Current Institutional Affiliation
Assistant Professor, History, National University of Singapore

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2012
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
History, University of Chicago
The Birth of the Modern Diasporic Subject: Law, Knowledge, Family Reform and the Overseas Chinese in British Malaya and the Netherlands East Indies (1870-1942)

My project examines the entanglements of states and Chinese diasporic communities in Southeast Asia from 1870 to 1930 during the first age of liberal globalization. It focuses on the contested construction of legal-knowledge regimes of family law and citizenship as a lens to historicize the making of the modern Chinese diaspora and to illuminate the complexities of colonial and national state efforts to channel, incorporate and manage the diasporic communities of sojourning Chinese traders and laborers across maritime Southeast Asia. Deploying an interdisciplinary and transregional methodology, I center my work on the British Straits Settlements (present day Singapore, Malacca and Penang), the protected Malay states (much of present day Malaysia), the Netherlands East Indies (present day Indonesia) and southeastern coastal China. My approach places colonial legal and knowledge regimes, and their dialectical relationship with Chinese diasporic communities, at the center of the colonial state formation process during two periods of particularly intense political contestations over diasporic kinship conduct and citizenship recognition: 1) from the 1870s when Anglo-Dutch colonial states and the diasporic Chinese patriarchal elites in the region first came to display strong concerns over family and kinship issues leading to colonial-inspired family reform campaigns at the turn of the century; and 2) after the Chinese state passed new citizenship and civil laws in 1906-9 and 1927-31, when Chinese claims on its overseas subjects became not only diasporic but also international legal problems. This project draws on primary sources from multiple archives in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan, the Netherlands and Great Britain. Along with its historical contribution, my work speaks to our contemporary encounter with variegated diasporic social and cultural forms and their persisting tensions with liberal nation-state defined regimes of the family and citizenship.