restricted access 2 - China Abroad: Between Transnation and Translation

From: China Abroad

Hong Kong University Press, HKU colophon
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

I China Abroad succeeds a small number of anthologies on the Chinese diaspora, Chinese transnationalism, Chinese travels, migration and cosmopolitanism, and the changing notion of Chineseness throughout history and, especially, in today’s globalized world. This intellectual heritage calls for a rationalization of our own title, as does the seemingly careless conflation of critical concepts in the above list. I want to respond by briefly reviewing the two most recent collections—at the same time returning to other landmark studies—that not only help delineate the conceptual and critical trajectory of our own compilation but also help to demarcate the remarkable academic history of the thematic China Abroad, and of cross-cultural issues in diaspora studies and in debates of cosmopolitanism and transnationalism more generally. The plural forms used in the title of Robbie Goh and Shawn Wong’s collection Asian Diasporas: Cultures, Identities, Representations (2004) indicate, suitably, the dual foci of their collection on the contemporary Chinese and Indian diasporas and their various socio-cultural representations, theorizations, and consciousness. However, at the same time, Goh emphasizes that the anthology transcends the original conception of diaspora—based on the Jewish history of territorial dispersal—and its bipolar rationale of homeaway , sameness-otherness, belonging-alienation. As early as Writing Diaspora, Rey Chow pointed to the problems inherent in such a bounded and binding binary logic—a point later taken up by Ien Ang (Chow, Writing Diaspora 7, 25; Ang, “Together-In-Difference” 142). Goh and Wong’s plural forms thus also mark the conceptual shift from an initially homogeneous, exclusive diaspora operating through a primordialized ethnic identity to one that accentuates 2 China Abroad: Between Transnation and Translation Julia Kuehn 24 Julia Kuehn the deconstruction of such dualism and essentialism. When Goh speaks of the collection’s foregrounding of the “dynamic,” “fluid,” “dialogic,” and “hybrid” nature of diasporic conditions and identities, there is an obvious if not explicit reference to the earlier work by Stuart Hall which also insisted that the diasporic experience is defined “not by essence or purity, but by the recognition of a necessary heterogeneity and diversity; by a conception of ‘identity’ which lives with and through, not despite, difference; by hybridity” (Goh 5–6; Hall “Cultural Identity and Diaspora” from Colonial Discourse 402). The volatility of the China Abroad chronotope and the contradictions observable in diasporic populations and identity politics became ever more highlighted by a poststructuralist rhetoric of flux. The discourse of the China Abroad thematic under the rubric of diaspora studies—vide my co-editor Elaine Ho’s elaborations in her introductory chapter— then received new impulses from critiques of cosmopolitanism. Aihwa Ong’s essay “Flexible Citizenship among Chinese Cosmopolitans” in Pheng Cheah and Bruce Robbins’s landmark collection Cosmopolitics: Thinking and Feeling beyond the Nation (1998) suggests the usefulness of a rethinking of the “China Abroad” thematic through cosmopolitanism’s multi-directional and meta-national composition and compound (identity) politics. At the same time, however, it is revealing that Ong’s essay informed and became part of her monograph now entitled Flexible Citizenship: The Cultural Logics of Transnationality (1999). I will not go into the often tenuous theoretical distinctions between cosmopolitanism and transnationalism, but it seems that, despite the efforts of, among others, James Clifford, Arjun Appadurai, Pheng Cheah, and Bruce Robbins to defend cosmopolitanism against charges of it being western, elitist, a-political, detached, and idealistic (Clifford, “Traveling Cultures”; Appadurai, “Global Ethnoscapes”; Robbins; Cheah, “Introduction”), cosmopolitanism—although occasionally invoked in the discourse of China Abroad—remained thus “tainted.” A number of Chinese diaspora critics have invoked cosmopolitanism in their discussions, but, more than once, the reductive elitist position which also marks the critic’s own intellectual commitment to discussing cross-national and cross-cultural issues preempts an engagement with a China Abroad existence that is not specifically cosmopolitan and less privileged. The reiteration of elitism and idealism visible in Wang Gungwu’s statement that overseas Chinese living “among non-Chinese” can be considered a modern kind of cosmopolitan literati with Enlightenment ideals of rationality, individual freedom, and democracy (Wang Gungwu, “Among Non-Chinese”) and in Ang’s description of herself as “a member of the cosmopolitan, multicultural elites,” and as someone who, in everyday life, tries to “[establish] cross-cultural rapport” and uses her “cultural capital to act as a translator between different regimes of culture and knowledge” (Ang, On Not Speaking Chinese 158) may be quoted in this context. China Abroad: Between Transnation and Translation 25 Whilst I certainly...