Empire and Nation in Contest: Chinese Migrants in a Globalizing World

AHA Session 36
Immigration and Ethnic History Society 2
Thursday, January 7, 2016: 3:30 PM-5:30 PM
Room 303 (Hilton Atlanta, Third Floor)
Madeline Hsu, University of Texas at Austin
Madeline Hsu, University of Texas at Austin

Session Abstract

Migration has been a key feature of globalization in the modern era. Massive flows of migrants have paradoxically contributed to the proliferation of economic connections between states, even across different continents, and embodied the conflicts between nations and empires. Chinese migration is one such example as it has shown that globalization has been spurred not only by the pursuit of free trade, but also by empire-building. Indeed, Chinese migrants have collaborated with and fought against the political, social, and economic domination of empires, even as they have contributed to the generation of national narratives in their host countries.

This panel seeks to examine the ways in which Chinese migrants have accommodated conflicts between their newly-cultivated nationalisms and the broader realities of empires. The papers in this panel focus on the themes of “empire” and “nation” because these themes have been instrumental in shaping the course of globalization. Eric Han investigates the Chinese in Japan, China’s primary imperialist enemy since the early years of the 20th century. Taking Yokohama Chinatown as his case study, Han demonstrates how these Chinese migrants developed a spirit of “local citizenship” as a result of the confrontations between Chinese nation-building and Japanese empire formation from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th century. Leander Seah focuses on the Chinese in the Nanyang (Southeast Asia) between 1911 and 1941. Through studying Jinan University, a famous school in China for Chinese migrants, and the experiences of this school’s students as well as alumni, Seah shows how Chinese migrants contributed to the transformation of Republican China. Shifting away from Asia, Nagatomi Hirayama examines the Chinese community in Europe in the 1910s and 1920s. Through research on the Chinese laborers and work-study students in this community, Hirayama identifies the transnational origins of the Chinese mass political movements in Republican China through these individuals’ daily experiences of confronting the hegemony of the European imperial powers. Haifang Liu provides us with a fresh case study on the Chinese in Africa in the contemporary era, migrants who have been supported by a powerful China that has emerged as a major player on the international stage. Utilizing the Chinese communities in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, and Ghana as case studies, Liu discusses how these Chinese migrants have adapted to local environments and helped foster bilateral relations between China and African countries. By focusing on Chinese migrants in a globalizing world over the past two centuries, this panel therefore aims to provide new perspectives on the themes of “empire” and “nation.”

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