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Reviewed by:
  • Chinese Overseas: Migration, Research and Documentation
  • Richard T. Chu (bio)
Tan Chee-Beng, Colin Storey, and Julia Zimmerman, editors. Chinese Overseas: Migration, Research and Documentation. Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, 2007. xxv, 416 pp. Hardcover $55.00, ISBN 978-962-996-328-6.

Interest in the study of the Chinese diaspora1 has continued to grow in the last few years, as evidenced by the number of books and articles published on the topic. Hence, a conference organized by the Chinese University of Hong Kong and the Ohio University Libraries was timely. Scholars and librarians gathered to share their expertise relating to research and documentation of the Chinese diaspora. The papers presented at the conference, held in 2003 at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, were then collected and published in this volume of sixteen chapters in four sections.

The first section is an overview based on the keynote speech given by the doyenne of Chinese diasporic studies, Wang Gungwu. In his essay "Mixing Memories and Desire: Tracking the Migrant Cycles," Wang classifies the three various sources researchers use: the "formal" (e.g., government or official documents), the "practical" (e.g., newspaper accounts, genealogies), and the "expressive" (e.g., letters or poems). He is especially partial to the expressive forms as these not only enlighten us about the meanings of Chineseness but also, when well written, showcase the "literary genius of transnationals whose best work may be compared with other writers whether of migrant origins or not" (pp. 11-12). He then narrates his own experiences and desires that led him to pursue the study of the Chinese diaspora. Furthermore, he mentions that diasporic Chinese are part of "migrant cycles" that are affected by a larger cycle, that is, China's geopolitical transformations. These "lesser cycles" include one that is experienced by those who have decided to make a new country home; another by those who have remigrated, and a third by those who have recently left China (p. 16). He ends his essay with another appeal for scholars and librarians to seek out more expressive forms of documents.2

The section titled "Research and Documentation" contains six essays focusing on different Chinese diasporic communities around the world and the kinds of documents or sources used or collected by the authors. It begins with Claudine Salmon's paper on her research using Buddhist bells found in a number of Southeast Asian countries. Entitled "Transnational Networks as Reflected in Epigraphy: The Case of Chinese Buddhist Bells in Southeast Asia," the essay describes the provenance of these eighteenth- to twentieth-century bells, which were mostly manufactured in Guangdong and Fujian provinces. Analyzing the inscriptions found on the bells, she also sheds light on the economic and commercial linkages formed between China and some Southeast Asian countries (p. 24). Salmon's fascinating study leads one wanting more information, especially in regard to the people involved in the production, selling, and use of these bells. The story, for example, of a bell donated in the early twentieth century by a woman in Medan Sumatra leads us to ask further the extent to which this woman (and other women) participated in the circulation and use of such bells. Furthermore, it encourages us to investigate broader questions regarding the position and role of women in Chinese diasporic communities. [End Page 166]

The second essay, Myra Sidharta's "Collecting 'Grey Literature' from Indonesia," deals with the author's collection of "grey literature," defined as printed materials not found in the book market. Examples include huiguan or regional association publications, school publications, and "special volumes on the occasion of birthdays of important personalities" (p. 85). These sources were written either in Malay, Dutch, and Chinese and printed from the early 1900s to the present, primarily in Indonesia, but in some cases, in Netherlands. The author points out that such sources contain data relating to "bigamy and polygamy, problems of school education, mixed marriages, marriages between people of the same surname, and . . . current problems in China" (p. 95). These sources contain valuable information, especially for those interested in studying how Indonesia's Chinese diasporic community in the twentieth century responded to or dealt with issues of modernization...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9367
Print ISSN
1069-5834
Pages
pp. 165-171
Launched on MUSE
2012-03-01
Open Access
No
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