When I came back to Vienna after my first visit to China – a five-week trip in 2004, for the first few days after my return, I, like many other travellers, had to fight off the feeling of being foreign to my own home. Solely the many Chinese businesses in my district established some feeling of familiarity of the past weeks.
The area surrounding Vienna’s Naschmarkt and specifically Kettenbrückengasse are centres of the Viennese Chinese community.
One doesn’t only find the only Chinese bookstore in Europe here, but also many other small grocery stores, a hairdresser, two restaurants, a Chinese cellphone shop, the editorial office of a Chinese weekly newspaper, the association of the province Zheijang and a Chinese travel agency.
In China, people who leave their country to rebuild their lives somewhere else, are also called bridge people.
I started to get interested in their stories and wanted to know how the people ended up here. In the interviews I did during my research I heard a lot of similar stories. Most of the time there were family members who already lived here and they almost always ended up in the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant in the beginning. Then they worked hard and put a lot of money aside, with the goal of clearing their depts from being smuggled across the border and to open their own restaurant.
A lot has changed in the meantime. The food service industry is complaining about shortage of staff – a consequence of the strict immigration regulations, but also of the economic recovery in China. Meanwhile, many Chinese men and women live and work in Vienna as well as in China.
I feel that in „China Reverse“ we show Vienna as an example of how the situation is in many European cities, which means that in a way I am also telling the story of Chinese migration to Europe.
According to the numbers of Statistics Austria, in 2008 there were 8.633 people living in Vienna, who were originally born in China. But estimates of organisations working with refugees talk about there being 20.000 – 30.000 Chinese people in Vienna, the majority of which come from the region Zheijang, more specifically from the city Qingtian and the city Wenzhou.
Qingtian is a county and a city with about 480.000 inhabitants in the Southern Chinese province Zheijang. The city lies in a narrow valley in a mountainous region.
A wide river divides Qingtian into the old part of the city, which has been growing constantly and the new part of the city, which only just formed during the boom. Since China loosened it’s laws for leaving the country in the 80s, about 230.000 people from the region emigrated, mostly to Europe.
As soon as one gets to know individuals from a country, the stereotypical thoughts that one had about the people and the country itself, change.
The Austro-Chinese are well aware of the prejudices and the myths surrounding them. That’s why, at the beginning, they are rather sceptical towards Austrians.
Because of my frequent visits in China, I could finally gain the trust of the community in Vienna.
The life of people who have left their home and their family to start a journey into the unknown has always fascinated me.
They all take a piece of their home country with them to their new place of residence and build their own small world which reminds them of home.
Home has long become a geographically independent term.
Judith Benedikt 2015