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Blood Links: A tale of family migration

Laura Peppas

When William Yang was growing up in North Queensland in the 1950s, the kids at school came up with a nickname for him: “Ching Chong Chinaman.”

Because he was born and raised in Australia, the label came as a shock: William had always thought of himself as western, and didn’t actually speak a word of Chinese.

“I went home to my mum and asked if I was Chinese, and she said yes,” he says.

“My mother wanted us to be Western so she brought us up that way – she wanted us to be more Australian than the Australians. So I suppose that the Chinese side of me was always unacknowledged. It wasn’t all because of my mother’s attitude but it was cultural as well…at that time Australia wanted people to assimilate and to speak English.”

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William’s aunt and uncle.

It wasn’t until he was middle aged, that William connected with his Chinese heritage.

This ‘rediscovery’ became the centrepiece for his critically acclaimed production, Blood Links.

Originally launched on stage in the late 1990s, the play has been updated and is coming to Canberra Theatre Centre next month.

In it, William shares his personal journey through spoken word, film and photographs, including stories about the Chinese Diaspora, how Chinese migrants put down roots in Australian soil, and how over the generations, through intermarriage, blood is mixed – yet the intricate bonds of family tie people together.

William describes the production as powerful, with a message “everyone can relate to.”

“Unless you are Aboriginal, everyone has experience with migrating,” he says.

“This has been one of my most popular pieces, and I think that’s because everyone can relate to it – it’s toured all over the world. This version is definitely the new and improved version, as it’s more streamlined, and there’s more music to give it more atmosphere. It’s a cross between film and the performance.”

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A young William Yang.

A third generation Chinese, both of William’s grandfathers arrived in Australia in the 1880s to dig for gold.

“My mother’s family were quite well to do, and my father was a shopkeeper before owning a tobacco farm,” says William.

“So for a long time I was growing up on a tobacco farm, which I hated.”

As a gay man, William says he struggled with coming out until he moved to Sydney in 1969.

“That was the beginning of sexual liberation, so I was quite easily able to come out at that time,” says William.

Working as a freelance photographer, William played a key role in documenting Sydney’s gay culture at the time, before being drawn to theatre, where he began to perform monologues with slide projection.

“Theatre’s like another world, and I think that’s what really drew me to it,” he says.

“My photography and theatre came together and that’s always been my forte, since then.”

the essentials

What: William Yang’s Blood Links
When: 12 – 23 April 2016
Where: Canberra Theatre Centre
How much: Tickets start from $35


Laura Peppas

Laura Peppas is HerCanberra's senior journalist and communications manager and is the Editor of Unveiled, HerCanberra's wedding magazine. She is enjoying uncovering all that Canberra has to offer, meeting some intriguing locals and working with a pretty awesome bunch of women. Laura has lived in Canberra for most of her life and when she's not writing fervently she enjoys pursuing her passion for travel, reading, online shopping and chai tea. More about the Author

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