The movement of people
leaving and returning to China from the second half of the 19th
century to the present is a vast and complex subject. Among scholars worldwide, none has contributed more to the
study of these cycles of migration and settlement in Southeast Asian contexts
than National University of Singapore Prof. Wang Gungwu. His extensive writings on the topic
richly illustrate the conceptual difficulties involved.
The very terms used to
name the phenomenon are contested: “Greater China,” “Chinese Diaspora,” “Huaqiao,” and “Nanyang Chinese”? Are these migrants and settlers and
their descendants “Overseas Chinese” or “Chinese Overseas”? Are they even “Chinese” at all? Prof. Wang’s struggles with
nomenclature will be used by Prof. Huang to discuss larger issues, including
how language can bias thought and influence policy and how to navigate the
troubled waters at the confluence of scholarship and policy.
Huang Jianli is an associate professor in the Department
History at the National University of Singapore and a research associate in the
university’s East Asian Institute. His many publications include The Scripting of a National History: Singapore and Its Pasts (2008), Power and Identity in the Chinese
World Order (co-edited, 2003) and Macro
Perspectives and New Directions in the Studies of Chinese Overseas (co-edited, 2002). Recent journal articles include
“Umbilical Ties: The Framing of Overseas Chinese as the Mother of Revolution”
(2011), “Portable Histories in Mobile City Singapore: The (Lack)lustre of Admiral Zheng He” (2009), “Chinese
Diasporic Culture and National Identity: The Taming of the Tiger Balm Gardens in Singapore” (2007), and
“Entanglement of Business and Politics in the Chinese Diaspora: Interrogating the Wartime Patriotism of
Aw Boon Haw” (2006).