Upcoming Events

Feature Events

Boundaries and Bonds: An International Conference on Chinese Diaspora

Mar 30, 2022, 15:35 PM
Title : Boundaries and Bonds: An International Conference on Chinese Diaspora
Standfirst / Sub Head : 界线与连线:华侨华人研究国际学术研讨会
Video link :
Canonical url :
Published date : Oct 2, 2021, 00:00 AM

Boundaries and Bonds: An International Conference on Chinese Diaspora

On October 2 and 3, 2021, the "Boundaries and Bonds: An International Conference on Chinese Diaspora" was successfully held. It was organised by the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) Chinese Heritage Centre (CHC) and the NTU School of Social Sciences in collaboration with the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre and supported by the Singapore Society of Asian Studies. The online conference invited scholars from Singapore and abroad to share their observations and reflections on the Chinese diaspora around the world, and to explore how Chinese migrants continue to reconstruct their subjectivities at the global, regional, community, and local levels, in order to re-examine and redefine the boundaries and connections of the Chinese diaspora in various regions and at various levels.

The conference officially commenced on the morning of Oct 2. Prof Wang Gungwu, a renowned scholar in the field of Chinese diaspora studies and also an honorary board member of the NTU CHC, Prof Zhou Min and Ms Ms Gan Ee Bee, both CHC board members, as well as Dr Chua Thian Poh, President of the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre, graced the opening. The opening ceremony started with speeches by Prof Su Guaning, Chairman of CHC and President Emeritus of NTU, and Mr Low Sze Wee, President of Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre. Professor Su Guaning welcomed all the participating scholars and introduced the organisers and theme of the conference. Prof Su believed that the conference’s topics were rich and diverse and hoped that the valuable insights of scholars would be well-showcased and ignite new ideas. He also wished the conference success.

Mr Low Sze Wee reviewed the various scholarly activities organised by the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre in collaboration with CHC. He believed that the conference could overcome the boundaries of time and space to explore the different experiences of disparate overseas Chinese, and would promote research into Chinese diaspora studies in both breadth and depth.

The keynote address segment was hosted by Assoc Prof Yow Cheun Hoe, Director of the Nanyang Technological University's CHC, Head of the Chinese Department, and Director of the Chinese Language and Culture Centre. Prof Yow introduced the three keynote speakers, including their research areas and academic positions. 

The first keynote speaker was Prof Steven Miles, Head of the Division of Humanities, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, whose speech was titled "Prelude to Diaspora: Revisiting Boundaries in the Study of Chinese Migration". Through a case study of external migrating societies in the Pearl River Delta of Guangdong in the 18th and 19th centuries, Prof Steven Miles focused on examining the migration practices of the Cantonese people along the Delta and the West River basin, analysing their motivations for migration and how they used local policies to adapt to their new lives after migration. He further explored how these migration practices paved the way for their future overseas and overland migrations beyond the territorial boundaries of the Qing Dynasty and Republican China.

The second keynote speaker, Prof Long Denggao, Director of the Centre for Chinese Entrepreneur Studies and Professor from the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Tsinghua University, gave a speech titled "Transnational Flow of Human Capital and the Financial Networks". Prof Long examined three main groups of migrants and their financing networks: Chinese workers in the 19th century, family financing and the chain of Chinese going abroad before the 1950s, and undocumented migrants, smugglers, and their international financial networks in Fuzhou from 1980 to 2010. The examination of the above aspects is used to understand the mechanisms of transnational human capital flows and the transnational financing networks formed around transnational migration. In other words, the little-known private transnational financing network is formed through the realisation of future gains of human capital in the process of emigration.

The third keynote speaker, Prof Liu Hong, Tan Lark Sye Endowed Chair Professor of Public Policy and Global Affairs, Professor, School of Social Sciences, and Director, Nanyang Centre for Public Administration, NTU, presented the topic "Deciphering the Dynamics and Characteristics of New Chinese Diaspora in Singapore, 2010-2020: Identity, Political Economy, and Transnational Network". Prof Liu attempted to go beyond the traditional paradigm of migration studies, in which the theoretical framework of identity, integration, and transnationalism is usually used by scholars. Instead, he analysed the transmutation of Singapore's Chinese society in the last decade from a socio-political and economic perspective. Prof Liu pointed out that the new political and economic development pattern, the accelerated construction of identity, and the continued transnationalism have been at the core of pluralistic transformation in the past decade. The key issue facing the Chinese community in Singapore is identity - while politics is dominant in identity construction, economics is also an important component in shaping the development trajectory and identity construction of Singapore’s new Chinese diaspora.

The first panel discussion, themed "Identities and Concepts", was moderated by Assistant Professor Zhou Taomo from the Department of History, NTU, Singapore. The first panellist Rachel Leow, Senior Lecturer (Associate Professor), Modern East Asian History, University of Cambridge, UK, presented a sharing on the theme of "Constructing Race and Gender in Southeast Asian Chinese Migration: Chen Da and the Making of Huaqiao Patriarchy". She focused on Chen Da's sociological research activities and related findings on the Chinese diaspora, pointing out that Chen Da's research findings on Chinese immigrant groups overlooked both gender and race. Assoc Prof Leow analysed this blind spot to show the normative rather than empirical aspect of Chen Da's sociological research on the Chinese diaspora.

Seng Guo Quan, Assistant Professor of the Department of History at the National University of Singapore, presented "Revolutionary Cosmopolitanism and its Limits: The Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese in Singapore, Medan and Jakarta Compared (1945-1949)", analysing the ethnic pluralism of the Chinese Communist Party's revolution in Southeast Asia and its limits. The historical trajectory of the pluralistic ethnic revolutions executed by the CCP in Southeast Asia showed both similarities and regional differences, due to factors such as the social structure of the Chinese diaspora in Singapore, Medan, and Jakarta, the contingent nature of the decolonisation movement, and local leadership presenting different conditions.

Josh Stenberg, a senior lecturer from the Department of Chinese Studies at the University of Sydney, Australia, focused on Indonesian Chinese contemporary poetry with “‘Finding the Distant Homeland Here’: Contemporary Indonesian Poetry in Chinese”. With more scholarly attention paid to Malaysian Chinese literary works and relatively less research on contemporary Indonesian Chinese poetry, Dr Stenberg hopes to expand his understanding of Chinese literature through his research. He studied a selection of contemporary Indonesian poetry, noting that one of the important purposes of such works is to reassert their affiliation within the transnational Chinese literary community after the Indonesian government's ban on the Chinese language from the mid-1960s until the end of the last century.

The second panel discussion, titled "Transnationalism and Governance," was moderated by Ong Soon Keong, Assistant Professor of Chinese at NTU, Singapore. Yang Yan, a research fellow from the Department of Chinese at the National University of Singapore (NUS), began with a presentation titled "Building Transboundary Connections: The Development Strategies of Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation During Wartime, 1938-1945". Her research focused on the period from 1938 to 1945, using internal bank documents, special publications, newspapers, oral histories and biographies of employees to discuss the wartime development strategies of Oversea Chinese Banking Corporation (OCBC) in Singapore, and to analyse how OCBC stood out in competition with traditional financial organisations and modern Western banks.

Zhu Qing, Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, Research School for Southeast Asian Studies, Xiamen University, China and a Distinguished Associate Fellow at the Nanyang Research Institute, presented the topic of "Negotiations between the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and the Colonial Government on the Income Tax Ordinance". He mainly examined the process of negotiation and strategisation on income tax between businessmen groups represented by the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce, the Western Chamber of Commerce, and the Legislative Council, noting that this process enhanced the scalability of tax policy formulation and collection, and could also advance government capacity building and the development of the democratic legal system.

Xing Jinghua, Deputy Director, justify for Chinese Entrepreneurs Studies, Tsinghua University, China, gave a presentation on the topic of "The Charitable Tradition and Cultural Identity of Overseas Chinese". Through her observation of the modern philanthropic giving field, donation motives, intergenerational differences, and behavioural patterns of overseas Chinese in the new era, she found that the philanthropy of overseas Chinese shows an upward trend, among which education is still the main direction of overseas Chinese donations, while philanthropic motives show a diversified trend. The older generation and the new generation of philanthropists have very different characteristics in terms of educational background, living environment, cultural awareness, identity, and mode of operation.

The theme of the lecture by Choi Chi-cheung, Adjunct Professor, Department of History, Chinese University of Hong Kong was "Reenacting ‘Cultural China’ in the Twentieth Century: Communal Festivals in Emigrant and Overseas Chinese Communities". Through his examination of Chinese communal festivals in Singapore, he hopes to understand the community through the organisation and operation of the festivals, and to explore the continuity of Chinese communal festivals as a global phenomenon.

The third panel discussion, titled "Terrains and Representation", was moderated by Jesvin Yeo, Associate Professor, School of Art, Design and Media, NTU, Singapore. Shu Changsheng, Associate Professor, Chinese Culture, University of São Paulo, Brazil, shared about the topic "The Post-1978 Chinese Migration to Brazil: the Qiaoxiang Models and the Rite of Passage". He analysed the current situation of Chinese migration to Brazil since 1978 using the diaspora migration model of Minghuan Li and Diana Wang (2017), and found two main migration patterns of new Chinese immigrants in Brazil: the Yue Qiaoxiang model and the Zhe Qiaoxiang model.

Zhan Shaohua, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, NTU, Singapore, presented on "Here and There: Hybrid Identity, Dual Engagement, and ICT Use among Chinese Immigrants in Singapore". He focused on the use of social media by Chinese middle-class immigrants in Singapore and the impact of social media on the group's social interactions and identity construction. Chin Jee Yin, Lecturer, Faculty of Social Science, Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman, Malaysia, reported on the topic of "The Participation of Malaysian Chinese Women in the Workforce: Traditional Values and Choices". Malaysia has the lowest female labour force participation rate in Southeast Asia, yet its Chinese women have a higher labour force participation rate than other ethnic groups in Malaysia. This may be due to the social change in Malaysia that requires more women to participate in the labour force, but there are also more factors that influence this. Traditional Chinese values are one such factor.

Cai Yiyu, Associate Professor, School of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering, NTU, Singapore, shared his team's research findings on the topic of "Eight Immortals Crossing the Sea: The New Generation of Chinese Scholars in Singapore". He introduced the latest research work of the research team - the digitisation of Haw Par Villa, and also analysed the development and trends of the new generation of Chinese immigrants in Singapore with the case study of Zhejiang University Alumni Association of Singapore.

The fourth panel discussion was on "Literature and Publications", moderated by Dr Tan Teng Phee, Chief Researcher, Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry. Professor Zhu Chongke, Head, Department of Chinese, Sun Yat-sen University (Zhuhai), China, presented the topic "Cross-border, Transnationalism, and De-construction of the Subject in Malaysian Chinese Literature within Taiwan". Focusing on Li Yongping and Ng Kim Chew, he elaborated on Malaysian Chinese Literature in Taiwan through case studies.

Zhang Songjian, Associate Professor, Chinese, NTU, Singapore, presented on the topic of "Wang Xiaoping: A Returned Overseas Chinese Writer in the Time of Cold War". He chose the works of Singapore-born returned overseas Chinese writer Wang Xiaoping as a case study. He presented the history of Wang Xiaoping's growth in left-wing thinking, and explored the complex entanglement between the Cold War and Chinese-language literature, drawing on both critical theory and historical writings.

 Hee Wai Siam, Associate Professor, Chinese, NTU, Singapore, shared his insights on "Unattributable Propaganda: On the Pure Literature and Arts Magazine Chao Foon in the Archives of the Asia Foundation". In an attempt to unravel the mystery of the history of the purely literary journal Chao Foon and US aid, he used the archives of the Asia Foundation to explore how the CIA funded the cultural activities of the Union Press in Singapore and Malaysia and founded Chao Foon.

The topic of the presentation by Hu Xingcan, a postdoctoral fellow at Sun Yat-sen University in China, was "A Historical Discovery: the Dissemination of Lu Xun's Woodcut Theories in Malaya". He focused on the history of the spread of Lu Xun's woodcut theories in Malaya, with a follower of his ideas, Tai Yinlong, a Malayan returnee and communist fighter, assuming this important role of spreading his ideas. Hu not only recapped the overall influence of Lu Xun as the source on the Malayan woodcut community, but also focused on Tai Yinlong's inheritance and "rebellion" in the process of spreading woodcut theories, analysing Tai Yinlong's selection and modification of Lu Xun's woodcut theories.

Assoc Prof Yow Cheun Hoe, Director of the NTU CHC, Head of the Chinese Department, and Director of the Chinese Language and Culture Centre, gave the closing address. Assoc Prof Yow found the event’s presentations and discussions very enlightening. The speeches delivered by the three keynote speakers broadened the scope of the conference with outstanding research perspectives, while the discussions on the four panel topics also enriched and deepened our understanding of overseas Chinese. In addition, the event witnessed a successful collaboration among the three organisers, all of which were enthused about the study of Chinese communities and Chinese diaspora, and hope to advance related research in the future.

At the end, Assoc Prof Yow mentioned that Prof Wang Gungwu, a leading researcher in Chinese studies, will soon publish a new book, which coincides with the theme of this seminar, "Boundaries and Bonds", and emphasised that we should pay more attention to relationships, networks and connections in Chinese studies. Finally, he chose to cite the poem "Only Connect!" by E. M. Forster, quoted by Prof Wang, as his concluding remarks.

The international conference attracted more than 1,000 scholars and participants from around the world to gather online and engage in lively discussions on the relevant topics. The success of this conference has truly drawn out the connection between multiple communities. Although the pandemic has created various boundaries for participants, it could not stop us from connecting with one another.

Some papers of this international conference are expected to be published in The International Journal of Diasporic Chinese Studies and the Journal of the Chinese Overseas in 2022.

(Translated from the original text by: Zhang Shu, Visiting Scholar, Centre for Chinese Language and Culture, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore)












Please click here for the conference programme

Please click here for the conference booklet


Category :
  • Arts & Humanities
  • Social Sciences