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Overseas Chinese: The state of the field.

Author's Note: This paper was originally presented at the Regional China Colloquium, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, March 4, 2000. It was prepared quickly without time for reflection. Post-colloquium editing consisted of making several additions without altering the basic text. The paper should be read in that light.

"Overseas Chinese Studies" is an extremely broad and inclusive field. Its scope encompasses anything and everything about ethnic Chinese who live--or have lived in the past--outside of China, Hong Kong--Macau, and Taiwan. The literature of this field includes everything from quasi-intelligence-gathering about Overseas Chinese business networks (very popular these days) to fieldwork reports on qiaoxiang (ancestral home localities in China); from contemporary Chinese American literature to the archaeology of Chinese sites in New Zealand; from studies of China's Overseas Chinese policies, past and present, to microanalyses of the architecture of Chinese shophouses in Singapore; from the experiences of Chinese children minding their parents' takeaway food shops in Britain to the psychological problems of second-generation Chinese in Hawai'i--and more. The disciplinary and other approaches to the study of Overseas Chinese are correspondingly diverse.

In this short report, I discuss some recent trends in the field, mention some national and regional differences in the state of the art and the approaches used, and focus, finally, on the case of Canada. I conclude with some suggestions for further research, particularly in Chinese Canadian Studies. To explain some aspects of the subject, I briefly discuss one dissertation and five recently published books that illustrate some current trends. I also touch on a paper just presented on this panel. The dissertation I discuss is Madeline Hsu's "Living Abroad and Faring Well: Migration and Transnationalism in Taishan County, Guangdong, 1904-1939." The three monographs are Li Minghuan's We Need Two Worlds, the edited volume of Leo Douw and others, Qiaoxiang Ties, and Wing Chung Ng's The Chinese in Vancouver, 1945-80: The Pursuit of Identity and Power. The other two books are encyclopedias: Lynn Pan's edited Encyclopedia of the Chinese Overseas and Zhou Nanjing's edited Shijie huaqiao huaren cidian (Dictionary of Ov erseas Chinese).


The most important recent trend fits the Chinese into a global framework. In the past, Chinese outside China were studied either within national units or within subnational local units, whether they were studied as a "problem" for governments in their "host" countries or anthropologically, as localized minorities who were interesting for their cultural and social organization and expression. In the last decade, in line with globalization as a research construct, there have been more and more studies of Chinese as transnationals. Interestingly, although the term "Chinese diaspora" is now commonly used, the field of Diaspora Studies has so far had little nontheoretical impact on the study of specific groups of Overseas Chinese. (1) Much of the "diaspora" literature remains at the level of globalized environments, networks, and strategies. Instead, when discussing specific groups, it is the term "transnationalism" that is most often used. Transnationalism usually focuses on the continuing connections of Overseas Chinese to ancestral localities and home-district-residing family members. Some of the earliest work of this kind was done by Madeline Hsu in a recently published dissertation about Chinese-American transnationalism in the first half of the twentieth century. (2) Hsu combines detailed work in American immigration records (including fascinating reproductions of prompt books that helped immigrants answer immigration officers' detailed questions) with fieldwork in Guangdong. Earlier attempts by a UCLA group to use somewhat similar methods achieved only modest results, partly because of more difficult research conditions in China at that time.

One of Hsu's important contributions was to stretch Chinese transnationalism back beyond the confines of contemporary globalization, all the way to 1900. It could be stretched farther, and it will be. It has long been known that Chinese outside of China have, for centuries, sent remittances to "home localities" in China, gone back and forth when possible, and sometimes maintained two families- one overseas and another in China. We also have known about the important investments in home localities by Overseas Chinese in the twentieth century, and we have the statistical work of Lin Jinzhi and others on this last phenomenon. What we have lacked are detailed studies that examine both life overseas and life and investments at "home" in China as a continuing theme over several years. We are now beginning to get this in the work of Hsu, Li Minghuan, and others. Li Minghuan's career is instructive. Although based at Xiamen University she has spent extended periods in Holland, associated with Leo Douw and others who study European Chinese. Her recent work has three aspects: Chinese associations in the Netherlands, Chinese associations in Europe as a whole, and Chinese associations around the world. She is the current authority on all three. The title of her new book, We Need Two Worlds, expresses very clearly her approach to the study of European Chinese and their associations--namely, by the use of both European and European Chinese sources and interviews and by fieldwork in China. From first to last, the ethnic Chinese of Europe are seen as a part both of Europe and of China. To varying degrees and in varying ways, they also see them selves that way. It should be mentioned, however, that, unlike Madeline Hsu, Li Minghuan has been concerned mostly with the post-World War II era, when Chinese migration to Europe has assumed major proportions.

Leo Douw's edited book Qiaoxiang Ties does go back to 1900 in some of the contributors' essays. But this volume clearly fits into the "business research" side of transnationalism. The book's subtitle, Interdisciplinary Approaches to "Cultural Capitalism" in South China, states the unifying theme of the volume. The ultimate concern here is with the business investments that Overseas Chinese make in their "home" districts and with the role that cultural ties and personal networks play in business decisions and operations. Where Madeline Hsu's transnational links are familial and Li Minghuan's are organizational, this volume focuses on their entrepreneurial dimensions. That seems to me to be somewhat different from James Cook's approach. His actors are also Overseas Chinese capitalists investing in home-district development. But in the earlier period he discusses, their investments and entrepreneurship were aimed as much at urban social, political, and cultural development as at business development as such. An even less "business networks" approach is that of Kuah Khun Eng in her recent study of Singapore Chinese and their ancestral villages in Fujian. Here the theme is clearly cultural. (3)


A second trend in research--not new, but an increase in earlier efforts in this direction--is comparative study Since the days of Maurice Freedman and Bill Skinner, (4) there have been students of Overseas Chinese who have attempted to build an edifice of comparative studies from which we can generalize about Overseas Chinese life and institutions. By now there are several subject areas where there is a theoretical and comparative base sufficient to allow for useful generalized discussion. One area is Chinese associations, or nonprofit organizations, referred to above. Another is ethnicity where the work of Frederik Barth has been influential, as have more recent developments in cultural studies. A recent example is Wing Chung Ng's The Chinese in Vancouver, 1945-80: The Pursuit of Identity and Power. The title suggests a classic one-country/one-locality historical study. It is that; but it is more. The basic story is about the discourses of identity among Chinese Canadians in Vancouver, British Columbia, from 1945 to 1980. Ng is not the first to show us a group of Overseas Chinese renegotiating their identity over a span of time. But he is the first to use Chinese-community newspapers to lay out the internal discourse through which they did so. Where studies of Overseas Chinese elsewhere tend to stress identity change in relation to host-country policies, and ethnicity discourse as an interaction between the Chinese minority and the non-Chinese majority Ng focuses on the "Chineseness" discourse among Chinese Canadians themselves. Then, in his final chapter, entitled "Beyond a Conclusion," he compares his Vancouver findings with the literature on Chinese ethnicity in the United States and the various countries of Southeast Asia.

How comparative has Overseas Chinese research become? Are we at a point where we can contemplate reliable generalizing on a global basis? In one way it would seem so. In the past seven years, two encyclopedias of the Overseas Chinese have appeared. Among other things, the two provide us with an interesting contrast in organization and presentation of information. Shijie huaqiao huaren cidian (Dictionary of Overseas Chinese) was published by Beijing University Press in 1993. It was compiled by forty contributors and an editorial board of sixteen, headed by Zhou Nanjing. Zhou, originally an Indonesian Chinese, is a Beida faculty member well known for his work on the Philippine Chinese. The encyclopedia covers Overseas Chinese institutions, history, places, and notable persons, and their home localities in China. There are 709 relatively short entries, arranged by number of strokes. This means, for example, that Overseas Chinese institutions in a given country must be searched for by name (if you know or can gue ss it), unless they happen to be discussed in the essay on the country in question. In other words, this volume is like a traditional Western encyclopedia: very informative if you know what you are looking for. Another project of Zhou's, the Huaqiao huaren baike quanshu (Encyclopedia of Chinese Overseas), began to appear in print in the summer of 2000. Twelve volumes are planned.

The Encyclopedia of the Chinese Overseas, edited by Lynn Pan and published in English and Chinese in 1998, is much easier to use to write well-integrated comparative essays on various aspects of Overseas Chinese life, or even a global history of the Overseas Chinese. This volume was the first project of the Chinese Heritage Centre in Singapore, an institution established by major Chinese tycoons of Southeast Asia and Hong Kong to preserve the global Chinese heritage and to link the global Chinese. It had fifty-three contributors and an editorial and advisory group of nine, with editing under the well-known author Lynn Pan. It is much less formal and traditional than Zhou's encyclopedia, being more like a collection of essays on various themes and countries than a large body of single entries. The first third of the volume consists of thematic essays under the headings "Origins," "Migration," "Institutions," and "Relations" (meaning relations with China and with non-Chinese). The remaining two-thirds is a sect ion entitled "Communities." It consists of extended essays on each of thirty-seven countries, grouped into six regions of the world. There is an extensive bibliography at the end.

Given the character of this publication and the state of Overseas Chinese Studies, this encyclopedia deserves more attention than such publications usually warrant. Indeed, one could simply draw on the thirty-seven "community" essays to write a global history of the Overseas Chinese with more reliable generalizations than we have had up to now Or one could combine material from, say, the essays on "education," "ethnicity," and "relations with China" to provide new insights into, and global generalities about, identity formation. Thus far, however, no one has done so. Independently of any encyclopedia, we do now have a number of globally generalizing interpretative essays on the contemporary cultural life of the Overseas Chinese. But those who write them seem to be familiar mostly with upper- and middle-class migrants to the United States and the Commonwealth countries. As before, the only broadly grounded student of the Overseas Chinese who regularly generalizes and interprets globally is Wang Gungwu, and he occupies a unique position, possessed of skills and experiences that few others have. (5)

Wang Gungwu has been a leader in the globalization of research and conference-organizing relevant to Overseas Chinese Studies. The International Society for the Study of the Chinese Overseas (ISSCO) was organized at his initiative and that of Ling-chi Wang, head of Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley Since 1992, ISSCO has held full-scale international conferences every three or four years and has sponsored smaller regional conferences in between these, including one in Cuba in December 1999. There has been occasional talk of a journal, but nothing has appeared thus far. There is, however, an electronic ISSCO Community Bulletin Board, on which news and other matter may be posted. The address is isscocommunity@uclink2.berkeleyedu. Three ISSCO conference publications have appeared. (6)

Besides ISSCO, there are emerging centers of research in various parts of the world. Singapore is one such place, with the Chinese Heritage Centre, the Singapore Government's well-kept archives and oral history collection, the presence of Wang Gungwu, and the bilingual journal Asian Culture (yazhou Wenhua), which regularly publishes articles on Overseas Chinese. Amsterdam, with the International Institute of Asian Studies, is another. With the leadership of Douw and others, research programs (including opportunities for Xia-men University faculty to do research and earn degrees) and regular international conferences and exchanges of scholars have already resulted in impressive contributions. In terms of regionally focused research on Overseas Chinese, the centers of Asian American Studies in Northern California (San Francisco Bay Area), Southern California (principally at UCLA), and New York continue to be among the most active in the United States.

In Australia, the Australian National University (ANU) has recently established a Centre for the Study of the Chinese Southern Diaspora, which has held conferences on the Chinese in Australia, non-Chinese Australians' attitudes toward Chinese, and the like. The Museum of Chinese Australian History in Melbourne is another nucleus for research conferences, as is the University of New South Wales, which is now focusing attention on the heritage and history of Chinese populations in Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific Islands.

Taiwan, where Overseas Chinese research was for so long almost exclusively an activity of government bureaus, is suddenly making its bid for recognition as a major center, In November 2000, Academia Sinica hosted a conference on "Chinese Business and Culture in Global and Local Contexts." In 2001, the same institution hosted the fourth largescale ISSCO meeting.


Not all studies fit into these transnational, global, and comparative trends. National and subnational locality studies continue to be important, and with good reason. Business interests and governments that want to know the secrets of Chinese business methods for their own purposes study these in national as well as international frameworks. For Chinese populations themselves, concerns about security and opportunity are still necessarily directed toward national and local governments. Political questions remain predominantly national ones. Relations with non-Chinese in their countries of residence continue to be problematic in several ways. Hence, filling in the blanks about the political status of the Chinese, past and present, continues to be necessary. Some aspects of Overseas Chinese society and history that have been neglected until recently--Chinese women, for example--demand a sufficient number of national- and local-level studies so we can begin to generalize about them more broadly Finally there wil l always be scholars and others who, because of their personal interests, concerns, and skills, will want to focus on the Chinese within the framework of their own country.

This last has certainly been true of Southeast Asia, the area where the overwhelming majority of Overseas Chinese live, where their national economic positions are the most salient, and where they are most vulnerable to government policies and to social disapproval, extending at times to violence. Here I must enter a caveat: of Asian languages, I read only Chinese and Japanese. That limitation makes it particularly difficult for me to assess research about Myanmar and the Indochinese countries, which have stood mostly outside the international field of Overseas Chinese Studies. In the case of Myanmar, it appears that almost nothing has been done. In the case of Vietnam, the research of which I am aware is either about the historical trade of Vietnamese Chinese with China and other parts of Asia or about the more recent experiences of Chinese under Marxist rule. Our understanding of Cambodia's Chinese has benefited from Bill Willmott's two books, published in the 1960s and 1970s. (7) But since then there has b een little published research specifically on that subject.

My impression is that research on Overseas Chinese is most developed in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Thailand. All five of these are strong in historical studies by foreign as well as local scholars. Some of the major themes have been religion, ethnicity, creolized Chinese, organizations, revenue farming by Chinese and its consequences, and trade and economic history For the contemporary scene, the best points of entry are two conference volumes that reflect the situation of the 1980s. (8)

Much of what is now written reflects the political status of the Chinese in the individual countries in question. In Singapore, where Chinese are the majority much of what is called "Singaporean" is mostly about the Chinese. That aside, Singapore is Southeast Asia's center of publications in the Chinese language. It is also a major conference organizer for Southeast Asian Chinese research, most of which has been arranged by the indefatigable Leo Suryadinata of the National University of Singapore. Thus there are conference volumes and other symposia on the Chinese as Southeast Asians, on Chinese culture in Southeast Asia, and a 1989 collection of bibliographical essays on the Chinese in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). (9) Besides conference volumes, there are histories of Singapore Chinese organizations; sociological analyses; studies of trade, business history and entrepreneurship; biographies of Singapore Chinese notables; studies of Chinese literature in Southeast Asia; and collections of Chinese inscriptions from Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

In Malaysia, the Chinese make up a third of the population and are an important part of the electorate. Much of what is written about them concerns their political participation and their educational and economic interests. But there are also studies of localized Chinese religions, as well as biographical and leadership studies. Malaysia, like Singapore, has a large readership of Chinese-language materials and publishes accordingly But English-language literature is also substantial. For example, English-language studies of the baba, or Creole Chinese of Malaysia and Singapore, are numerous.

In countries like Indonesia and the Philippines, where the political loyalty of local Chinese to national governments is often in question, that vulnerability sometimes affects scholarship. One recent historical study in the Philippines attempts to demonstrate that the Chinese population there participated more than has hitherto been recognized in the Philippine Revolution of the 1890s. In Indonesia, much has been written about the political and cultural lives and orientations of peranakan (local-born) Chinese, as contrasted with totok (China-born) Chinese, and that literature has influenced writers on Overseas Chinese elsewhere--including, most recently Wing Chung Ng.

In Thailand, there are historical studies of the international trade of Thailand-based Chinese and works on Chinese business groups. There is also what seems to be a curiously anachronistic struggle against the concept of assimilation used more than forty years ago by Skinner.

In Taiwan since the 1970s, several scholars associated with one or another of the institutes of Academia Sinica have carried on individual research projects in Southeast Asia and the United States. The latter include some of the earliest work on New York's first "New Chinatown" in Flushing, which is mostly Taiwanese in population. Meanwhile, the quasi-official Huaqiao jingji nianjian (Overseas Chinese Economy Yearbook) has provided useful annual material both on the population and on the economic and organizational activities of the global Chinese.

Given Hong Kong's status as the capital of global Overseas Chinese popular culture and trade, and as nerve center for overseas activities, it is surprising that this city has never been a center of academic research on Chinese outside China. But it has long been the locus of research on Cantonese society which helped form the basis for the generalizations of Maurice Freedman and others about Overseas Chinese society And in the past twenty years, Hong Kong has become the base for fieldwork in qiaoxiang (emigrant communities), especially that done in Guangdong by both local and international scholars. There are recent indications that the Chinese University of Hong Kong now wishes to move in the direction of research on Chinese outside China.

In China itself, the promising research of the 1950s was cut off and not resumed until the 1980s. Since then, there has been considerable expansion. Research on Overseas Chinese is centered in Beijing, Fujian, and Guangdong, in both research institutes and universities. The notable universities are Xiamen, Huaqiao, Zhongshan, and Jinan. Journals have proliferated, as have Fujian and Guangdong gazetteers of various kinds, including some that are dedicated to Overseas Chinese (Xiamen huaqiao zhi, Quanzhou huaqiao zhi, etc.). Local research in qiaoxiang is regularly carried out. Although China has hosted several international conferences on Overseas Chinese in the past few years, there are still enough restraints on opportunities for Chinese scholars to do research abroad that most output to date has been in areas where materials are located in China. For example, there are historical studies on Overseas Chinese investment in China, statistics on historical emigration from China, studies of Chinese governments p olicies toward Overseas Chinese, and the like. The majority of these publications concern Chinese in Southeast Asia. In that respect, China's output is similar to that of other Asian countries. Western scholars study Overseas Chinese in Asian countries, but Asian scholars rarely study Chinese in the West. This is all the more reason to single out Li Minghuan's work. In the case of China, there are, however, some broad studies of contemporary Overseas Chinese economic activities, and of relations with China that go beyond Asia in their scope.

In Japan, there are publications on the Chinese in that country, but also on the Southeast Asian Chinese, and even the Chinese in Canada. There are the well-known hooks of Kunio Yoshihara on Southeast Asian capitalism, in which Chinese play a major part; there are fieldwork projects in Fujian in the late 1980s; and there is a group of people around the Kejo anthropologist Kani Hiroaki who study social and cultural aspects of Overseas Chinese. There have been several symposium volumes on economic and cultural themes and, most interestingly a volume on political movements among Southeast Asian Chinese, mostly in the inter-war period (the 1920s and 1930s), (10)

Australia has contributed a number of distinguished Southeast Asianists who have worked in detail on the Chinese in Indonesia and on the Chinese in Southeast Asia as a whole." Four well-known Australia-based historians have produced detailed studies of the Chinese in Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand, as well as studies of the historical relations of Southeast Asian Chinese with China. (12) Otherwise, studies of the Chinese in Australia are either general examinations of immigrant adaptation, group projects on Chinese entrepreneurship, or locally focused histories. Much of the activity has been at ANU, but there are specialists at many of the major Australian universities. A handful of specialists at New Zealand's universities are regularly at work on the Chinese in that country and in the Pacific Islands.

Outside Asia, the study of the Chinese in Latin America and in Europe is still in its early stages of development. The most substantial work on Latin America has been done by veterans like Humberto Rodriguez Pastor (Peru), Walton Look Lai (the Caribbean), American Evelyn Hu-DeHart (Mexico and Cuba), and Canadian Denise Helly (Cuba). Otherwise, there are many younger scholars at work, and there is hope for the future.

In Europe, the Chinese population has greatly increased since the 1970s. Research activity has been greatest in the three countries of largest Chinese settlement: the United Kingdom, France, and the Netherlands. The best introduction to all this work is the recent volume, The Chinese in Europe, edited by Gregor Benton and Frank Pieke. French and other European research on the Chinese in Southeast Asia is covered in the journal Archipel. Here one finds the writings of Claudine Salmon, the outstanding French scholar of Chinese literature in Southeast Asia, Indonesian Chinese religion, and many other topics.

Research activities in the United States include a number of individuals and groups who work on the Chinese in various parts of Asia and/or on Chinese international business networks. It would take a separate paper to discuss them adequately. The other major American group falls under the umbrella of Asian American Studies. This is a field formally organized like no other in any other country. It is also large and well developed. Indeed, another paper would be needed to discuss this group adequately. The subfield of Chinese American Studies, under Asian American Studies, is strong in studies of Chinese American history, literature, race relations, ethnicity Chinarowns, intermarriage, women's experiences, labor markets, and entrepreneurship. (13)

For the first twenty years of Chinese American Studies, the dominant interpretative theme was that of "belonging," of being a part of the United States. Reviews of the unhappy history of the Chinese in America stressed anti-Chinese racism as the explanation. This stress on what happened to the Chinese once in the U.S. was so great that some of the more radical writers denied the existence of any significant cultural influences from China brought by the immigrants themselves. To cite such influences was to risk reducing the charges against white racism, and perhaps even to "blame the victim." Then, by the late 1930s, the face of Chinese America was transformed by the arrival of highly mobile, professionally skilled, and economically affluent new immigrants whose story was not one of unhappiness, "failure," and marginality, like earlier generations of Chinese Americans, but one of "success." The Chinese communities that Asian American scholars had studied and sought to aid were radically changing. Incoming Chin ese, now the majority could best be understood as transnationals. The concept of "flexible citizenship" was introduced to emphasize the newcomers mobility. At the same time, China's position in the world was changing as was its relationship to ethnic Chinese around the world. Asian American Studies, and thereby Chinese American Studies, moved from its intensely nation-centered focus to become part of an untethered world of broadly interpretative studies of Asian transnationalism (or diaspora), epitomized by Aihwa Ong and Don Nonini's edited volume, Ungrounded Empires: The Cultural Politics of Modern Chinese Transnationalism. Although there are many Chinese Americanists who continue to work largely in a national framework, transnational ways of thinking are affecting everyone in the field.


There appears to have been little influence thus far of transnationalism in Chinese Canadian Studies. The most recent book--Wing Chung Ng's--does deal with it, but does not take it as a major theme. Indeed, Ng makes the point in his concluding chapter that "critical reflections on transnationalism similar to those undertaken by ... Asian Americanists are relatively few Canadian academe's lack of an arena comparable to Asian American Studies means that much rethinking and probing is conducted by artists, literary critics, and other cultural workers." He goes on to note that the only published work on Vancouver Chinese from a transnational perspective is by Katharyne Mitchell, an American geographer. We might also note that the second edition (1998) of Peter Li's well-known survey, The Chinese in Canada, does not mention transnationalism. As in the first edition, Li's emphasis is on institutional racism in Canada as the explanation for what has happened to ethnic Chinese there. This is an issue that Li has made his own, and he is good at presenting it. In the second edition he has modified his approach to include some other explanations, but the primary emphasis on racism remains. Another recent and widely read work, Kay Anderson's Vancouver's Chinatown, is innovative in its treatment of how Chinatown was defined but is also, in a way, quite within the tradition of following only dominant-society perspectives and listening only to such voices. In Anderson's book, the Chinese never get a chance to help define Chinatown. They are victims only.

Thus far, research on Chinese Canadians has given us survey histories, monographs on major individual Chinatowns and local Chinese "communities," oral histories of Chinese women, various studies of the new immigrants of the post-1960s, and much recent popular attention both to late-nineteenth-century Chinese railroad workers and Chinese Canadian veterans of World War II. These last two topics are important in any case; they are also perhaps the only way to achieve a Canadian version of "belonging"--namely, by writing Chinese Canadians into the historical narrative of Canada. But these two topics can also be set into larger contexts, and they should be. Lisa Mar, for instance, is writing a dissertation about Chinese Canadians' drive for enfranchisement, which she is putting into the larger story of the civil rights movement in Canada during the 1940s and 1950s. This is not all that could be said about the Chinese Canadians of that era. We are talking here about an extremely important generation in Chinese Cana dian history-a generation whose members, along with their stock of memories, are fast disappearing. This generation did more than fight in World War II. Will we understand the full range of their experiences before it is too late? When we speak of Chinese Canadian veterans, it is, understandably, about their "contribution" not only to the Chinese Canadian community but to Canada itself. Overseas Chinese often find themselves trying to be recognized and accepted by the majority society because of their "contributions" to the nation (recall the Chinese Filipinos mentioned earlier). As long as national histories are written as they are, this will be an essential way to go: to try to get a favorable mention here and there for a group's contributions. But suppose national histories could be written differently--not merely following around the dominant group, but giving a fair share of attention to everyone. Tim Stanley and others have begun to work in that direction.


Based on the above discussion, the following are some possible research directions for Overseas Chinese Studies, beginning with Canada:


1. Comparisons between Chinese Canadians and Chinese Americans

2. Relations, past and present, between Chinese Canadians and Chinese Americans (transnational links of organizations, families, etc.)

3. Why there is no Asian Canadian solidarity except in places like the Asian Canadian Writers Workshop and Asian Heritage Month in Vancouver

4. The contemporary Taiwan Chinese in Canada: relations with the Hong Kong-derived majority

5. Changing generations in Chinese Canadian history

6. Subethnic and class differences within Chinese Canadian society

7. Chinese education in Canada

8. Literature in the Chinese Canadian newspapers, past and present

9. Court cases involving ethnic Chinese (especially naturalization)

10. Chinese Canadian transnationalism: relations with China, Hong Kong, Southeast Asia

11. Performing arts: music and theater

12. Religion in Chinese Canadian society


1. Some of the same topics as for Canada

2. Singapore Chinese relations with Chinese elsewhere in Southeast Asia, past and present

3. Japanese in Southeast Asia and their relations with Chinese in that region

4. Internal politics of Overseas Chinese societies

5. Women

6. Children

7. Popular culture of Overseas Chinese, especially recent popular culture

8. The Taiwan-Philippine Chinese relationship

9. Chinese revenue farming in Philippine history

10. Transnational links of regional and global organizations of Hokkiens, Cantonese, Chaozhous, Hakkas

11. Historical relations between Overseas Chinese and "home" districts in China

12. Pre-twentieth-century migration, local institutions, and transnational links of Overseas Chinese

13. Transnational personalities of Overseas Chinese

These lists include only some broad and obvious areas of needed research. Many more could be mentioned; perhaps those given here will stimulate others to generate their own lists of priorities. A considerable number of people now do research, one way or another, on Overseas Chinese. Twenty years ago, Overseas Chinese Studies was an esoteric, specialized field with few practitioners and only a modest relationship to broad themes of modern history, economy, and society Now, it is central to many topics and issues of general concern. The field has become fast-moving and is increasingly difficult to generalize about. One thing is certain: the areas of needed research are many--and so, fortunately, are the practitioners.


(1.) The most important theoretical work is Adam McKeown, "Conceptualizing Chinese Diasporas, 1842-1949," Journal of Asian Studies 58, no. 2 (May 1999). Note also the brief discussion in a comparative work, Amy Freedman's Political Participation and Ethnic Minorities: Chinese Overseas in Malaysia, Indonesia, and the United States (New York/London: RoutLedge, 2000).

(2.) See Madeline Hsu's article in this volume, "California Dreaming: Migration and Dependency," an excerpt from her Dreaming of Gold, Dreaming of Home (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2000).

(3.) See James A. Cook, "Bridges to Modernity: Xiamen, Overseas Chinese, and Southeast Coastal Modernization, 1843-1937," Ph.D. dissertation, 1998, University of California, San Diego, available as University Microfilms International order number 9914084; and Kuah Khun Eng, Rebuilding the Ancestral Village: Singaporeans in China (Aldershot, England: Ashgate, 2000).

(4.) G. William Skinner, ed., The Study of Chinese Society: Essays by Maurice Freedman (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1979); G. William Skinner, Chinese Society in Thailand: An Analytical History (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1957); and idem, "Change and Persistence in Chinese Culture Overseas: A Comparison of Thailand and Java," Journal of the South Seas Society (Singapore), 16 (1968): 86-100.

(5.) Two recent overviews by Wang Gungwu are: The Chinese Overseas: From Earthbound China to the Quest for Autonomy The Edwin O. Reischauer Lectures, 1997 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2000), and "A Single Chinese Diaspora? Some Historical Reflections," Inaugural Lecture, Centre for the Study of the Chinese Southern Diaspora, Australian National University, February 26, 1999 (Canberra: CSCSD, ANU, 2000).

(6.) The conference publications are Ling-chi Wang and Wang Gungwu, eds., The Chinese Diaspora, 2 vols. (Singapore: Times Academic Press, 1998); Elizabeth Sinn, ed., The Last Half Century of Chinese Overseas (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1998); and Teresita Ang See, ed., Intercultural Relations, Cultural Transformation, and Identity: The Ethnic Chinese (Manila: Kaisa para sa Kaunlaran, 2000). Some useful websites on Overseas Chinese include, www., and, for the Shao Overseas Chinese Resource Center at Ohio University,

(7.) W E. Willmott, The Chinese in Cambodia (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Publications Center, 1967); and idem, The Political Structure of the Chinese Community in Cambodia (London: Athlone Press, 1970).

(8.) Linda Y. C. Lim and L. A. Peter Gosling, eds., The Chinese in Southeast Asia, 2 vols. (Singapore: Maruzen Asia, 1983); and Jennifer Cushman and Wang Gungwu, eds., Changing Identities of the Southeast Asian Chinese Since World War II (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1988).

(9.) Leo Suryadinata, ed., The Ethnic Chinese in the ASEAN States: Bibliographical Essays (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1989). At the other end of Southeast Asia--Manila--stands the other important materials collection and conference organizing site, the Kaisa para sa Kaunlaran, led by the irrepressible Teresita Ang See.

(10.) Hara Fujio, ed., Tonan Ajia Kakyo to Chugoku: Kizoku-ishiki kara Kajin-ishiki e [Overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia and China: Conversion of the object of their identity from China to the residing countries] (Tokyo: Institute of Developing Economies, 1993).

(11.) Particularly, Tony Reid (since decamped to UCLA), Jamie Mackie, and Charles Coppel.

(12.) Yen Ching-Hwang, C. F. Yong, Michael Godley, and the late Jennifer Cushman.

(13.) For a valuable summary of much of this work, see Wing Chung Ng, "Scholarship on Post-World War II Chinese Societies in North America: A Thematic Discussion," in Chinese America: History and Perspectives, 1992 (San Francisco: Chinese Historical Society of America and Asian American Studies, San Francisco State University 1992), 177-210. Commentary on "New Directions in Research in Asian American History" is found in Henry Yu, "On a Stage Built by Others: Creating an Intellectual History of Asian Americans," Amerasia Journal 26, no. 1(2000): 141-161. Annual bibliographies are found in the issues of Amerasia Journal, published by the UCLA Asian American Studies Program. Another serial through which to follow recent trends in Chinese American Studies is the Journal of American Ethnic History.


Anderson, Kay. Vancouver's Chinatown: Racial Discourse in Canada, 1875-1980. Montreal and Kingston: McGill--Queen's University Press, 1991.

Benton, Gregor, and Prank N. Pieke, eds. The Chinese in Europe. London: Macmillan/ New York: St. Martin's, 1998.

Douw, Leo, et al., eds. Qiaoxiang Ties: Interdisciplinary Approaches to "Cultural Capitalism" in South China. London: Kegan Paul and International Institute for Asian Studies, 1999.

Hsu, Madeline. "Living Abroad and Faring Well: Migration and Transnationalism in Taishan County Guangdong, 1904-1939." Ph.D. dissertation, Yale University 1996.

Huaqiao jingji nianjian [Overseas Chinese economy yearbook]. Taibei: Qiaowu weiyuanhui, 1958-.

Li Minghuan. We Need Two Worlds: Chinese Immigrant Associations in a Western Society Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 1999.

Li, Peter S. The Chinese in Canada. 2nd ed. Toronto/New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Ng, Wing Chung. The Chinese in Vancouver, 1945-80: The Pursuit of Identity and Power. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1999.

Ong, Aihwa, and Donald Nonini, eds. Ungrounded Empires: The Cultural Politics of Chinese Transnationalism. New York/London: Routledge, 1997.

Pan, Lynn, ed. Encyclopedia of the Chinese Overseas. Singapore: Chinese Heritage Centre, 1998.

Zhou Nanjing, ed. Shijie huaqiao huaren cidian [Dictionary of Overseas Chinese]. Beijing: Beijing daxue chubanshe, 1993.

Edgar Wickberg is Professor Emeritus of History at the University of British Columbia. His writings include The Chinese in Philippine Life, 1850-1898 (Yale University Press, 1965; republished, with a new preface, by Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2000); editing and contributing to From China to Canada: A History of the Chinese Communities in Canada (McClelland and Stewart, 1982); and the "Organizations," "Ethnicity," and "Philippines" entries in The Encyclopedia of the Chinese Overseas, edited by Lynn Pan (Chinese Heritage Centre of Singapore, 1998).
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Author:Wickberg, Edgar
Publication:Chinese America: History and Perspectives
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Jan 1, 2002
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