Glossary: Astronaut


A common sobriquet that describes Chinese Canadians with a job in Hong Kong and a home and family in Canada.

The term finds its provenance in the post-1997 phenomenon that saw many Chinese Canadian families set up homes in Canada while the main breadwinners returned to Hong Kong to earn their living.

Then, as now, it was often easier to find employment in one's country of departure (and certainly more lucrative), than to find an accepting and open-minded employer in Canada who was willing to accept your credentials and experience as valid, and willing to pay you equitably, on the basis of those qualifications.

At the same time the communist government in Beijing deployed several measures to reassure Hong Kong Chinese that it was business as usual in Hong Kong. Though no such promises were made in the area of political freedom, the fact that Hong Kong continued to prosper after the hand-over encouraged many Chinese immigrants to return.

Nonetheless, in a classic demonstration of circumspection so prevalent in Asian culture, they maintained their status as permanent residents or Canadian citizens. They also maintained their homes in Canada and, typically, sent their children to Canadian schools and universities, while they shuttled back and forth (hence the term astronaut - for the amount of time spent suspended above the earth).

It is estimated that 2/3rds of all male immigrants from Hong Kong live outside Canada according to a 2007 Vancouver Sun article quoting a study by the Chinese Canadian Historical Society of British Columbia.

And oh, the real Chinese astronauts - the guys who do the spacewalk - they're called taikonauts.

Image via NY Times, copyright: European Pressphoto Agency

Article: Creative Commons License 2008 Gavin Barrett
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 Canada License.

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