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Reviewed by:
  • Chinese Encounters in Southeast Asia: How People, Money, and Ideas from China are Changing a Region ed. by Pál Nyírí and Danielle Tan
  • Wen-Chin Chang
Nyírí, Pál and Danielle Tan, eds. 2017. Chinese Encounters in Southeast Asia: How People, Money, and Ideas from China are Changing a Region. Seattle: University of Washington Press. 312 pages; ISBN 978-981-4722-12-4;

Chinese Encounters in Southeast Asia, edited by Pál Nyíri and Danielle Tan, is an excellent work on the impacts of Chinese immigration and investment in Southeast Asia after the 1990s. Adopting a bottom-up perspective with grounding in ethnographic research, the authors, from a broad range of disciplines, successfully portray diverse forms of interactions between different levels of actors using solid data and in-depth analyses. While delving into face-to-face encounters, the macro-contextual problems are not overlooked. The book begins with Wang Gungwu's forward, affirming the significance of the authors' research orientation, then follows with an introduction and then the main content divided into four parts respectively themed: identities, livelihoods, norms, and aspirations. Nyíri and Tan have written a good introduction that contains a rich literature review and succinct discussion of the key points raised in the book. The chapters embrace almost all the countries of Southeast Asia and a wide range of issues, and the editors and authors have carefully made cross-references with one another to connect and compare respective case studies. This enhances the integrity of the edited volume while illuminating the nuances and disparities between local responses of different countries, as well as within a country in the face of Chinese impacts and asymmetric power relations. In short, this is a highly recommended book that teaches readers about new waves of Chinese immigration, socio-economic development and borderland livelihoods in Southeast Asia, including those that entail political and environmental contestations. In the following paragraphs I will further discuss the issues treated in the book. [End Page 410]

Chinese immigration in Southeast Asia has a long history and has been undeniably significant to local communities in economic, socio-cultural and political domains, rendering this field of research meaningful and fundamental to Southeast Asian studies. An essential issue centers on the question of identity, probing the representation of "Chineseness" among ethnic Chinese in Southeast Asian societies. In the present volume, chapter 1 by Pál Nyíri on the arrivals of Chinese investment, media and language teachers in Cambodia and chapter 2 by Brenda S. A. Yeoh and Weiqiang Lin on different types of new Chinese immigrants in Singapore touch on the theme of identities and illustrate the divergent facets of Chineseness as they connect to local socio-political conditions and Chinese communities. Yeoh and Lin's chapter especially paints a penetrating picture of the complex encounters between the Chinese immigrants (skilled migrants, students, study mothers and laborers) and local Chinese nationals, reflecting heterogeneous Chinese cultures and values upheld by these different groups and the underlying tensions that exist among them.

Chapter 3 by Hew Wai Weng is also included in the section on identities, and explores an interesting and understudied topic of non-Han Chinese immigrants—the Hui migrants in Malaysia and Indonesia. Weng uses the notion of "translocal pious entrepreneurialism" to interpret these new migrants' religious and economic movements and networking in their interactions with local Chinese Muslims. While differences and contestations exist among the Hui migrants and local Chinese Muslims, their common Chinese identity and Islamic faith have contributed to the diversity of the Islamic lifeworld in Malaysia and Indonesia.

Part 2, on livelihoods, consists of two chapters, respectively by Aranya Siriphon on Thailand and Caroline Grillot and Juan Zhang on the China-Vietnam borderland. Siriphon's chapter much parallels Yeoh and Lin's (on Singapore), categorizing different types of new Chinese immigrants, their guanxi formation and local residents' mixed feelings about these immigrants' economic engagements. Grillot and Zhang's chapter features a less researched subject—the sex trade between Chinese men [End Page 411] and Vietnamese women in Hekou. Through this lens, Grillot and Zhang examine the varied pairs of asymmetric relations—China versus Vietnam, men versus women, and...


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