“Overseas Chinese driver” in Formula One

| February 7th, 2010

The following is a guest post by Randy – AlleyCat

“Overseas Chinese driver” in Formula One

The Chinese usually identify a person by ethnic origin instead of nationality.’Overseas Chinese’ are people of Chinese birth or descent who live outside the Chinese territories. As long as the person is of Chinese descent, that person is considered Chinese, and if that person lives outside of China, that person is “overseas Chinese”.
Ho-Pin Tung (董荷斌) was born and raised in the Netherlands, but he races with a Chinese license. His dream: to become a Formula One race driver. Few of us will ever have been any closer to achieving our dreams, when he became the first Overseas Chinese driver to be named in a Formula One team line-up. The Dutch-born 27-year-old, already the first Chinese national to drive a grand prix car, will be Renault’s official third (reserve) driver this season. When he tested for the team in December, he immediately impressed with his speed and feedback, which convinced Renault that he was ready to become part of the team.  

“Since the day I started racing, Formula One has always been my objective”, said Ho-Pin Tung. “So to reach the pinnacle of motorsport and become part of such a famous team as Renault is an amazing opportunity. It’s really a dream come true for me, but it’s also the start of a new adventure. In many ways everything starts from now.’ And: ‘My objective is unchanged, I want to race and I want to win, for China, for my fans, for the team, for my partners and for myself. Formula 1 is what I really want. My new position with Renault is excellent news for China, for Chinese sport and the fast growing number of Formula 1-fans there.”
As a dutch reporter, part of me was excited, and the other half was disappointed. I couldn’t make up my mind. I’m not naive, I know how it works. To be an ‘overseas Chinese’ might be much more profitable these days, even more so if you are in competition for one of the few chairs in a Formula One racing car. Yet couldn’t he have spoken just one or two words in his native language, so that we, his Dutch fans, could also share in his glory and co-celebrate his future pole positions?
“Please Ho”, the reporter asked in Dutch. “Just a small sign? A kind gesture, for the country that provided your human rights, education and opportunities? Ho-Pin Tung? Are you there? Ho? Ho? Ho?” Reporter tried again and again, but there were too many people that wanted to speak to Ho-Pin Tung. All of them were asking the same questions, and Ho would be answering in many languages, but Dutch was not one of them. Ho would not listen, or seemed to suffer from a sudden amnesia and appeared to have completely forgotten where he was born. Some reporters went home, feeling very disregarded, very obsolete, and very Dutch.
So in spite of us feeling a bit neglected, we shall still look out for Ho-Pin Tung at the next Grand Prix, as we can’t help to regard him as one of our own. Although by now we also know: whether moving slow or at high speeds, living abroad or born ‘overseas’ -a Chinese will always be Chinese…


44 Comments | Leave a comment | Comment feed

  1. Stpepper says:

    Some overseas Chinese may feel as if their birth countries never treated them as one of their own, or they felt they needed to connect strongly with China. While I don’t know the details of his life in the Netherlands (A google search turned nothing), it seems to me he doesn’t feel a lot for his birth country, considering he seems to be Chinese citizen. I presume he’s living in China(Again, google turned out nothing) and he does little actual travel to the Netherlands(This is what I surmise from the feeling I got in the articles I’ve read so far. I’d be surprised if it actually turned out that he lived in the Netherlands, considering the speech).

    In contrast, some Chinese mainlanders feel as if they owe nothing to China: Their parents were stripped of their land, they were treated like crap when they were kids, at every step of their life they were reminded that they were the lowest of the low just because of the crime of having been born, no one would be friend or speak or show any compassion towards them. These mainlanders promptly got out of China when the chance presented itself, renounced their citizenship when they could and got a new one in a far more forgiving country. Even though they can claim Chinese citizenship back, they will not. They will do business with China, but If asked to help China in any way, they won’t.

    Several of my relatives belong to the second group.

    Regardless, I can’t shake the feeling Ho Pin Tung is the kind of guy who, when it’s convenient, will turn around and say he’s Dutch and conveniently forget he’s a Chinese citizen. To be fair, I shouldn’t judge people based on scant information but I don’t feel like being fair anyways.

    • AlleyCat says:

      There are approximately 100.000 people of Chinese origin amongst the 170 different nationalities living in the Netherlands (total population 16.5 miljon, the average density almost 400 per square kilometre) Only about 35% of them came directly from mainland China. Although their communities are generally perceived as somewhat withdrawn and introverted, the Chinese are doing relatively well; the Chinatowns in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague being an example of their acceptance and integration.

  2. djflskj says:

    China is all the rage nowadays. It’s the next real estate bubble right now where everyone wants to get in and get some. Like many of us “overseas Chinese,” Ho’s parents must have gotten out for good reasons but being born Dutch and like the rest of the world, he probably possesses a lot of romanticism and fascination toward China. Besides, claiming his Chinese identity would assure him a great advantage over others when it comes to rich and fame. All bubbles eventually burst and then, only then, he might find himself irreversibly Dutch.

  3. John says:

    I would like to see this fellow get a chance to race. There has never been a Chinese F1 driver, but there will one day.

  4. AlleyCat says:

    From the day he was born, Ho-Pin Tung has lived and studied in the Netherlands like any ordinary Dutchman. However, he has two passboards. Before he became an exclusive overseas Chinese, he co-presented and appeared on various sports programs on Dutch television. His current whereabouts are unknown, yet at the rare times between races when drivers do get a couple of days off and head home – “home for many of them is increasingly Monaco or Switzerland. Some might surmise it’s tax related.

  5. maxiewawa says:

    “Although by now we also know: whether moving slow or at high speeds, living abroad or born ‘overseas’ -a Chinese will always be Chinese…”

    So you’re judging an entire race of not only 1.4 billion (?) who live inside China but also the millions of ‘overseas Chinese’, by the actions of one guy?

    A little racist don’t you think?

    • AlleyCat says:

      Perhaps the irony has escaped from your attention. It is the Chinese perception of identity that is mainly emphasizing on race. So even if ‘a Chinese’ can be ‘all Chinese’ instead of ‘this Chinese’, a bold and rather provocative conclusion like above obviously overstates a factual connection by a deliberate use of language that states the direct opposite of the truth.

  6. Jade says:

    What is the source of this article? A Dutch newspaper? I looked up this guy by searching for Chinese news articles and it appears that his paternal grandparents were from Wenzhou and migrated before WWII i.e. quite a long time ago so he must be third generation!!!

    His parents ran a Chinese restaurant, he was born and grew up in Holland, can hardly speak Chinese but gave up his Dutch citizenship for Chinese citizenship.

    All the 1st generation/1.5 generation who were born in China I met were pretty attached to their homeland but a third generation guy who can barely speak Chinese whose family migrated quite long ago??? I just find that rather bizarre.

    I haven’t met any Dutch-born Chinese and am not sure what the environment is like for them there.

    • AlleyCat says:

      The premises in the first paragraph can be found on Wikipedia. What follows is a mixture of common facts that can be found on numerous sites, attached with some personal notes. Regarding the Dutch environment for Chinese immigrants see my comment above.

  7. Wang Er says:

    “As long as the person is of Chinese descent, that person is considered Chinese, and if that person lives outside of China, that person is “overseas Chinese”.”

    Yes and no. There are more than one word for “overseas Chinese” in the Chinese language. 华侨 means Chinese citizens living abroad while 华人 or 华裔 refers to ethnic Chinese who have foreign citizenship. And the country of citizenship was usually put before their Chinese origin when talking about them, for example 美籍华裔 (Chinese American). Usually ethnicity is not the emphasis but nationality.

    Ho-Pin doesn’t own debt to any country, Netherlands or China. His parents probably were mistreated in China decades ago and they went abroad to have a better life. Things changed over these years and their son came back because he could establish a better career in China. Good for all of them.

    BTW, that Dutch reporter’s question is retarded. If most reporters are like that, it’s probably one of the reasons why Ho-Pin wanted to leave, instead of being chased and harassed by annoying people asking provocative questions, at least he could chase his career goal without much disturbance in China.

    • Wang Er says:

      correction: ‘owe a debt’ in the 3rd paragraph

    • AlleyCat says:

      Lol. Agreed, if most reporters were like that, he’d have good excuse. Luckily they are not. In all honesty, the reporter in question did not really put him on the spot like that. He wouldn’t dare; the thought just crossed his mind. Although the Dutch are usually perceived by outsiders as being too bold and direct, we are not that insensitive.
      Nor are we very patriotic. Personally, I’m not bothered by his decision to change his public identity to match his personal aspirations. Besides being a talented driver he has a charming personality, he’s articulate and witty. I completely understand his motives and do not question his morals, nor his loyalty. You will have to forgive us if we seem to be cutting a few corners here and there; that is just the way we are. Therefore we love Ho-Pin Tung, we really do. The question still remains: do you?

      • Wang Er says:

        As I read, Ho-Pin loves Netherlands. To be specific, he loves his family and friends living in the country. He once said he has two homes, one in Netherlands where his parents live and the other in China where his career prevails. And Chinese reports like to put emphasis on his connection to his born country. One example here:


        There wasn’t a single word of ‘China’ or ‘Chinese’ in that article. After he finished a championship, the first one he hugged was his step parent (a Dutch couple) who inspired Ho-Pin to the car racing sports. Ho-Pin is actually doing a favour to both countries in terms of promoting mutual understanding, because in China he’s more Dutch than his fellows and in Netherlands he has a Chinese element. Being mutinational doesn’t mean he must chose to love one while hating another. It should mean he likes something from both sides and gets supports from more fans.

  8. Lop says:

    There is a bigger leap from test driver (they basically all have the tag 3rd driver) to being one of the two main drivers. Anyway a very plausible explanation to why he has taken a Chinese citizenship is that to become one of the two main drivers in Formula 1 you need to have the backing of a seriously wealthy personal sponser, often one who is willing to put tens of millions- if not hundreds- into the team as well. Dutch companies in that league would probably prefer to spend that kind of money on a “native” Dutchman so the logical step is to look for a Chinese sponsor and becoming a Chinese citizen and publicly embrace China and Chinese culture would almost certainly make him interesting to one of the major, expanding Chinese brands.

    It’s a good strategy and if he’s got the talent then I bet we will see him as a first or second driver backed by Baidu, Lenovo or Aosidi in one of the medium ranked teams soon.

  9. Jade says:

    Ok, I found an interview in Chinese, it seems that his parents were born in China but followed his grandparents overseas by establishing a restaurant in Holland.


    He says he spoke Wenzhounese as a child but never learned Putonghua properly and claims that he had always seen himself as a Chinese because “When I wake up in the morning and look at myself in the mirror, I can see clearly that my black hair, yellow skin, black eyes and not blond hair, white skin and blue eyes, why should I not say that I am Chinese?”


    Geez, I’m not sure I trust Mainland Chinese who migrate to my country…Doesn’t he feel anything for his birth country? I looked up some mainland Chinese bbs comments and it seems that opinion is divided on whether this guy can be considered “Chinese”. To be fair, he didn’t get to choose his place of birth.

    “华侨”, “华人” or “华裔 ” Actually a lot of Chinese are quite confused on definitions, especially “华人” which is quite fuzzy. (do certain ethnic minorities like overseas Tibetans count?)

    “lot of romanticism and fascination toward China”-I can understand that…

  10. jaap holm says:

    talked to him some years ago. But no, he hardly spoke any chinese then. But he was trying to establish himself as a “chinese” racer coz that gave him more opportunities he said.

  11. Orientix says:

    The Chinese in Holland are known as hard working people and very much respected. I think they arrived just before WW2. (At least that is what I learned from my parents). They integrated fast, and as far as I know there never have been issues between the Dutch and Chinese in Holland. In my school years I had several Chinese in my class, and we became easily friends.
    Since I live in China I found out that many “Dutch” words in fact are Chinese (Fujian) origin. Also proof of there full integration in the Dutch society.
    If Ho-Pin Tung decides to race for China because it gives him better opportunities, then so it be. What is wrong with ambitions?
    If the journalist failed to draw Ho-Pin Tung’s attention, then next time better. Maybe the reporter is just masking his failure by writing this story.

  12. jaap holm says:

    “Since I live in China I found out that many “Dutch” words in fact are Chinese (Fujian) origin. Also proof of there full integration in the Dutch society.”

    Which words if i may ask?

  13. rotto says:

    this guy can not be a real chinese! can you imagine a chinese in F1? how can
    drive a car with a long nails and how can spit out of the helmet? impossible!
    I’m sure is a dutch ! have done some surgical operation for be like a chinese, becouse now be chinese is very cool! poor guy!

  14. So – how long has he been trying to use the “Overseas Chinese” Card? Honestly, not exactly seeing any major Chinese investment in F1 for the last decade or so. Heck, if was trying to make a mark on the Rally Car circuits (Baja, Dakar, etc.), he probably would have a better chance at attaching Chinese sponsorship and/or actual vehicle manufacture support.

  15. Taiwan ren says:

    If I were Dutch I wouldn’t support this guy at all, not unless he raced under a Dutch license. It’s disgraceful and arrogant for him to treat the country of his birth this way.

    I’ve seen the attitude that many Chinese have for the so called “overseas Chinese” population. China needs to drop this tribalistic notion and realize that values and culture are more important than having a Chinese name or Chinese ancestry.

    • periperi says:

      Gee, what is the furore over Ho PinTung racing as a Chnese national?

      Alfred Hitchcock is alternately known as a Bristish film maker as well as an American director. Hitchcock saw opportunities in America then, just like Ho sees opportunities in China now. What’s the big deal?

      People against Ho’s decision have probably judged a Dutch citizenship more valuable than a Chinese one. In which case, it’s all a matter of personal choice, isn’t it?

      • Al Jensen says:

        There are people who consider Hitchcock an American director? I thought he was always presented as being quintessentially English (?)

        What about Kubrick? American by birth, but as I understand it he spent most of his adult life in England. Same with Terry Gilliam. As did Henry James, although I think he very stubbornly stuck to his American citizenship.

  16. taiwan jay says:

    he is the sun ming ming of formula 1, wont happen

  17. Donna_liqiu says:

    Its obvious he feels a connection to China, whether or not it is based on the option of future opportunities, or a real sense of identity is something only he can answer.

    Regardless, people dont choose where they are born, but they can choose who to identify with. Hes taken Chinese citizenship, and is calling himself Chinese. Its pretty clear what he identifies as.

    As an aside, Dutch people dont exactly have a reputation for racial sensitivity, so its not suprising that he has chosen to make China his home…

    “The country that gave you your human rights….blah blah”

    wtf has that got to do with anything, now really. Talk about racial connotations! next thing youll know is he be

    “The country that taught you how to be civilised, to follow human rights…..oh wait, you were BORN in Holland?,…oh, well youre still Chinese background, so you should still be GRATEFUL that you were born here, what with a Chinese background like you have an all…….”

  18. jaap holm says:

    So he is supposed to have changed his dutch passport for a chinese, coz dual citizenship is not allowed. Hmm, why dont i believe he did.. smell something fishy there.

  19. AlleyCat says:

    Individual countries follow their own individual rationales in establishing their criteria for citizenship. Some countries bestow citizenship automatically at birth to persons with a parent who is one of their nationals (jus sanguinis), or to persons born on their territory (jus soli). Some countries consider multiple citizenship undesirable and take measures to prevent it; this may take the form of an automatic loss of a citizenship if another citizenship is acquired voluntarily. However, since each country decides for itself who its citizens are, based solely on its own laws and generally without regard for the laws of other countries, it is quite possible for a given individual to be considered a citizen by two countries, even if one of these countries forbid dual citizenship.

    • I can vouch that P.R. China is not a “dual citizenship” country, especially when it comes to holding multiple passports (at least if you are not a cadre member, or a “person of significant wealth”).

  20. racer1192 says:

    The only reason this’t guy got the reserve drive was because his manager bought into the team. He really hasn’t done enough in his career to warrant it. As for being Chinese, at the Race of Champions he raced for the Chinese team, but was always interviewed in English. He speaks less Chinese than your average foreigner who lives here.

  21. LazyCat says:

    Besides some Chinese, he’s fluent in English, Dutch, German, French, Greek and Latin.
    That’s more than your average Chinese who lives there.

  22. bert says:

    Chinese isn’t a race.

  23. Squasher says:

    He’s NOT the first oversea Chinese to possibly drive in F1.

    Alex Yoong, a Malaysian of Chinese descendent was the first Chinese to ever drive a Formula 1 car for Minardi in year 2001/2002.

    • LazyCat says:

      Ah, thanks for the correction. However, Alex Yoong drives for A1 Team Malaysia in the new A1 Grand Prix series; some might argue this makes him a lesser kind of ‘overseas Chinese’.

      • Squasher says:

        Yes, he does drive A1 Grand Prix in 2005/2006 after he drove in F1. His debut F1 Grand Prix was the Italian GP in 2001 and his best F1 Grand Prix position was achieved in the Australian Grand Prix in 2002 at the 7th position. All in all, he competed in 18 Grand Prix before he retires from F1.

        Do visit this link to see for yourself his name in the drivers list. http://www.formula1.com/results/driver/2001/

  24. huzhang says:

    I don’t see why couldn’t answer the dutch reporters? Or is it just this one guy?

    • AlleyCat says:

      The author would have to admit it is (just this one guy). The press conference did take place, but the imagined reporter wasn’t really present at all. So the authencity in the first part of his article somehow transformed into fiction at the end. Anyway, Ho-Pin Tung is a well known figure in Holland. If there actually had been any dutch reporters, they would have hardly felt the need to compete for his attention. He is in fact quite open and accessible. Any suggestion that he perhaps would not have been willing to address a provocative question as such (for example, because at some point he would consider it impolite or unwise to emphasize on the dutch part of his personal identity) is merely a result of the author’s wild imagination and personal inclination to imagine any kind of existential dilemma.

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