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Journal of World History 12.2 (2001) 518-521

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Book Review

The Last Half Century of the Chinese Overseas

The Last Half Century of the Chinese Overseas. Edited by ELIZABETH SINN. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1998. Pp. 508. $46.50 (cloth).

The Last Half Century of the Chinese Overseas contains a sample of papers presented in Hong Kong at a December 1994 conference by the same name. Both the book and the conference attempt to address the changing nature of the Chinese diaspora in the post-World War II era. The volume contains twenty-five essays that trace the increasing heterogeneity of the Chinese diaspora with varying degrees of success. While some of the essays come across as being rather mechanical, taken as a whole there is much new information and research here and the book will certainly force readers to rethink many of their traditional [End Page 518] assumptions regarding the overseas Chinese community and diasporas. Over the past decade, new work on the theory of diaspora and the development of concepts such as transnationalism, globalization, and the deterritorialized nation-state have centered migration as a basis from which to begin analysis rather than as a sideline to traditional studies of the nation-state. Thus many of the essays in The Last Half Century of the Chinese Overseas are pertinent not only to migration specialists, but also to world historians as they draw attention to the dramatic development of global connections, networks, and consciousness in the post-war era.

The essays are divided into seven sections that cover such issues as identity and ethnicity, the diaspora in Europe, Australia, Canada, Japan, and Africa, and relations with home villages. The vast majority of the essays take a sociological approach and provide new perspectives on such topics as international migration, political participation in host countries, family structure, and gender issues. Most of the essays deal with new migrants, while there is noticeably less material on Southeast Asia where the older and more established overseas Chinese communities are located, and much more on other parts of the globe where Chinese immigration has been a more recent phenomena (Canada, Australia, Europe, South Africa). Moreover, many of the essays employ a comparative perspective that allows researchers to think of the Chinese diaspora in more global terms.

The first two sections, which cut a much broader swath in terms of research, will be the most salient to JWH readers. Part 1, entitled "Overview," delineates the most dramatic changes for the Chinese diaspora since 1946. The dean of overseas Chinese studies, Wang Gungwu, surveys changes in overseas Chinese identity in conjunction with the "globalization of American power" and the "worldwide reaction against colonialism, imperialism, and racism after the end of the Second World War." These forces, Wang argues, have compelled national governments to "upgrade the migrant," which usually means encouraging better-educated and successful people to immigrate. Wang argues that researchers therefore must rethink their usage of terms such as Huaqiao (sojourner) and Huaren (ethnic Chinese) now that migrants have been accepted in host societies and are not being sent home once their initial "usefulness" has been exhausted. Emmanuel Ma Mung explores the link between the Chinese diaspora and territory, that he feels can be explained in terms of "extraterritoriality." Mung sees a growing consciousness among the overseas Chinese of their diasporic nature and that their connection to place has grown to encompass the entire globe. This leads to a feeling of [End Page 519] "extraterritoriality" or a sense of uprootedness. Since identity cannot be fixed to a single place, culture comes to be emphasized as a substitute. Zhou Nanjing's research on one of Indonesia's leading overseas Chinese, Xiao Yucan, explores the relationship between defense of culture and national loyalty. Xiao, a leading member of Indonesia's Perekanan community in the 1960s, argued that Chinese in Indonesia should be loyal to their adopted homeland while maintaining their cultural heritage.

Part 2, "Identity and Ethnicity," examines how Chinese in their adopted lands have defined and redefined what being Chinese means. Here...


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