A Temporary Diaspora and a Permanent Homeland: Understanding China Through the Lens of Global Migration
During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, more than twenty million Chinese left China and moved across the globe. While they are more often understood as "immigrants" to the places they went, they were also "emigrants" who profoundly shaped China. Drawing from two chapters in her new book, Shelly Chan will discuss the impact of two groups who lived roughly a century apart: indentured coolie laborers sent to the British West Indies in the 1850s-70s, and returnees fleeing anti-Chinese movements in Southeast Asia in the 1950s-60s. Both groups envisioned China as a source of security and protection, while their activities also enmeshed China into webs of far-flung connections. During these two moments of prolonged engagement, notions of a "temporary" diaspora in contrast to a "permanent" homeland emerged. This recurrent dynamic, Chan argues, is a means to reunify the proliferating Chinese times, spaces, and actors in the wake of mass emigration and returns, therefore fundamental to the making of China as a nation-state in a global context.