Diasporic Chineseness After the Rise of China

The “rise of China” since the 1980s has been influencing global politics, economy, technology, and art, and it has also led to greater discourse around the Chinese diaspora. Diasporic Chineseness after the Rise of China: Communities and Cultural Production explores the connections between the political and economic rise of China and the kinds of cultural productions represented by the Chinese diaspora. This collection of essays features personal voices of migrants including intellectuals, businesspeople, writers, and artists as they struggled with their identities as Chinese diaspora, offering a novel insight to the notion of identity and diaspora in general. Julia Kuehn, Kam Louie, and David M. Pomfret, as editors of the book, purposely organized the essays to show the “complex development of diachronic and generational differences within the diaspora” (p. 9).

Following the introduction, in the essay “No Longer Chinese? Residual Chineseness after the Rise of China,” Ien Ang shares her personal experience to reflect on the dynamic meaning of “Chinese diaspora” (p. 20). Ang was born and raised in 1950s and 1960s Indonesia, lived in the Netherlands for 25 years, and has been living in Australia since the 1990s (p. 18). Ang examines the influence of the rise of China on the development of diasporic Chinese identities, wondering if “vernacular, localized, hybrid Chinese diasporic identities” will persist, or instead, be suppressed by the “homogenizing, essentializing, and nationalizing force of a global China” (p. 10).

Meanwhile, China’s success in adopting capitalism led other Chinese diaspora to consider the idea of reterritorialization by returning to their homeland. Ouyang Yu’s “Twenty Years in Migration, 1989-2008: A Writer’s View and Review” highlights the perspective of a migrant writer as he dealt with the “bitter experience of the costs of migration” which made him consider going back to China (p. 11). In a similar vein, Kam Louie’s “Globe-Trotting Chinese Masculinity: Wealthy, Worldly, and Worthy'' examines the plans and strategies of diasporic businessmen in order to succeed in China. The essay further highlights how the “self-worth” of these migrant businessmen was measured by their wealth (p. 11, 47).

Chapters 5 and 6 examine literary-cultural productions that portray Chinese diaspora. In “Textual and Other Oxymorons: Sino-Anglophone Writing of War and Peace in Maxine Hong Kingston’s Fifth Book of Peace,” Shirley Geok-lin Lim discusses Kingston’s notion of identity as an “incongruous unity.” Lim points out that as peace and war are an oxymoron, identities like “Chinese American” can be understood only in conjunction with each other (p. 77). Along the same lines, focusing on two women playwrights, Hilary Chung’s essay “The Autoethnographic Impulse: Two New Zealand Chinese Playwrights” explores the ways diasporic Chinese artists and writers in New Zealand aim to authorize their identity (p. 82).

The next two chapters focus on films. Rey Chow’s “The Provocation of Dim Sum; or, Making Diaspora Visible on Film” explores how the movie Dim Sum reconciles two different representations of China in media—the one represented by older Chinese Americans and the other by the younger generation (p. 13) Meanwhile, in her essay “Performing Bodies, Translated Histories: Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution, Transnational Cinema, and Chinese Diasporas,” Cristina Demaria analyzes the film Lust, Caution that may represent people with transnational identities and the complexities—e.g. home and host cultures, local and global, traditional and modern—they are facing (p. 13, 124). 

Chapters 9 and 10 discuss Chinese diasporic dance and artworks. Sau-ling Wong, in “Dancing in the Diaspora: ‘Cultural Long-Distance Nationalism’ and the Staging of Chineseness by San Francisco’s Chinese Folk Dance Association,” presents a case study on a dance association, discussing the rising arguments among different generations of Chinese diaspora on representations of “authentic” Chineseness (p. 14, 146). Yiyan Wang’s “Tyranny of Taste: Chinese Aesthetics in Australia and on the World Stage” discusses how works by diasporic artists are mostly evaluated based on the criteria of the host country and how the rise of China influences such evaluation processes (p. 14, 149).

The last essay, Kwai-Cheung Lo’s “Reconfiguring the Chinese Diaspora through the Ethnic Minorities” concludes the book by emphasizing that ethnic traditions and minorities have significant roles in the development of diasporic communities. The rise of China and the debates between China’s majority and minority communities present different opinions regarding Chinese identity (p. 15, 173).

Through various forms including writings, films, and art, this collection of essays explores how the concept of diaspora has become more “fluid, flexible, and open” (p. 14). The studies and personal experiences discussed in this book have enriched the discourse and sparked further explorations and analyses on the notion of diasporic Chineseness after the rise of China.