This is it. Since Dec 13th 2013, for the first time in our trilingual family’s history, all three of us became the citizens of the same country: the lucky country of down under, Australia.
While Nina was born Australian, Nicolas took up Australian nationality in March this year (by keeping his French nationality) by the desire of it, I took the plunge only very lately, mostly by the necessity of it I have to admit.
The moment we started to contemplate the plan of travelling around the world (even when nowhere near the certainty that we were to carry it out), I decided that, if I was to continue to hold a Chinese passport, there won’t be a need to contemplate. It will be just the end of it. As the chart below shows the number of countries that can be entered without a visa by a citizen of various countries, it’s 44 by Chinese citizen and 167 by Australian citizen (and to the delight of Nicolas, it’s 170 by French citizen). If we wanted to travel with lots of spontaneity in terms of where to go and when, a Chinese passport unfortunately became a permit not to travel.
The real issue is not about the taking up of Australian citizenship, nevertheless. The real issue is about the giving up of Chinese citizenship. Chinese government doesn’t accept dual nationality like France and some other countries.
This was the reason that has caused my hesitation up till this point. This was also the reason that many people were quite shocked when hearing my decision of becoming Australian.
Among those who were not shocked are Chinese, including my own family. It seems it’s such a popular thing to do to migrate to another country for Chinese these days, and every Chinese who travels or wants to travel regularly knows the pain of applying for visas, it hardly became surprising to hear such news. As my sister put it ‘as long as you are Chinese in heart, the rest is just the formality’.
Or is it?
When you think of it, there are just a few occasions in life that are REALLY defining moments, such as the birth, the death, the wedding, the birth of your own child. And there is the acquisition of a different nationality – which is not a given but something of enough importance that triggers some philosophical reflection. What does a nationality stand for: is it the loyalty to a country? Is it the root of where you come from? Is it your beliefs and disbeliefs? Is it who you would cheer for in the Olympic Games? Is it the law that governs it and the rights that are granted to its citizens?
Does the change of a nationality takes all these away from you?
Or rather, the change of a nationality takes a little bit of myself away. As much as I would like to think it’s more a matter of formality and a piece of paper – on top of a genuine fondness of Australia as a country – I still cannot shake off the sense of making a choice that betrayed the country I was born in. Or at least the sense of giving up, finally, despite years of resistance. It’s a feeling hard to shake off.
Someone has suggested that China – at least the one that is governed by the current government – is not one that is to be loyal to. But it’s not really the point. It’s where I was born and it’s where I grew up, regardless of its geographic location or political reality. No matter whether it’s in the heart of the best place in the world, or it’s in the middle of nowhere, it remains a very special place. To publicly announce that I am no longer officially part of it, no matter how special it remains in my heart forever, is not an easy thing to do.
Yet I made the choice.
It’s probably nothing but my conscious – and unconscious – desire of making our trip a reality that was demonstrating itself. The trip ought to be special with a major decision like this.