Blending a successful future

Updated: 2012-11-16 08:48

By Fu Jing (China Daily)

  Print Mail Large Medium  Small 分享按钮 0

 Blending a successful future

Clockwise from above: A view from Chinatown facing the Central Station in Antwerp, Belgium; Leung Futuan, chairman of the Association of Chinese Settlement in Belgium, stands with his son Steve Leung in front of his election campaign poster; Tang Dailin, 91, is the oldest Belgian-Chinese living in Antwerp. Photos by Liu Jia / China Daily

Closer community integration helps Chinese diaspora reap success in Belgium

Antwerp is a place in Europe where one would expect to find second or third-generation Chinese emigrants making successful crossovers into the mainstream society.

Especially so, considering that the Chinatown in Antwerp got official status only in 2001, despite its formal beginnings in the 1970s.

Located in Van Wesenbekestraat, a stone's throw from the Central Station in Antwerp, the tall archway marking the entrance to the Chinatown is much more than a gateway to a street. Instead it has been the bridge that has helped forge strong relations between Belgium and China.

As in most other Chinatowns, one can find Chinese restaurants, supermarkets, bakeries, travel agencies, martial arts gymnasiums, lion-dance schools, Buddhist temples and acupuncture clinics. But what sets them apart in Antwerp is the high visibility enjoyed by these establishments.

The real charm of the Chinatown is, however, its occupants. The first steps taken by a group of dedicated Chinese entrepreneurs in the 1980s has led to the creation of a flourishing and closely-knit Chinese diaspora in Antwerp.

No visit to this Chinatown is complete without meeting Leung Futuan, the 59-year-old chairman of the Association of Chinese Settlement in Belgium. Leung, a veteran entrepreneur, has several interesting anecdotes to tell of Chinatown and how people have successfully integrated into mainstream Belgian life.

"I came to Belgium 40 years ago from Guangdong," says Leung, at the association's Flemish residence with high stone steps. Like many others of his generation, Leung has built his success on foot and is the owner of a successful Chinese eatery in Antwerp.

The Association of Chinese Settlement in Belgium started in 1985 and now has more than 300 members. Most of them have Belgian nationality, he says. Several from the Chinese community have made a name in fields other than food, Leung proudly says when asked about the second and third generations of Chinese migrants.

"I will move away from the restaurant business next year, when I turn 60. It is a tough decision considering that business is good, despite the lower margins. It is time for the younger generation to steer the ship now," he says.

Though Leung does not talk much about the life he has planned after retirement, he points to the election campaign posters of his son on a window and says he will follow the youngster's career path more closely.

"Young people may have their own ideas of what success is. But that is my son Leung Hoilung whom we are talking about," he says.

Steve Leung, or Leung Hoilung, born in 1980 in Antwerp, is a full-time lawyer at Tibius, a Flanders law firm, and a member of Open VLD, or the Open Flemish Liberals and Democrats, a major political party in Belgium.

The younger Leung holds two master's degrees and can speak Mandarin, Dutch, English, French, German and Spanish fluently, double the number of languages his father speaks. With a Spanish wife and a daughter, Steve Leung has more or less cemented his European roots.

He is also the chairman of the Open VLD Youth Section. Leading young Belgian liberals through the financial maelstrom is a tall challenge for the Belgian-Chinese, but he remains unfazed. "I believe we can move forward efficiently if the internal reform process is speeded up," he says. "My goal is to be elected to the Belgian parliament during the 2014 federal elections, and maybe one day to the European Parliament."

Steve Leung is not the only Chinese presence in the Belgian political arena. Angelina Chan Anqi, a Belgian-Chinese candidate from Schaerbeek municipality of Brussels capital region, has just won a seat in the recent local election.

Leung says that the younger generation is getting more recognition and acceptance within the Belgian community due to better education. "Strong family ties have been the key factor behind this success."

He says that the open-minded philosophy of his family has left an indelible impression on him. "My mother always used to tell me that if you want to do something, then you should try to do it well," Leung says. His mother heads the Chinese school, affiliated to the association, with more than 200 students.

According to Pang Ching Lin, a professor in social and cultural anthropology at the University of Leuven, the present generation of Belgian-Chinese have more opportunities than their parents, who are tagged as the intermediate generation.

Though there are no negative undercurrents in Belgium about Chinese immigrants, it is important for the community to broaden its horizons in Europe through education, she says.

Many Belgian-Chinese work as researchers and professors in universities, think tanks and other institutions, and many of them also have close ties with each other. "Angelina Chan lives in the same commune as me, while Steve Leung is my nephew," Pang says.

Pang is the youngest among the eight children of Steve Leung's maternal grandfather who arrived in Belgium with nothing but a dream to create a bright future for his family.

Tang Dailin is the oldest Belgian-Chinese among the almost 30,000 living here. A regular visitor to the association, the elder Tang recently celebrated his 91st birthday with his five children, a couple of grandchildren and nine great grandchildren.

The first Chinese emigrants to Belgium arrived in the late 1920s and early 1930s, when migration tended to be fragmented. Most were sailors who did not settle permanently in Antwerp or other cities. Records from the city archive of Antwerp show that most of the Chinese immigrants came from Guangdong and Zhejiang.

Liu Jia contributed to this story.

(China Daily 11/16/2012 page6)