian Canadian studies that also explores white missionary movements among Chinatown communities in Canada. In other words, while this book bills itself as the first of its kind, it really isn’t, and he really needs to engage the ones that came beforehand.
You’ll find the details of my critique in the review, and you will find articles in the main section of the journal issue that are destined to become classics. My hope is that this issue will begin to fill the hiatus in Asian North American Christian research and will point out ways that one should–and should not!–conduct this kind of research as we develop this field together.
I recently wrote a piece on my wedding manager and his wife, Chris and Annie Fong, as a reflection on Chinese evangelicals and marriage. It is available in the current issue (#7) of Converge Magazine, a Canadian evangelical publication targeted to young people. This sort of popular article stands in the tradition of religion scholars such as Christian Smith, Tanya Luhrmann, and Russell Jeung writing in confessional magazines as a way of disseminating their academic research.
This article wrestles with the looseness of terms like ‘Chineseness,’ ‘evangelicalism,’ and ‘biblical gender roles’ and asks readers to consider narrative as a way of Christian spirituality that is more grounded than ideal typologies. Those who are more academically inclined will understand that I am drawing heavily on literature from critical Chinese diaspora studies, Asian American studies, and post-liberal theologies to make my point. Those who are attuned to issues within evangelicalism will recognize the gender debates around hierarchicalism, complementarianism, and egalitarianism as I review some of the existing popular evangelical literature on gender, sexuality, and marriage. It’s not written with a very academic tone; it’s meant for a wide, popular audience; and it’s absolutely meant to muddy the waters of simplistic, orientalist notions of East v. West for evangelical readers.
My hope is that this article is helpful to evangelical communities while serving as a source document for people interested in Asian North American religious studies. I want to thank Chris and Annie for letting me write about them, Shara Lee for being a fantastic editor, Casey Phaisalakani for taking great photos, and Carmen Bright for designing this so well.
I am participating as moderator at the Richmond Art Gallery for a panel discussion on Gu Xiong’s Waterscapes on 28 October 2010 at 7:30 PM. Our panel discussion is titled Swimming the River.
Gu Xiong’s artistic work focuses on the hybrid identities that come from a migrant experience. He is himself a migrant from Sichuan who sought political refuge in Canada after the Tiananmen incident in 1989. He makes his home base at the University of British Columbia, and his work has been internationally displayed.
Tonight’s discussion features Gu Xiong himself discussing his work, Parm Grewal from Richmond Multicultural Concerns Society speaking about her work on migrant settlement and anti-racism, and Dr. Glenn Deer from UBC English speaking about migration and hybridity in literature. I will also speak on my own work in the transnational Hongkonger Christian church as well as the collaborative project on No. 5 Road (the ‘Highway to Heaven’) in Richmond. The question we address is: what happens when large numbers of people migrate around the world? a question particularly relevant to Richmond, British Columbia, with its 61% visible minority population as of the 2006 Canadian census and its famed 43% Chinese population that has propelled its image as a Chinese ethnoburb.
Admission is free. The Gallery opens at 7 PM, and the event starts at 7:30 PM.