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Suggested answers to thinking about how the text relates

to the Area of Study: Belonging


1. Ideas about belonging or not belonging vary (change) and are shaped (molded,
challenged by, changed) within personal, cultural, historical, and social contexts.
Leahs feelings about her identity have been challenged by her experiences in China through
various contexts. The personal context involves her relationships with others, in particular
her mother, Joan. When they arrived in China, Leah was angry with her mother. But on the
train to Chengdu Leah feels things are changing. It was funny she thought how things
changed every time they moved. In Guangzhou Joan was a stranger, on the first train she
was an ally, in Shanghai an enemy, in Wuhan a little girl with a nightmare, in Chongquin a
mother. And in Chengdu, somehow, they had become sisters again. (p.88) Slowly, Leah
begins to see her mothers pain at losing her husband and she realises that her being in
China was not just about fulfilling her fathers dying wish, but also about drawing closer to
her mother. As Joan says, Yes, Leah, I wanted China to be our paddy. (p.139)
The cultural context also challenges Leah. At the beginning of the novel Leah feels she does
not belong in China. She is shocked at the treatment of animals in the market in Guangzhou,
at Joan eating snake for dinner and at the dirty river. Unlike Joan babbling away (p.13) she
struggles with the language which is also a barrier to her feeling like she belongs in China.
Not surprisingly she tries to convince herself, Youre not Chinese. You dont even look like
them. (p.23) However, Leahs sense of her own identity slowly changes and she begins to
identify with her Chinese heritage in a way she never would have imagined possible. In
Chongqing Leah sees a girl in a protest march beating a drum. She looks like me, Leah
thought in surprise. The same size as me, the same smile as me I could be her. (p.87)
Leahs friendships and connections with her extended Chinese family alter (change) her
initial negative feelings and she starts to feel she belongs. When she and Joan leave Good
Field Village, Leah gets a bit teary and admits to Joan, Yes. Were family. (p.55) By the end
of the novel she identifies strongly with her Chinese family. In Red Star Village she felt that
she was being pulled home and really wanted to be part of the family (p.105).
The historical and social contexts, explored in the parallel plot of the students struggle for
democratic reform, also shape Leahs sense of belonging or not belonging. In 1989 many
students, and others, believed the time was right to stand up to the communist government
and call for more democratic rights and freedoms for all. The death of the reformist party
leader Hu Yaobang on 15th April 1989 was the trigger for mass demonstrations across
China. To show they were still in control and not prepared to make these changes, the
government used the army to stop the protests in Beijing. There were also demonstrations in
Shanghai and these are referred to in The China Coin. In the novel they annoy Joan who
calls them Damn students. Leah thinks differently and felt she was marching with the
students (p.66). One of them grinned and saluted her with a victory sign (p.67). Later, she
tells Ke, I want to be part of it but he doesnt believe she fully belongs. Not your battle, he
tells her (p.145). Later, in Tiananmen Square, he changes his mind and says, after
marching for us in Turtle Land, you Zhu Leah, are part of this. (p.171)

2. A sense of belonging can emerge (come out of) from the connections made with
people, places, groups, communities and the larger world.
As Leah connects with and experiences people, places, groups and communities in China
her sense of not belonging changes to belonging. In Good Field Village she begins to find
things she likes about China. She compares the chickens running free through the house in
Good Field village to the ones cruelly cooped up in cages in Guangzhou and the pet cat to
the ones waiting in fear to be someones meal. She realises that what she saw in
Guangzhou wasnt all there was to China. She also becomes more positive about the food.
When the expanded family sat down for a meal that evening Leah comments on the food, It
is lovely. Great, (p.36) she said. The next day Leah began thinking about Joans family as
her family. Joans grandfather was her great grandfather, Joans father was her grandfather
and Swallows Grandfather was her great uncle if she wanted it that way. (p.42) Leah
realises she had a choice about whether or not to belong to her extended family. She was
reluctant to accept them at first as this challenged her sense of identity as being not
Chinese but their hospitality and friendship draws her gradually towards an acceptance of
her Chinese heritage. Even her visit to the village cemetery, so different to her memories of
the quiet grave in which her father was buried, plays a role. Here, there was no pain and for
Leah it was if those curved earth arms were reaching out to her, welcoming her into the
family. (p.42) Leah chooses to belong as a result of the connections made with her
extended family in Good Field Village. Were family she says to Joan (p.55). In Turtle Land
Village her friendship with Ke helps her identify more with her Chinese identity. He tells Leah
a story about the origins of the village and says, Thats yours thats our ancestral village,
Leah. (p.112) He makes her feel she belongs, even though at that stage they do not know if
they actually are related.
Being in China has connected Leah to the larger world. Leah admits to Ke that she does not
know much about the politics of Australia, let alone China. He explains that it is Because
they dont affect you. Here they affect all of us. (p.109) Her travels through China have
broadened her understanding of Chinese politics and her friendship with Ke gives it a
personal dimension; she can identify with him, and feels a sense of belonging to the
students because she realises she could be one of them. Even Ke believes she now
belongs. He tells her in Tiananmen Square, after marching for us in Turtle Land, you Zhu
Leah, are part of this. (p.171) Together they feel that have been a part of something great,
something that mattered, even if the government didnt listen.
3. Belonging can be considered in terms of experiences, and ideas about identity,
relationships, acceptance and understanding.
Leahs experiences in China, including her travels from Guangzhou to Beijing, help mould
her sense of belonging to China. In Red Star Village Leah hears that the government
stopped the trains to stop the students and others getting to Beijing. She had been to these
places: Wuhan, Shanghai, Chengdu, Guangzhou, Chongqing, they were all part of her
China. Almost as much as Kes China. (p.155). Her identity also changes with her changing
sense of belonging. Before coming to China Leah did not identify with its culture or people in
any way. In fact, she tried to ignore her Chinese heritage and focused on her European
features, like her freckles inherited from her English father and her sniffy nose. She tries to
convince herself, Youre not Chinese. You dont even look like them. (p.23) However, her

relationships with others in China, in particular with Jade, Swallow and Grandfather in Good
Field Village and Li-Nan, Uncle Tong and her cousin Ke in Red Star Village, lead to a greater
acceptance and understanding of herself and her cultural identity and by the end of her time
in China she realises while she is not Chinese, she is not not Chinese either. It doesnt
matter anymore. (p.158) Being partly Chinese is now embedded in her own sense of
belonging and identity.
Leahs relationship with her mother improves as a result of their experiences together in
China and their sense of belonging together as a family is strengthened. Initially Leah was
angry with Joan because she thought she wanted to forget about her husband and she was
frustrated by Joans fear of the mob. However, as she learns more about her mothers
childhood and reflects on Joans pain at losing her husband she is able to let go of her anger
and reach out to her mother in love, acceptance and understanding. On her way to visit Joan
in hospital in Red Star Village she reminds herself, try to think how she has been feeling!
(p.137) By the end of the novel they support each other in their grief and clung together in
the back of the crowded truck (p.190) as they are being evacuated from China.
4. By belonging, or not belonging, a person can enrich or challenge a community or
group.
Ke has very strong political opinions and he feels connected to the students across China
who are calling for an end to the corruption or guanxi and greater freedoms for all Chinese.
He delays his journey to join their protests in Chengdu by a day so he can show Leah
around the village but the next day he tells his mother, Li-Nan, Ive got to go, got to go.
(p.120) Like the other students, he believes that they can challenge the communist party
officials and put pressure on them to move towards a more democratic society. When Leah
meets him in Beijing he tells her, We have shown the politburo what the people want. They
will have to make the changes The world is watching us and them. They have no way to
go but our way. (p.171) While some members of the government were prepared to make
some changes, their voices were silenced by the majority who did not want their positions of
power threatened. By belonging to the student movement Ke enriched their cause and
helped challenge the communist government which acted as a barrier, preventing its citizens
from participating and belonging in their own society because they were excluded from the
political decision-making processes.
5. People may choose to belong or not belong or there may be barriers (obstacles,
problems) which prevent (stop) them belonging.
The students in China chose not to belong to the thousands of other Chinese who accepted
the governments authority. This authority represented barriers to their belonging to a free,
democratic society. In the novel, Ke chooses to be one of the students fighting for
democratic change in China. He attends protest marches in the nearest city, Chengdu, with
his fellow students. When he hears that the government had refused to listen to the
protesters and declared martial law in Beijing he is angry and upset and wants to go to
Beijing to encourage the students in Tiananmen Square. But Li-Nan refuses to let him go,
fearing for his life as her husband, Kes father, had been killed for refusing to belong to a
political system which repressed its people.

Kes fellow students do not understand why he cannot go and think he has betrayed them
and the democratic cause. They think he is afraid of the danger. Ke is so upset and cries. He
feels he no longer belongs to this group or to the cause that he believes in so strongly but he
chooses not to belong at that point because of his promise to his mother.(146) Later Leah
tells him the boy should not have been so mean but Ke said, He was right. I should not be
here. Ke feels now that at this moment he does not belong he needs to be with the other
students. Leah encourages him But youre winning But Ke says No, I cant call myself part
of the marchers any more. Its not us that is winning. Its them. Ive dropped out. Leah
tries to tell him, You are part of it, Ke! but he says, Im not! and tips manure on his
trousers, saying Thats what I am. (pp.151-152) To Ke, his mother refusing to let him go to
Beijing is an obstacle, a barrier to him belonging. But as Leah realises, even in his not
belonging he is still a part of a powerful movement that did challenge the government, even
though it failed.

Deconstructing the text


GinaThe purpose of this section is to help you identify the structural and language features of the text and
to explain how these features have been used by the author to present his ideas about belonging. The
China Coin is a narrative; it tells a story. A good story must have characters, themes and settings which
engage the audience. The structural and language features used by the composer also play a role in
keeping the audience interested.

Visual representations
The following activities will help you visualise the journey made by the characters in The China Coin.
Understanding this will help you identify the stages in their sense of belonging or not belonging.
1. On a blank map of China trace Joan and Leah's journey across China using different
coloured pens to indicate the different stages of their travels. You could photocopy
the map in the text to use for this purpose.
2. Complete the following table which shows the different places Leah and Joan visit in
China in their search for the half-coin. Use dot points to record the main events and
characters in each place and explain how they relate to the Area of Study. An
example has been provided for you.
Place (Setting)

Guangzhou
(Chapters 1-3)

Event(s) & character(s)


involved

Relevance to belonging

Leah and Joan arrive


in China

Joan is excited about finding her


Chinese family

Leah and Joan


explore the city

Leah resents being identified as


Chinese by the air hostess.

They eat at a
restaurant and see
a student telling
the facts on a
poster

Joan can speak Cantonese and Leah


can see she is on her home ground
even though she had never been in
China before

Joan tries to sell China to Leah (tell her


how great it is) and refers to her own
mothers memories of the city. She
says to Leah, We came from here
(p.16)

Leah feels very conspicuous (obvious,


standing out) and knows she does not
fit in and belong as she is so much
taller than the Chinese people around
her

Leah is critical of the dirty mud Pearl


River and the cruel customs, such as
the hens rammed in their cages at the
market. She does not identify in any
way with China.

Joan eats snake for dinner and Leah is


horrified, Joan was changing with
every minute they spent in Guangzhou

and it was starting to get frightening.


(p.21) Whereas Joan wants to soak up
the atmosphere and feel she belongs,
Leah does not.

Good Field Village

Joan finds her


ancestral village,
Good Field

Joan and Leah


travel to the
village and find
their family
Grandfather
(Joans uncle),
Jade, Dragon and
their daughter
Swallow.

Another family
member, Tiny, is
not at home; he is
a soldier.

The Ji family is
very poor the
village has been
affected by The
Decade of Chaos

There is no sign of
the coin.

When Leah
realises that Joan
does not want to
stay in the village
forever, she
begins to enjoy
the village and
develops a sisterlike relationship

(Chapters 3-6)

The young man putting up political


posters calls himself one of the
Enemies of the State (p.22) because
he does not identify with the beliefs of
the communist party. Rather, he feels a
sense of belonging to the growing
numbers of students and others hoping
for democratic reforms.

The noise of firecrackers used in a


celebration frightens Leah and she
thinks, I hate it. I hate China. (p.23)
She does not feel she belongs at all.

Leah has mixed feelings about the


village at first. She feels as though
Joan has forgotten her father
(Joans husband); as though being
accepted into a Chinese family
means that her life in Australia was
just a dream; and left out when
Joan and Jade are speaking
together in Cantonese. But she also
begins to like the village, especially
Swallow.

There is an obvious division


between the ordinary Chinese
people who live in villages, and the
government officials. The village
people are poor

with Swallow

On the train to
Shanghai
Shanghai
On the riverboat /
Wuhan
On the second
riverboat / the
Yangtze river /
Chongqing
On the train to
Chengdu /
Chengdu
Red Star village
(Turtle Land
village)
Beijing

Leah hears
Grandfather
speaking with
Jade; he wants
Joan and Leah to
stay in the hopes
that they will give
the Ji family
money to build a
nicer house.

Joan speaks to
Grandfather who
says that he has
heard of a coin
split in two, but it
was given to his
brother (Joans
father) whose
ancestral village is
actually Turtle
Land Village, far
from Good Field
Village.