China-US / People

Brooklyn woman on mission to relate to Chinese peers

By HEZI JIANG in New York (China Daily USA) Updated: 2015-10-13 03:46

Brooklyn woman on mission to relate to Chinese peers
Christina Xu. (Provided to China Daily)

Christina Xu has always wondered what her life would have been like had she not left China for the US. So she is attempting to find out.

The 27-year-old Chinese-American from Brooklyn, New York, has raised $12,810 on Kickstarter for her two-month trip to China, where she will chronicle the lives of young creatives like herself.

“You see somebody looks like you, and is your peer, grow up in China doing something very creative and interesting and a little bit untraditional. It’s very grounding to me,” said Xu, who along with her family moved from Fuzhou, Fujian province, to the United States when she was 7 years old.

“Like many other first-generation immigrant children, I often wonder how my life would have turned out if we hadn’t left,” she wrote on Kickstarter, a crowdfunding website that supports creative projects.

Xu said she has had a very “eclectic work experience”. After graduating from Harvard University with an AB degree in philosophy and history of science and technology, Xu worked at the Awesome Foundation, where she gathered a global group of guerrilla micro-philanthropists doing “awesome and good” things.

Xu has been freelance consulting for tiny companies, helping startup founders run their operations. She also teaches entrepreneurial design at the School of Visual Arts in New York.

Last fall, Xu and her American boyfriend traveled to China. “It was the first time that I have ever been to China as an independent person,” she said, and it was “eye-opening”.

She went clubbing in Shanghai for the first time and met many young people her age working in creative industries or opening businesses. One of her cousins chose to open a hipster coffee shop in the small city of Shangrao.

“Growing up in the states, you have so few role models like that,” she said. “You almost have internalized, even though it is not true, somewhere in your subconscious is like ‘Real Chinese don’t do things like that. Real Chinese become doctors, become engineers. They don’t become artists,’ ” Xu told China Daily. “There is a lot of societal pressure in the US coming from both inside and outside of the Chinese communities.”

She knew she wanted to spend more time in China and learn about her peers, so Xu started the Kickstarter campaign on July 22. She successfully raised more than $9,000 within a week and reached the goal of $10,000 in 10 days.

The project was brought to life with $12,810 from 236 friends and strangers, many of whom “related to her story about going back to China and not even knowing that you could be doing something other than laying around on your grandma's couch”, Xu wrote to China Daily.

“My friend Diyang asked the thoughtful question: ‘How can I care about and relate to China as a Chinese-American? Do I have the right to?’ ” she said. “And lots of people just want to understand the jokes, the memes, the creativity coming out of China—the stuff that humanizes it from this otherwise drab mess of statistics that the news presents.”

Xu left for China on Sept 8, and has already visited Xiamen, Fuzhou, and Shangrao, meeting with artists and photographers and designers and musicians. She is currently in Shanghai, where she explored an antique market and attended fashion week events. Her next stops will be Beijing, Guangzhou and Shenzhen.

Xu plans to create a multimedia collection of stories that portray young creatives in China. It’s called Multi Entry, named after the new 10-year multi-entry visa for US citizens to China, and vice-versa. She is also making a non-traditional travel guide for her Kickstarter backers, providing them an access point into the culture.

In it, there will be an explorer’s guide to an upscale mall, five karaoke songs for 2016, and apps recommendations. On Nov 11 — Singles Day — a massive online shopping holiday invented by Alibaba in the last decade, Xu plans to shadow an enthusiastic Internet shopper.

She said there would be no jokes about how the Chinese use English or how “weird” the country is. “That’s an alienating perspective,” Xu said. “It makes people feel more distant.” She said Multi-Entry is a project about empathy.

“I feel like our generation is the first one in a very long time in China that has the luxury of thinking about defining culture and creating culture and participating in culture in a serious way on a large scale,” Xu said.

“Seeing people embracing all these daring careers in the mainland — and making it work!—I feel a very powerful sense of belonging and comfort. Of course, they face many challenges too, but the fact that they're even trying is very important to me, and I think to a lot of other Chinese-Americans etc, too.”

There is already a prototype of the Multi Entry site, and Xu will start creating content when she gets back to the US. For now, she shares her experiences on her Instagram.



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