Sandy F. Chang

HistoryUniversity of Texas / Austin

Award Information

2016 IDRF Program

HistoryUniversity of Texas / Austin

Across the Nanyang: Intimate Labor and Chinese Female Migration in British Asia, 1890-1939

This project explores the history of Chinese female migration across the South China Sea (Nanyang) to colonial outposts in Singapore and Penang as wives, domestic bondservants, and sex workers. At the turn of the 20th century, modern migration control first emerged as a system of racial and gender exclusion, limiting Asian mobility into the British Empire. While the colonial government in Malaya monitored and circumscribed the movement of Chinese male laborers, it selectively encouraged Chinese female settlement in its territories. Why were Chinese females subjected to a different mode of colonial surveillance and regulation than their male counterparts? How were these uneven policy impulses reflective of the colonial state's gendered preoccupations with laboring bodies and border management in British Asia? Drawing on emigration and marriage records, ship logs, government proceedings, and rescue home documents, my research attends to the historical relationship between sexual economy and migration control. It revises a long-standing historiographical tradition that views Chinese male sojourners as emblematic of migrations to Southeast Asia. Instead, I reposition Chinese women and children as central to our understanding of border control and labor mobility in this region. By foregrounding the prominence of female labor in intra-Asian migrations, "Across the Nanyang" contributes to interdisciplinary debates on migration, gender and sexuality, and imperial citizenship.