Eurasian: Mixed Identities in the United States, China, and Hong Kong, 1842-1943


In 1912, Mae Watkins of Ann Arbor, Michigan married her college sweetheart, Tiam Hock Franking of Amoy, China. Although Michigan had no anti-miscegenation laws against Chinese-white intermarriage, the wedding caused a local scandal and the couple was compelled to withdraw from the University of Michigan. US law furthermore subjected Mae to marital expatriation, or the loss of her American citizenship; and so, when she traveled with her young baby to China in June 1914, she traveled as a Chinese national, uncertain whether – in the age of Chinese Exclusion – she would ever be able to return to the land of her birth again. How Mae crafted a new life for herself in China, raising three Eurasian children in an era when intermarriage was largely taboo, is only one of the fascinating stories told in Eurasian: Mixed Identities in the United States, China, and Hong Kong, 1842-1943.


In the second half of the nineteenth century, trade, imperial expansion, missionary movements, global labor migration, and overseas study brought China and the United States in closer contact than ever before. Out of the cross-cultural encounters engendered by these intersecting transnational movements emerged mixed families—giving lie to the hackneyed adage that “East is East and West is West, and ne’er the twain shall meet.” Some of these families formed in the United States, some in China, and countless others in the British colony of Hong Kong, a vital entrepôt for the China trade and a key hub in the migrant corridor between China and the United States. Yet their stories remain largely unknown. How did interracial families negotiate their identities within these diverse societies when mixed-race marriage was taboo and “Eurasian” often a derisive term?

In Eurasian, Emma Jinhua Teng traces the stories of mixed and transnational families from this earlier era of globalization. The book compares Eurasian families in the United States, China, and Hong Kong, examining both the range of ideas that shaped the formation of Eurasian identities in these diverse contexts and the claims set forth by individual Eurasians concerning their own identities. Teng argues that Eurasians were not universally marginalized during this era, as is often asserted. Rather, they often found themselves facing contradictions between exclusionary and inclusive ideologies of race and nationality, and between overt racism and more subtle forms of prejudice that were counterbalanced by partial acceptance and privilege.

Following the stories of mixed and transnational families over the course of several generations, Eurasian also demonstrates to readers how changes in interracial ideology have allowed the descendants of some of these families to reclaim their dual heritage with pride.


"By examining Eurasian identities from Chinese and American perspectives, Emma Teng offers a truly transnational and multicultural intellectual project that few works which appear to be such can actually claim, for she uses with facility and depth materials in English and Chinese, and goes beyond the obvious duality of American/British on the one hand, and Chinese on the other, to introduce a third element, that of the Asian American, examining not just the distinct viewpoints separately, but, more interestingly, the intersections between and among them." —Evelyn Hu-DeHart, editor of Across the Pacific: Asian Americans and Globalization

“Beautifully written and thoughtfully crafted, Teng’s Eurasian is a pleasure to read. The author has written a nuanced, multisited account of mixed families and Eurasian identities that will be important reading for students in U.S. and Chinese history and in Asian, Asian American, and Ethnic Studies. The author tells these wonderful life stories and adeptly uses them to track larger historical processes and phenomena.” —Kornel Chang, author of Pacific Connections: The Making of the U.S.-Canadian Borderlands

"Emma Teng’s rich and compelling narrative captures within one elegant volume a profoundly complex story about diaspora, citizenship, empire, nation, taxonomy, identity, capital, race, labor, class, gender, intimacy, and the body, all the while avoiding the twin pitfalls of transnational abstraction and dislocated particulars that threaten any work of such scope and ambition. It is an analysis of the highest quality, delivering an argument that is empathetic, but which not for a moment relaxes either the critical tension between the author and her subject, nor attempts to resolve in any simplistic fashion the tensions and anxieties of her characters or the time period in question. In this work, Teng is at once master instrument maker, and master musician." —Thomas S. Mullaney, author of Coming to Terms with the Nation: Ethnic Classification in Modern China


Reviews: Modern Chinese Literature and Culture | Campaign for the Modern American Reader

Ordering: University of California Press | Amazon