The New Chinese Diaspora: Embracing the Model Minority and Perpetual Foreigner?

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Author: Frank H. Wu
Date: Annual 2018
From: Chinese America: History and Perspectives
Publisher: Chinese Historical Society
Document Type: Report
Length: 6,684 words

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A new wave of Chinese immigration is now arriving in America, different than prior waves. (1) The new arrivals embrace what their predecessors forswore. From the model minority myth to the perpetual foreigner syndrome, the new Chinese diaspora is staking out a conception of Chinese American identity that is Sinocentric and empowered. This article, based on the opening keynote speech of the CHSA Conference, analyzes how this new wave is unlike the Chinese American community that preceded it. The work is descriptive, not normative; that is, the point is to be objective, not to pass judgment on either newcomers or those whose families came earlier. It is perforce general, with the risk of error that arises from any report about groups in the aggregate.

None of these changes is unusual. Jewish migration to the United States included a Sephardic wave; an Ashkenazi and German, Yiddish-speaking wave; and a later Eastern European wave. (2) Among them were those who were assimilated to European high culture and educated, who were relatively privileged, and there were mutual apprehensions among these waves. The intellectual discourse among African Americans included the "debate" between Booker T. Washington, who suggested Blacks "cast down your bucket where you are," and W. E. B. DuBois, who urged "the Talented Tenth" to insist on equality; not to mention plans such as for repatriation to Liberia or colonization as promoted by Marcus Garvey. (3) That was followed by the conventional if not cliched dichotomy between Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. (4) Likewise the Chinese diaspora in the United States has included everyone from Sun Yat-Sen, founder of modern China, and Soong Mei-Ling, better known as Madame Chiang Kai-Shek, who secured U.S. support for China during World War II, to Ai Wei Wei, the avant-garde artist. (5) Sun spent formative years in Hawaii with his elder brother, in the 1880s; Madame Chiang attended college in Georgia and retired in the States; and Ai began attracting acclaim for his art in New York City a century later.


To understand the new wave, it is necessary to recall the two earlier waves. (6) There are various means of classifying Chinese immigrants. For the sake of simplicity, only two categories are used here: those who came prior to the Magnuson Act, also known as the Chinese Exclusion Repeal Act of 1943, and those who came afterward, until the advent of the new wave. The McCarran-Walter Act of 1952 could be used as the dividing line, but the earlier date groups together the Chinese who were resident in the United States during World War II, who landed during the hostilities, or who came during the immediate postwar period, with the later entrants, which seems in sociological terms more appropriate. The classes are demarcated by U.S. immigration policy, but they also correlate roughly to Chinese historical periods.

These two groups are quite different from one another. (7) It begins with their roots.

The earliest Chinese immigrants were virtually...

Source Citation

Source Citation
Wu, Frank H. "The New Chinese Diaspora: Embracing the Model Minority and Perpetual Foreigner?" Chinese America: History and Perspectives, annual 2018, pp. 99+. Accessed 28 Nov. 2022.

Gale Document Number: GALE|A581024580