To mark East and South East Asian Heritage Month 2022, academic foundation year 2 trainee Brian Wang reflects on how his Chinese heritage has shaped his life, both personally and professionally.
I’m an academic foundation year 2 trainee in London, having studied medicine at the University of Cambridge and Imperial College in London. I was born in Australia and moved to the UK with my family at the age of six. Although I have never lived in China for any significant period of my life, and I have dual British-Australian citizenship, the past 28 years that I’ve spent on this earth have been heavily shaped by my Asian heritage.
Globally, according to United Nations data, there are over 1.4 billion people of Chinese origin in the world. This is approximately 20% of the total global population. According to the latest census, approximately 400,000 people in the UK identify as being of Chinese ethnicity, making up just 0.7% of the UK population. A small enough number that I mentally take note when I see another East Asian while I’m out in public.
Asian heritage is both beautiful and resilient. There is an amazing diversity in culture, food and community across the whole of Asia. I feel extremely privileged to be able to speak to my family in Mandarin, a beautiful language, and to have grown up eating the delicious Chinese meals that my mother prepares for the family. Something that I’ve reflected on more recently is how my Chinese heritage has affected me professionally and how that’s shaped my personality and approach to challenges in life.
When I moved from Australia to the UK at the age of six, I went to a school in south-east London, in the borough of Bromley. Throughout my time at primary school, there were only two other Chinese students – one was my sister, and the other was a family friend with the same surname as us.
Even from the age of six, I was encouraged to be the best. My parents told me that only one person from each class at my primary school would be able to get into St Olave’s, my first-choice secondary school. This was indeed true the year I was accepted – a total of four people from the four classes went to St Olave’s.
Why do Chinese people who have left China feel this need to be exceptional? Perhaps it is the nature of those who have taken a leap of faith emigrating from China in search of something ‘better’.
In the UK, the stereotype of Chinese people is that, on the whole, they are very hard working and achieve great things academically. Stereotypes are often, at least in part, based on real observations. The question is – why? Why do Chinese people who have left China feel this need to be exceptional? Perhaps it is the nature of those who have taken a leap of faith emigrating from China in search of something ‘better’.
Growing up, my parents showed me the meaning of sacrifice and hard graft. They are a prime example of what it means to be ‘self-made’. My father’s family were all farmers in rural China. He had to educate himself in order to get to university. He’s now been a professor at Imperial College for over 20 years. My mother, who is the kindest and most caring individual I know, gave up her career as a nurse to support the rest of the family while my father worked.
In Chinese culture, supporting your family comes before everything else. I’ve always been told by my parents to keep my head down and hit the academic milestones, and they will worry about the rest.
I have been called an ‘over achiever’ for much of my life. I studied at two world class institutions, and even completed a PhD along the way. I’m now also the founder and trustee of a charity, In2MedSchool. It’s impossible for me to say that I wouldn’t have done all this if I didn’t have my Chinese heritage. All I can say is that my parents have always encouraged me to be the best I can be. Whether that was in the classroom or on the sports field, I’ve always felt a need to be the best.
Hard work beats talent if talent doesn’t work hard. At least that’s what I’ve always been told.
I’m not particularly smart or talented. At medical school my grades were pretty average. But you’ll find it hard to find someone who put as many hours into revision as I did.
My desire for success is less about achieving things for myself and more about paying my family back for the belief that they had and still have in me.
My heritage shaped me into the person I am today. I reach for the stars but always try to look back on where I came from. I owe that to my family. My desire for success is less about achieving things for myself and more about paying my family back for the belief that they had and still have in me.
Even now, I work every day of the week. Aside from being a doctor, I spend much of my time supporting children who wish to get into higher education. A lot of this is through the charity I founded, In2MedSchool. Medicine is still a career for the privileged, with over 80% of doctors coming from just 20% of schools.
In2MedSchool supports young children from disadvantaged backgrounds to apply to medical school. Our volunteers, all medical students and junior doctors, help the children make an informed decision about their future. In doing so, they provide a helping hand during a time when many of these children may feel isolated and stressed.
My Asian heritage has shaped me into the person I am today. I consider myself to be determined and resilient, much like my parents. When they moved to the UK, they hoped to bring a little bit of China with them. Indeed, our family home is a little Chinese haven in south-east London. However, in moving to the UK, they also demonstrated the characteristics that I admire and have tried to take on myself – resilience, tenacity and a desire to do what’s best for the people you love.