UCSC seminar–part 4

We venture into maritime history in East and Southeast Asia this week. The fourth set of readings includes Leonard Blussé's Visible Cities and the first six chapters of Philip Kuhn's Chinese among Others. We will also read Melissa Macauley's new article: “Entangled States: The Translocal Repercussions of Rural Pacification in China, 1869–1873.”

Kuhn sharply and clearly divides Chinese migration into two periods: early modern and modern ones. Each has a distinctive pattern, structure and scale.

Early Modern Maritime Expansion and Chinese Migration:

Chinese migrant communities coexisted with early colonial administration in Southeast Asia from the outset. They also sprawled outside the reach of these colonial empires, such as Portuguese, Spanish and Dutch. Blussé's book gives us a close look at VOC's trading networks from Dutch perspectives, but we get very little on Portuguese Malacca and Spanish Manila from his work. Kuhn's coverage is way more comprehensive and informative regarding the geographic origins, kinship structure, cultural affinities, livelihoods of both merchants and laborers. In so many ways, Chinese migrant communities were extension of the massive internal migration already took place across many regions in China proper in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The scale and pattern of early modern Chinese migrant communities were codependent on ecologies of homeland and maritime Southeast Asia.

Modern Age of Mass Migration:

After the Napoleonic war, early colonial empires were replaced by modern imperialism in East and Southeast Asia. New treaty port system, opium trade, land shortage in homeland, labor shortage around the Pacific rim region created pipelines of Chinese labor export. Macauley's case studies should be situated in this broader context. Kuhn's detailed classification and explanation of the structural changes of Chinese migrant communities in the age of mass migration provide an encyclopedia for all of us who would like to delve into specific cases or regions for further research. It offers the groundwork for us who will further investigate Chinese migration with historical depth and comprehensive frameworks. It is a masterful survey.


  1. Melissa Macauley’s call for historians to consider a particular group’s degree of translocality proved a prime topic of class discussion. Why describe a group as translocal when it may simply be regional? Can scholars discern a difference between translocality and regionality? After all, the maritime sphere throughout which the Chaozhou people dispersed comprises the South China Sea. Of course, Chaozhou identity is a regional one—seeing affiliation with Chaozhou city, Guangdong county, and the larger South China Sea region. However, it is also translocal for the Chaozhou people often resided in polities that mutually excluded each other. For example, a Chaozhou person residing in northern Thailand may identify with both Chaozhou and Siam though they lived in a world where institutions of power believed somebody should not be able to do so. I also appreciated Macauley’s clarification that ‘translocal’ can both be a marker of self-identification and a label imposed by institutions such as a state. Given that borders and barriers are often tools of discipline—imposed to control population mobility—does translocality not translate to power?

    Further, Macauley pushes scholars to recognize the ‘entangledness’ between multiple groups, polities, or events. While some may be tempted to dismiss ‘entangled’ as another way of articulating ‘related’ or as an attempt to argue that everything in the course of history is interrelated, Macauley’s concept is far more nuanced. Instead of simply illustrating that two events are connected, Macauley highlights the degree to which they are related. Event A does not merely cause Event B. Rather, Event A facilitates Event B and feels the aftershocks of Event B. Macauley utilizes Fang Yao’s qingxiang campaigns in rural Guangdong and increased criminality throughout Europe’s colonies in Southeast Asia to illustrate a case of high entanglement.

    Leonard Blussé’s 2008 Visible Cities demonstrates that entanglement can happen outside of a translocal space, highlighting (1) the relation between Dutch decline and the fall of Batavia and Nagasaki as prime Asian port cities and (2) Singapore’s influence on Guangdong’s eventual degeneration. We closed our class with a vibrant discussion of Philip Kuhn’s 2008 Chinese Among Others, which makes a strong argument for historians of all disciplines to avoid cleaving the story of emigration from the history of China. Rather, they are closely interrelated. Chinese Among Others proves a crucial work, illustrating the disparity in Chinese migrant experiences, mapping out transnational networks, and pushing for work on China that transcends China itself.

  2. In the past week's readings, between Blussé's analysis of the life and death of three port cities, McCauley's notions of translocality, and Philip Kuhn's compendium on Chinese emigration, there is a pattern of how economics shape geopolitics and lived experiences of private individuals.

    In the above comment, Lauren suggests that borders in the early modern world function as a form of control on population mobility. While this is certainly true, I also see that this control was loose and at best ineffective. From both Blussé and Kuhn’s work, we see that the Qing state is concerned primarily with Chinese merchants causing trouble when dealing with foreigners, and not so much about the ability of its subjects to leave China. In contrast to their attitude toward their subjects, both the Qing and the Tokugawa administrations seem much more fixated on regulating goods and money leaving its borders, demonstrated by multiple attempts to ban trade and achieve self-sufficiency, which inspired the development of in-between cities like Batavia.

    Later on though, as slavery was abolished in the U.S., a demand for Asian labor started to incentivize poor Chinese people living on the borders to migrate abroad in search of better economic opportunities. When people are commodified as cheap labor, we usher in an age of mass mobility. In this way, we see that migration and geopolitics of the 19th century are predicated on economic forces of expansion and the need for greater resources and markets.

    I am curious about national, regional, and/or cultural compatriotism in the face of these economic forces. While it is easy to assume that people who share similar backgrounds naturally bind together. We do see that people have shifting allegiances depending on their access to political and economic power. In southeast Asia, the emergence of Mestizo Chinese communities helped Chinese migrants edge closer to the center of local administration. In British Singapore and the U.S., Chinese people were forced to band together as a result of exclusionary policies. Philip Kuhn paints a comprehensive picture of Chinese emigration but does not go into the specific ways in which people are transformed by their experiences, how their compatriotism is modified to accommodate local conditions and economic incentives.


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