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Andreas Walther – Interact and Shifting Between the West and the East

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Submitted By yongcheng
Words 1521
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Name: Yong Cheng Matriculation Number: 203722
Choice of the Question: Number 2
Title: Andreas Walther – Interact and Shifting Between the West and the East

Did the question that which ethnic group (or ethnic groups in some cases) that you belong to ever come across your mind when you are alone? I suppose that the question “oh which ethnic group I actually belongs to?” would not bother you in the halfway you are walking, driving, or anything you are doing just by yourself. But when you are interacting with someone else (especially when the person is belongs to other ethnic groups), you come to think of the ethnic identity, your own ethnic identity and others ethnic identity. This is why I tend to see ethnic identity as an interactional identity. On the other hand, ethnic identity is a situational identity, too. In this essay I would discuss about these interactional and situational characteristics of one’s ethnic identity. I will try to explain why am I sees ethnic identity as an interactional and situational identity. I am going to discuss this, because I would like to share my points of view about these characteristics of ethnic identity, after reading some materials regarding these topics.
First of all, I would like to introduce you a person who does really mean a lots to me. However, I must stress out that I get to know him, only on paper (I read his book!) but not in the reality. Andreas Walther, 27 years old, currently lives in Hong Kong, and about to move to Taiwan. Andreas is very tall, he has brown hair, pale brown eyes, but right at the moment you look at him you would know that he isn’t just a European. But of course you could not figure out which ethnic group (in fact, it should be “ethnic groups”, as he does really belongs to more than one ethnic group) does he belongs to by just looking at his appearance. Andreas’ father Bernard Walther is a German and his mother Lung Ying-tai is a Chinese who comes from Taiwan, China. Andreas born in Taiwan, moved to Sweden and then to Germany when he is 8 months. He was raised in Germany, completed his primary and secondary education in Germany, too. When he is 16 years old he went to United States under some students exchange program for one year. He then furthers his study in Hong Kong and stayed at Hong Kong until today.
So, when you are looking at Andreas’ background do you wonder how is he managed to survive in Europe (particularly Germany), United States, Taiwan and Hong Kong? He spent most of his time in Germany and Hong Kong; he spent a year in United States as an exchange student, while Taiwan is his mother homeland, which he used to pay visits since he’s a kid. Two of these countries are western and another two of it are eastern. May I remind you again, Andreas is a German, who holds Germany passport, who use German as his primary language, who already used to a German-way-of-lifestyle. How does he manage to do so well in other countries, especially in Eastern countries like Hong Kong and Taiwan? (If you read his book you really find out how much he loves Hong Kong and enjoy Hong Kong-way-of-lifestyle.)
I would assume that, he is shifting between different ethnic identities when he is in different countries, interacting with different groups of people, facing quite various different situations. Rosey Wang Ma mentioned in her work piece “Shifting Identities: Chinese Muslims in Malaysia” that, people tend to shift their ethnic identity when they are dealing with different ethnic groups of people. And so is how Andreas shifting his identity amongst the west and the east, too, which makes him managed to survive between west and east so well.
I would like to explain about the interactional characteristic of the ethnic identity in the first place. The theory suggests that ethnic identity will emerged when one interacts with others. I will take Andreas as an example to show you of this interactional characteristic of ethnic identity. When Andreas is communicating with his friends in Germany (who are mostly Germans too), he would realize that, “Oh I’m German and this guy is a German as well!” So automatically the whole conversation will be conduct in German because both of them are Germans! However, if he met a person who spoke in foreign languages, he would immediately realize that: “Oh I’m a German but this guy is not, he is probably an Italian!” (Which I would like to add that, guessing others’ ethnic identity seems to be a bad habit and really impolite but that we had already used to it, does it? ), and they may communicate in English. You can see that people will really realize, or at least, thinking and figuring out about their own ethnic identity when they are interacting with other people.
Next I would explain the situational characteristic of the ethnic identity. Why am I sees ethnic identity as a situational identity? “Ethnic Identity is situational because it may vary from situation to situation and with events across the life cycle……” (Paul R. Spickard, W. Jeffrey, 2000). Let’s take Andreas as an example. When Andreas is in Germany, which most of the people around him are all Germans; you can see that he will highlight his German ethnic identity. He speaks German, he understands the inner jokes of Germans, and his German identity is in use. However, when he is in Hong Kong and Taiwan, where most of the people that he contact with would be Chinese, he would stressed out his Chinese ethnic identity, or at least, his Chinese background. He could communicate in Mandarin quite well, he understands Chinese cultures quite well, and he has (almost) no barrier to get along with Eastern society.
Moreover, I would add that, these interactional and situational characteristics of ethnic identity are actually co-existed. The interactional characteristic of ethnic identity is actually derivative from the situational characteristic of the ethnic identity. Whenever the situation changes, people interact with different people from different ethnic groups and they tend to shift a little bit of their own ethnic identity (but this is only applicable when they able to do so, for instance, people like Andreas who are mix-blood can claims that they are belongs to more than one ethnic group). So, I just want to point out that these two characteristics of ethnic identity are interrelated and associating.
Now you may see clearly why am I sees ethnic identity an interactional and situational identity. In fact, I always believe the theory that ethnic identity will never persist and remain the same; it is a flexible and changeable identity which shifting as the persons who interact with you and the situations change. It shifted as the situations change to fulfill people’s need. This is almost close to the instrumentalist approach which understood ethnic identity in relation to class and social status which used to protect the mutual interest. However, I am here discussing neither instrumentalist approach nor primordialist approach but the interactional and situational characteristics of ethnic identity. So I would just set this aside and back to the interactional ethnic identity.
I would conclude that, no matter it is in Andreas’ case, or my own case, or as I observed others’ cases (which I used the anthropologist method of “participant observation”), I see people start questioning themselves about their own (and others) ethnic identity. This had endorsed my point of view that ethnic identity is an interactional identity, it (usually) only emerges when you’re in the process of interacting with other people. But as what I observed I would say that, people more tended to realize their own ethnic identity when they think that people whose interact with them is in another ethic groups, which is not in the same ethnic group with them. I do not know whether this observation could be applied to all, but I do think it will be really interesting to find out the answer.


Breton, R. (1964). Institutional Completeness of Etnic Communities and the Personal Relations of Immigrants. American Journal of Sociology , 193 - 205.
Howard, M. M. (1995). An East Germany Ethnicity? Understanding the New Division of Unified Germany. German Politics and Society , 49 - 70.
Jean S. Phinney, Gabriel Horenczyk, Karmela Liebkind, Paul Vedder. (2001). ethnic identity, Immigration, and Well-Being: An Interactional Perspective. Journal of Social Issues , 493 - 510.
Lung Ying-Tai, Andreas Walther. (2007). Dear Andreas (親愛的安德烈). Shang-Hai: Tian Di Tu Shu You Xian Gong Si.
Ma, R. W. (2005). Shifting Identities: Chinese Muslims in Malaysia. Asian Ethnicity , 89-107.
Paul R. Spickard, W. Jeffrey. (2000). We are a people: Narrative and Multiplicity in Constructing Ethnic Identity. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Stephen Castles, Mark J. Miller. (1993). The Age of Immigration: International Population Movements in the Modern World. Hampshire: Macmillan Press Ltd.
Ying-Tai, L. (2008). Take your time, my child (孩子你慢慢來). Taipei: Shi Bao Wen Hua Chu Ban.

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