"I followed my heart - not any family expectations." Maisie Chan on misconceptions about growing up as a British Chinese person
Published on: 26 August 2021
Author Maisie Chan reveals how the common stereotype of British Chinese people excelling at school inspired her to write Danny Chung Does Not Do Maths - and how she carved her own path to becoming a writer.
Maisie Chan and the cover of Danny Chung Does Not Do Maths
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Danny Chung Does Not Do Maths is about a boy who doesn’t want to live up to his parent’s expectations of him (to excel at maths) because his passion is to draw. The unexpected arrival of his Chinese grandmother creates a lot of issues for Danny, but helps him realise he has to navigate life in a different way using the skills that he has. The book is also about navigating friendships and family no matter where you come from.
However, the book also explores the various myths and stereotypes about British Chinese people, like the idea that we’re all good at maths. I guess in many ways I was a bit like that stereotype as I was top of my school in most subjects - but my Chinese foster siblings weren’t all like me, and I know plenty of Chinese people who aren’t good at maths either!
Not all Chinese parents are 'tiger parents'
Even if an attitude seems ingrained in a culture or about a culture, there will always be exceptions. Many second-generation British-born Chinese people, like me, are going to be different to Chinese people who live in other parts of the world. We are part of the diaspora and I am in fact, very British. As I’ve explained in Danny Chung, not all Chinese parents are ‘tiger parents’ who push their children to excel academically. When you trawl through Asian social media spaces, you do see a lot of discussions about parental expectations – but that’s common for lots of types of parents, Asian or not! I lived in an English Royal Town, and trust me, there were many non-Asian parents whose expectations were incredibly high for their children; especially as there were grammar schools in the area.
My parents, Jean and Ron, didn’t put any pressure on me whatsoever in terms of what I wanted to study or do with my life. They were happy for me to do what I wanted. I do regret that I didn’t go to Chinese school at weekends and learn to speak Cantonese or Mandarin Chinese at an early age, and that I gave up learning French at secondary school - I wish I had persevered with learning another language. I also wish I’d been more outgoing and less afraid of what people would think of me. I held myself back socially and didn’t feel like I fit in so didn’t enjoy after school clubs at all.
I’ve learned it takes time to realise what makes you tick
Like Danny, it takes a while to find out what you really enjoy and what you want to do with your life. I used to draw a lot in primary school but somehow I started to draw less and less as I got older. I enjoyed English in secondary school, it was my favourite subject, but I didn’t think I would ever become a writer.
I was in my mid-twenties when I had the notion that I wanted to write books. I didn’t grow up in a house full of books when I was a child and because I had never read British Chinese books or seen a British Chinese author perhaps I didn’t think that I could be a writer. Throughout my educational journey I’ve enjoyed finding out about new places and people. Each book I read opens up a whole new world and I love fiction where I learn something new. My parents were so happy when I decided to go to university because no-one in my family had been before, but I don’t think they really understood what an American Studies degree was or what I could do with it to further my career. It has actually helped me become the writer I am today because I followed my heart and my interests - not any family expectations.
And here I am, an author. I made it!
Danny Chung Does Not Do Maths is reviewed here.
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