Lincoln Tan

Lincoln Tan is the New Zealand Herald’s diversity, ethnic affairs and immigration senior reporter.

Migrants' hearts remain in China, study finds

Permanent resident Cherry Li came here in 2002, but  says her loyalty would be with China if she had to choose. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Permanent resident Cherry Li came here in 2002, but says her loyalty would be with China if she had to choose. Photo / Sarah Ivey

China's emergence as a world power is resulting in more Chinese New Zealanders feeling a greater sense of attachment to China than to New Zealand, a study has found.

More than 94 per cent of Chinese permanent residents and more than half of those with NZ citizenship told University of Auckland researchers that they felt a greater sense of belonging and identified more with their country of origin than New Zealand.

Between 2009 and last year, the researchers interviewed 90 migrants originally from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

"An overwhelming 94.5 per cent stated they were Chinese/Taiwanese/Hong Konger, while only 5.5 per cent said they somehow felt they belonged to both New Zealand and their country of origin," the report said.

The study also found that Chinese migrants aged 15 to 44 felt significantly more attached to their homeland identity than those aged 45 and over.

Manying Ip, the professor of Asian studies who led the project, described this as "surprising" and said the finding contradicted earlier assumptions that older Chinese migrants were more conservative and therefore felt more attached to their homelands.

"The finding is surprising in that it contravenes accepted migration and acculturation theories," she said.

"It indicates that the younger cohort are more attached than their older counterparts to their native homeland and feel their identity is more Chinese than anything else."

Professor Ip said the finding carried "significant implications for future interpretation of migrants' sense of allegiance and their acculturation process".

"China's rising status as an emergent world power would likely impress young patriotic Chinese much more than older counterparts, who may have had negative first-hand experiences [of] the People's Republic."

The study also found Chinese who first came here as students felt more attached to the country, only 44 per cent of those with New Zealand degrees claiming homeland identity.

Those with a local degree were also more likely to stay. Chinese national Cherry Li, 27, who first came to NZ as an international student in 2002 and now has permanent residency, said "family ties" were a key reason she still felt more Chinese than Kiwi.

"I feel very strongly for New Zealand, but China is still home for me and where my parents and other family members are," she said.

"If there is ever a conflict ... and I have to choose one country, I will still go for China as I am Chinese."

Ms Li, a marketing executive, said she was reluctant to become a New Zealand citizen as it would mean giving up her Chinese passport because China, unlike Taiwan and Hong Kong, does not recognise dual citizenship.

Local-born Chinese community leader Kai Luey said negative attitudes towards Chinese by "mainstream society" made it difficult for many Chinese migrants to feel a total sense of belonging in their adopted homeland.

"Feeling accepted isn't just about attending lantern festivals or eating Chinese food, you got to also accept them as desirable neighbours and employees ... New Zealand has still got this little Britain in the South Pacific syndrome."

- NZ Herald

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