Belonging is a satisfying and comfortable sensation that an individual feel when they identify themselves as valuable in particular circumstances. This feeling of belonging can be attained through relationships with people and communities. However, the perceptions of not belonging may emerge from pessimistic sense of identity due to being different to the majority and the society’s objection to belong. From birth, an individual’s culture and family are closely linked to the person’s sense of identity and belonging.
Allan Baillie’s fiction China Coin explores how these aspects influence on Leah’s sense of belonging through Leah’s experiences and discoveries during her trip to China. The song “Englishman in New York” by Sting depicts both a strong sense of belonging with contrast to a sense of alienation that are closely related to identity, society’s attitude, the community and the culture. Identity of an individual builds up depending on the individual’s acceptance to belong or not belong to a community or culture, while the sense of identity is what determines the potential of the individual to challenge a community or group for belong.
China Coin, through the use of inner monologues of Leah, shows how her sense of belonging changes as she comes to accept herself as a Chinese. At the beginning of the story, Leah does not feel she is belonging to China; she says “it’s your rotten China” to her mum Joan, showing that she has a negative feeling towards the trip to China and does not accept China as her country. However Leah’s attitude towards China gradually changes over time, Leah begins to think of “Joan’s family as her family” and “Shanghai became as familiar as Chatswood”.
And she finally “wants to be part of the family” and identify herself as “not not Chinese” which reveals that she accepts her identity and she feels belong to China. The song “Englishman In New York” presents different aspect of sense of identity where the singer strengthens his identity as an English gentleman under the alienation in the American community. This is clear when he says “I don’t drink coffee I take tea” and the use of repeating phrase, “be yourself no matter what they say” puts emphasis on his firm willingness to belong to his own sense of identity.
Culture is a major factor that influences someone’s sense of belonging. In the China Coin, Leah feels alienated before she comes to China, she says “Chinese were them”, this demonstrates that cultural barriers can prevent one from belonging to different group. Also Leah says to be ‘alarmed’ when Joan “switched gears” because the Chinese language which is a cultural difference is setting her to be isolated. In “Englishman In New York”, it contrasts the different cultures of England and New York to highlight the alienation of the singer and his sense of not belonging.
The composer used saxophone music to represent English culture of nobility and calmness and used drum sound to reflect the boisterous and unrestrained American culture. Relationships with people and community also contribute to our sense of belonging. Family is a relationship that individuals have a strong perception of belonging. Throughout the story of the China Coin flash back to the past before the “Cough” is brought out frequently, which reveals that Leah misses the time when her dad was still alive and how her sense of belonging becomes lost.
When Leah found out the corruption of Heng and told it to the Turtle Land Village people, the Turtle Land people liked Leah and treated her as a hero. This is an example of how belonging is affected by the relationship with community. Society’s attitude is an important factor that shapes individual’s sense of belonging. When society rejects someone to belong, they feel isolated and feel not belonging. Conversely, when the society admits or welcomes someone, they feel comfortable and belonged.
In the China Coin, when Li-Nan says ‘you are part of our family now. Welcome’, “Leah felt that she was being pulled home”, this is a clear example of how the attitude of other people can affect the person’s belonging. However, when Leah tries to find the Turtle Island, the attitude of the lady at the counter saying ‘foreigner’ indicating Joan and Leah, gives them a sense of alienation that makes Leah and Joan feel lost.