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  • Chinese Migrants and Internationalism: Forgotten Histories, 1917–1945
  • Richard T. Chu (bio)
Gregor Benton. Chinese Migrants and Internationalism: Forgotten Histories, 1917–1945. London: Routledge, 2007. xvi. 170 pp. Hardcover $180.00, ISBN 978-0-415-41868-3.

A popular trend in Chinese diasporic studies these days is to study modern Chinese transnationals who are mostly merchant capitalists. Benton’s book, therefore, is somewhat of a novelty because it deals with different subjects: Chinese workers, students, and small traders. But more than just being about another group of people, the book also goes against the trend by utilizing an internationalist perspective to study Chinese diasporic subjects. In utilizing such a framework, the book avoids what its author regards as a paradox in transnational studies, where one “path” undermines “cultural essentialism and determinism” while another emphasizes primordial ties (p. 2). Instead, “internationalism” focuses on the shared humanity of people and envisages the world as an “unbounded worldwide society of collectives,” hence, transcending the limits of the transnationalist paradigm (p. 2).

Although past scholars have used an internationalist perspective to study the Chinese diaspora, their works often portray the Chinese as passive observers and beneficiaries of others’ internationalism, thus perpetrating Chinese stereotypes of being “clannish, unassimilable, xenophobic, and deeply introverted” (p. 1). Benton’s work differs from such earlier studies by depicting its subjects as active participants in the labor and social-revolutionary internationalist movements around the world during the first half of the twentieth century. Furthermore, it describes these actors as “transethnic,” that is, capable of forming alliances with both Chinese and non-Chinese alike.

The book is arranged into nine chapters. In the introductory chapter, Benton gives an overview of his framework, arguments, and methodologies, as well as a historical background of the internationalist movements (e.g., the establishment of the First, Second, and Third International and the rise of the anarchists) and Chinese participation in them. In the next six chapters, he provides an account of Chinese involvement in these movements in different locales; Russia (chapter 2), Germany (chapter 3), Cuba (chapter 4), Britain/Europe (chapter 5), Spain (chapter 6), and Australia (chapter 7). In these chapters, rich in details, the reader finds certain recurrent themes pertaining to the internationalist movements. One theme centers on how internationalist organizations regarded the Chinese with [End Page 310] alternating views of acceptance and prejudice. For example, Britain’s National Union of Seamen, influenced by the divide-and-rule tactics of British authorities and shipping companies, in general supported, but only perfunctorily, the Chinese Seamen’s Union fight for equal pay and treatment (pp. 59–60). Another theme found in the book is how Chinese migrants demonstrated great capacity to transcend narrow political and ethnic boundaries. For instance, in Spain the Chinese volunteered to join the International Brigades to fight Franco’s forces. In Cuba and in Australia, a number of Chinese workers also intermarried with local women and formed close relationships with other non-Chinese. Chapter 8 focuses on the Esperanto movement and describes the support Chinese internationalists in Japan and France gave to the movement and the ensuing debates in China about the merits of adopting a universal language.

The book concludes with a summary of the main contributions of the author’s work. It also explains why studies of Chinese radicals and their involvement in internationalist movements have been neglected in the past. One reason for this was the collapse of the Comintern and the rise of the Chinese revolution that led scholars to focus more on China’s nationalist movement. Finally, Benton also points out that internationalism and transnationalism are not mutually exclusive, but form a continuum. However, he argues that a patriotism suffused by internationalism is more preferable to an extreme form of transnationalism that oftentimes relegates the interests of humanity secondary in importance to self-interest.

If there is an area that the book lacks, it is a glossary to guide readers un-familiar with the different names, events, or organizations associated with the internationalist movement. The book could also use some photographs or images to provide the readers with a more visceral feel of the subject matter. However, these deficiencies are easily overlooked because of...


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pp. 310-311
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