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Becoming Chinese Again? On the Identity Triangle of the PRC, the New Migrants, and the Ethnic Chinese in Southeast Asia

Wed, June 24, 9:00 to 10:55am, North Building, Floor: 5th Floor, N501


Southeast Asia was the main destination for Chinese emigrants long before the massive emigration wave of the mid-nineteenth century commenced. Different distribution and demographic patterns, in combination with economic, political, and historical factors, led to varying degrees of assimilation policies in the countries of destination of the Chinese overseas. Overall, however, the economic visibility of the ethnic Chinese led to economic marginalization and political and racial discrimination of the Chinese in Southeast Asia.

Since the 1970s, then, in the context of both renewed diplomatic ties and economic reform, the PRC started to re-engage with the ethnic Chinese in Southeast Asia. At the same time, and especially since the 1990s, so-called “new migrants” arrived in several Southeast Asian countries. Given these changes, ethnic Chinese have started to re-emphasize their Chinese heritage and debates on minority rights have resurfaced.

Using examples from specific countries in Southeast Asia, this paper will show how so-called new Chinese migrants have been an important factor in “re-sinification”. Based on a critical examination of the general assumption that “re-sinification” is a manifestation of cultural “Chineseness” and “de-territorialization,” the paper discusses the “triangle” of identity policies in which “de-territorialized” notions of cultural heritage are contested by shifting migration patterns and “re-territorialization.” In a final analysis, the presentation will address how this leads to tensions between “mainland” notions of what it means to be Chinese and negotiated versions of “Chineseness” based on historical interactions.