I was walking down the street in a Dutch city with my half-Chinese son in his stroller. As small kids usually do, he attracted attention from a lady passing by, who waved at him. Once she had a good look at my boy, she bursted out: “He’s of mixed blood, am I right?”
In English, the term ‘mixed blood’ has various definitions, varying from neutral and clear descriptions, to insulting terms. I looked up the term in various dictionaries:
Duhaime Law Dictionary
A person of half, or more or less than half, Indian blood
A person whose ancestors belonged to two or more races – as opposite to pure blood
The term mixed-blood in the United States is most often employed for individuals of mixed European and Native American ancestry
The Free Dictionary
1) A person whose ancestors belonged to two or more races 2) an offspring of a black and a white parent
Back in colonial times…
From all this you can distill that a person with mixed blood is a child born out of parents from different ethnic backgrounds. That seems like a neutral denominator, but you also see terms such as ‘pure blood’ and ‘black and white’. From the mentioning of ‘Native American ancestry’, you can clearly see that the term mixed blood is strongly connected to American colonial history. In my native language Dutch it’s the same: the Dutch word for mixed blood (literally ‘half-blood’) is strongly connected to our colonial history in Indonesia and the Antilles. Back in those days people made a clear distinction between black (or Indian) and white, where white was regarded to be the superior race.
The definition of the term mixed blood has changed since colonial times. Relationships between partners from different backgrounds are becoming more and more common, and there are children who are born out of these relationships. I frequently hear people saying that mixed-blood babies are so cute, that they are special and more beautiful than children born from parents with the same skin color. But still, by continuing to refer to people as mixed blood, the ethnic background of a child is emphasized, whereas we are firstly and foremost all human beings, regardless of our parents’ race. Because of the negative history of the word, mixed blood is not being used much in English anymore.
The Chinese perspective
The Chinese equivalent of the term mixed blood is hùnxuè, which carries literally the same meaning. But in China this is a very common way to describe a child born out of parents from different ethnic backgrounds, without any negative connotation.
As I said the term mixed blood comes from our colonial history, in which people with a colored skin were regarded as less than caucasian people. Mixed-blood people fell somewhere in between: better than people of color, but less than white people. In China the perception is completely the other way around: hùnxuè are regarded as more beautiful and better than children born out of two Chinese parents. The perception is exactly opposite: a white skin, large eyes with double lids and a long nose are the Chinese definition of beauty. These are all traits Chinese don’t posess naturally, a reason why half-western children in China are generally regarded as being more beautiful.
Another definition of ‘mixed blood’
How do I, mother of a child that’s half-Chinese and half-European feel about all this? Just do as a sales woman in a store I visited recently did. She was also waving and making cute faces at my boy in his stroller, and then asked me: “He must have an Asian father, right?” That’s a neutral and correct way to say it like it is.
Although I have to admit that in a way my son is of mixed blood, but in a very different way. I have blood type A, my husband has type B. Our son has blood type AB, and therefore is mixed-blood in the truest sense of the word.
A Dutch version of this blog was previously publised on Judithinchina.com, the author’s personal blog. You can read the original Dutch version here.