In May last year, I wrote:
Incidentally, while looking at an earlier Federal Register list I came across a name matching that of another famous tech guy — one who is well known to have started a new venture outside of the U.S. recently after a number of years living abroad … I’m reasonably sure the renunciant listed is him and not another guy by the same name: a name matching his wife’s name is listed in the same quarter, and neither name is very common. I don’t think I’ll mention his name publicly right now; it may be better just to leave him and his kids in peace.
The man in question, Lee Kai-fu, has decided to discuss his renunciation publicly for the first time, and wrote a post about it on Chinese micro-blogging site Sina Weibo over the weekend, which I’ve translated after the jump. His name appeared in the Federal Register “published expatriates” list for Q3 2011, as does someone with the same name as his wife; alongside them are the names of a number of other public figures who gave up U.S. citizenship around the same time, such as Tsinghua University School of Life Sciences dean Shi Yigong and Jamaican politicians Shahine Fakhourie Robinson and Everald Warmington. Indeed, the whole reason I noticed Lee’s name was because I was browsing the list when doing research to write Robinson’s Wikipedia article.
The background to Lee’s announcement was a flame war between him and Dai Xu of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force Academy in which Dai accused him of being anti-Chinese; it’s discussed in further detail here for those who are interested. Lee’s post was in the form of an image, which non-Chinese speaking readers will find cannot be handled by Google Translate, so I’ve transcribed and translated it below:
|Recently some people have been curious about my citizenship, which I find rather interesting. I’m not a government official, nor the family member of an official, so why are you asking about my citizenship? But since you’re asking, have a look at my Weibo!
|Regarding my citizenship
|When I was young, I received my education in the U.S. and took up a U.S. identity. But as I got on in years, and gained more experience, especially in 1998 after I returned to the mainland for work, I began to feel more and more deeply that that China is the land that really belongs to ethnic Chinese. People think about different things at different ages. As I aged, I wanted to get back to my roots. This is human nature. So, in 2011, I made the decision to give up my U.S. identity, and now I only have a Taiwan identity.
Since I don’t actually have time to puzzle over the best way to translate certain parts, I’ll take the lazy way out and supplement this with a long translation note.
Lee’s word choice here is interesting: he uses the word “身份” — which I translated somewhat awkwardly as “identity” — to describe what he acquired by naturalisation and what he gave up. One possible reason for his choice: this word allows him to re-use it to describe his connection to Taiwan without calling it “citizenship”. In other contexts I’d normally translate this word as “status”, as in “immigration status”; “认同” is probably a closer equivalent of all the connotations that the English word “identity” brings up. Anyway, citizenship is rarely equivalent to identity; most of us overseas know that you only tend to change your citizenship in recognition of how your identity has already changed, and if you’re forced to do it before then it can be a gut-wrenching step.
“Giving up U.S. citizenship” is occasionally expressed in Chinese as “放弃美国公民身份” (literally, “giving up U.S. citizenship status”), but normally people just say “放弃美国国籍” (“giving up U.S. nationality”). In general, Chinese is not as rigid and essentialist about the distinction between “status”, “citizenship” and “nationality” categories as, say, Korean, where Korean Americans who turn in their U.S. passports are without exception described as “giving up their U.S. citizens’ rights” (미국시민권을 포기, 美國市民權을 抛棄) and “restoring Korean nationality” (한국국적을 회복, 韓國國籍을 恢復).
|The U.S.’ world-class technology education was my teacher, and i applaud many of its values. Taiwan is the place where I was born, and also the place of my family and deep human connections. Naturalisation is a personal choice, and except in the case of a government official, there’s absolutely no need to question more, let alone to demand an explanation. But since some people were curious, I’m happy to share my real thoughts.
|Finally, since I was little, my parents would constantly remind me: “You’re Chinese, you have to learn the Chinese language well, and you have to marry a Chinese wife”. Now I can say with pride that I’ve fulfilled all three of those points.
Lee is part of what we usually call the “1.5 generation” of Asian Americans; for those who are interested, you can refer to Lee’s 2009 book Making a World of Difference, where he wrote in greater depth about his childhood and in particular his immigration from Taiwan to the United States, leaving his parents behind to go live with his elder brother in Tennessee, and the issues of culture and identity that brought up. Anyway, Asian American community media don’t want to touch renunciation issues with a ten-foot pole — they’re understandably worried it’ll fuel stereotypes about Asian Americans as unassimilable “perpetual foreigners”.
Another angle on Lee’s renunciation, which I wrote about last May:
[A]nti-emigrant sentiment is especially strong in the tech sector, where U.S. venture capitalists — who have significant trouble investing in non-U.S. ventures — try to make up for their U.S.-imposed tax handicap by instead convincing every ambitious techie that Silicon Valley is the only place in the world you could possibly want to do a startup, and if you don’t move there then clearly there’s something wrong with you … his story is another strong counterexample to the pervasive American myth that the only land of opportunity for technology entrepreneurs is the Bay Area.
One last interesting aspect of Lee’s choice is what it says about the “protection of the U.S. embassy” which Homelanders are so quick to cite as the primary benefit of U.S. citizenship. Lee is a frequent victim of censorship on Weibo and was even “invited to tea” by police earlier this year in response to something he posted. He feels secure enough in his situation that he is happy to live in Beijing with just a green Taiwan passport that affords him no consular protection whatsoever — but it took him six years to come to that decision, and wasn’t a response to any one event (least of all any political event in the United States).
Most likely, the U.S. media will ignore these three angles entirely. Instead, they’ll simply slot Lee’s story into the pre-existing narrative about “bankers and CEOs fleeing the country to avoid a new tax hike” that they’ve been talking up ever since 1995 — the year when the Joint Committee on Taxation released that execrable report about “tax-related expatriation” which revealed that despicable tax evaders like TC Lin had renounced U.S. citizenship and were living the high life abroad in Republic of China Army boot camp with a salary of not just hundreds nor thousands but tens of thousands of (New Taiwan) dollars.