Thu | Aug 17, 2017

Dr Wing Tsang tops them all

Published:Sunday | April 19, 2015 | 4:00 AMPaul H. Williams
Wing Tsang defending her PhD thesis on October 7, 2014.
Two Times Sweet: Dr Wing Tsang enjoying cheesecake after it was announced on October 7 last year that she had received a PhD with high commendation.
Dr Wing Tsang on PhD graduation day.
Dr Wing Tsang showing her voluminous PhD thesis, which was recently named the most outstanding for the academic year 2013-14 by the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus Committee For Graduate Studies.

When Wing Tsang hired me to edit and proofread her PhD thesis, I accepted the job since I was "highly" recommended by a friend of hers. But, I was a bit concerned that I knew absolutely nothing about the evolution and development of Chinese immigrant businesses in Jamaica, and the challenges that they encountered.

So, I decided to work with Tsang on the areas that I really didn't know much about, while focusing on grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, phrasing, structure, referencing, etc. It was much work, and I got carried away sometimes, losing focus because of what the study was revealing to me. It was a very interesting research, which debunked much of the misconception of Chinese migrant businesses in Jamaica.

Tsang came to Jamaica in the early 1990s at age eight. Prior to her arrival, she said she didn't know where Jamaica was on the map. She had no expectations, but felt it was going to be a "long-term move". "Because my parents were invested to come here, and they came here with the purpose of bringing money, investing, and creating jobs, and businesses," she told Arts & Education in a recent exclusive interview.

Coming to Jamaica, Tsang said, she didn't have to buffer culture shocks and deal with adaptation issues as she was not socialised to see people in terms of race. She saw Chinese people, but had no inkling why and when they first came here. That wasn't important to her, she said. Holy Childhood Preparatory was her first school, and she has fond memories of growing up in Jamaica, but had no dreams of what she wanted to do with her life.


At the end of her Holy Childhood years, Tsang progressed to Meadowbrook High School, and The Queen's School, where she attended sixth form. And even at this point, she was more concerned about doing her best in school, and not about career choices. "Still nothing, just living my life, just doing what I could do best, do my subjects, and I always assumed that the subjects would lead me to something I could do well," she said in retrospect.

So, even though her parents were in business, Tsang didn't harbour any thoughts of taking over their business and running it. She was expected to assist, wasn't socialise to manage it, as business management was seen as a man's job. And still then she didn't know about the history and development of Chinese businesses in Jamaica. "That thought didn't cross my mind until much later," she said.

From Queen's, Tsang made the big transition to the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona campus, where she pursued a bachelor's degree in management studies, with a minor in economics and accounts. She graduated with honours, and went to work in the banking sector, where she felt she needed a master's degree "to be on par" and "to be relevant". So it was back to UWI to pursue an MBA in international business.

career in academia

It was while Tsang was at the Mona School of Business that a career in academia, and not business, crossed her mind. "The teachers were engaging, and there was a world of learning; I was starting to love academia through the MBA," she said. Tsang now wanted to "pursue knowledge, create knowledge".

She knew she would pursue a PhD, not just to go back into the family business, which is always going to be there. She wanted to seize the opportunity to do a PhD, but on what? After the MBA she took a year off from work and school, did much reading and travelling. It was during her visit to Canada, where the discussion about immigrants was the "hot topic", that the idea for a PhD topic might have come.

The immigrant discussions were mainly about the "bad immigrants, the illegal immigrants, the refugees", Tsang said. But, she also learned that "there is always a group of immigrants who come and invest and make it big". "And I realised it's the same thing here in Jamaica. Chinese people came here with very little to nothing, and they started businesses, creating employment, and make contributions to the society," she told Arts & Education.

Yet, the road to making it big "wasn't always easy", thus the idea for a PhD thesis that was eventually called 'Enterprise Development Among Chinese Migrants In Jamaica'. Creating this "relevant and important topic", she said, was time-consuming. Initially, she thought about foreign-direct investments from China versus local investments here in Jamaica. But she said foreign direct investors are not in Jamaica where they "live, integrate, and embrace". In essence, they are not here experiencing the rigours of setting up and developing migrant businesses.

So after one year into the PhD programme at the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies at UWI, Tsang changed the focus of her study. "I thought of my mother, my father, all those persons who run shops, who made it big, who contributed to the society, who help out the workers with children's school fees, I want to talk about those," she said.

By then she was beginning to learn how and why the Chinese came here in the first place, and how they evolved into shrewd businesspeople.

major finding

"My major finding is that Chinese businesses do contribute to the society through trade, integration, productivity, employment, and innovation, but the road to get there is not always easy, because sometimes they have limited resources, and they face institutional barriers," she said. And the major misconception she found was that people believe Chinese immigrants come here "easy cheesy" with much money.

In October last year, Arts & Education had the opportunity to sit in on Tsang's oral defence of her thesis, immediately after which it was announced that she had passed with "high commendation". She believes the relevance of the topic and the fact that there is no other serious academic study on Chinese immigrant enterprises in Jamaica contributed to her achievement.

Dr Tsang graduated last November with a Doctor of Philosophy in Economic Development Policy degree. And, very recently, she was informed by the Mona Campus Committee For Graduate Studies that 'Enterprise Development Among Chinese Immigrants in Jamaica' was named the most outstanding thesis for the academic year 2013-2014, for which she has received an award.

In response, Dr Tsang wants to thank her friends, UWI for giving her the opportunity, and her supervisors for asking the right questions, "questions that require you to think beyond what you think you know".