This is a hybrid seminar.
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This talk examines how the tension between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (ROC) both mobilised and was manifested in a less-explored nexus of interactions involving the Chinese communities in 1950s Bangkok, Hong Kong, and Singapore. It also probes how such politics of the Cold War was forged within an unusual mix of battlegrounds – that is, across banks and bookstores. The talk does so by examining a case centred on the Bangkok branch of the Bank of China (BKBOC), affiliated to the ROC after the Communist takeover of mainland China in 1949 divided overseas branches of the Bank of China (BOC) into pro-Beijing and pro-Taipei camps. To strive for overseas Chinese loyalties in Bangkok, the ROC commanded in 1956 that the BKBOC offer local Chinese schools favourable loan credits, with one of the foremost conditions being the adoption of ROC-sanctioned textbooks published in Hong Kong instead of those published by a leftwing Singapore bookstore. This ROC-driven loan initiative thus pivoted on an extensive network of Chinese educators, publishers, and booksellers spanning Bangkok, Hong Kong, and Singapore, although it transpired to be of little avail in the volatile context of late 1950s Thailand, where local authorities turned once again resolutely anti-communist, pro-Taipei, but anti-Chinese above all. In sum, this talk will advance a networked view of the PRC-ROC struggle and, among other things, further illuminate the role of Hong Kong in this theatre of the Cold War conflict.
Nathanael Lai is a PhD candidate in World History from the University of Cambridge and currently a visiting research student at the National University of Singapore. His research is concerned with the Cold War and the Chinese communities in 1950s Hong Kong, Singapore, and Thailand, above all the entwined lives of athletes, businessmen, educators, intellectuals, journalists, and publishers. He received his MPhil in World History from Cambridge and Bachelor of Arts from the University of Hong Kong. Past projects explore contentious politics in colonial Hong Kong and its connections to Southeast Asia.