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China Inside Out

Pál Nyíri
Joana Breidenbach

Chapter 6. The ”New Migrant”: State and Market Constructions of Modernity and Patriotism

Pál Nyíri

Texte intégral


1In the past decade, “transnationalism” has become a buzzword in the study of migration and diasporas. For me, this concept is, when used in a strict sense, a useful tool to study migration. I must immediately say two things:

  • that I take migration in the broadest sense to be the movement of people between places perceived to be culturally different; and
  • that I am interested in this movement because it produces particularly intense cultural imaginaries of the self and of the other, i.e., discourses of identity.

2When Glick Schiller et al. (1994) introduced the concept of transnationalism, they argued that conventional nation-state-centered migration theory, which regards international migrants as individuals who depart (emigrants) or arrive (immigrants), needs revision, because a growing number of populations behave, socially and politically, in a way that can no longer be explained within the framework of the nation-state order.

3Falling time and costs of transportation, communication, and transfer of information and money has not just sped up but enabled the reconciliation of multiple lifestyles and projects. This time–space compression led to the growth of populations

4socially, culturally, and physically anchored “at multiple sites,” often characterized by a high mobility both between the state of origin and the state of residence, and often other states, rendering the concepts of “outward/return migration” meaningless.

5In a transnationalist optics, migration is a multilevel (demographic, political, economic, cultural, familial) process that involves various links between two or more settings rather than a discrete event constituted by a permanent move from one nation to another.

Nyíri on what’s wrong with migration theories see pp. 104-106

6Defined in these terms, transnationalism is not a semantic innovation but a tangibly distinctive phenomenon, which has direct implications for the interaction between migrants and the local society, because it means that migrants no longer necessarily have to accumulate local cultural capital. Transnationalism thus makes the traditional terms of assimilation, integration, or segregation in which states have dealt with immigration obsolete.

States and transnationalism

7A number of scholars point out that transnational phenomena are not new, but they are more intense, more interconnected and, unlike previously, legitimized and celebrated by sending states, acknowledged and even feared by receiving states. For example, the Philippine National Assembly recently introduced a draft law granting the right of vote to undocumented citizens abroad. In the last presidential election in Mexico, the successful candidate, Vicente Fox, campaigned among Mexicans in the United States.

8Conversely, to show their care for the home countries of their constituencies, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani visited the Dominican Republic and former Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu visited the Ukraine, Russia, and Georgia during their respective reelection campaigns. Such actions are not unprecedented; Harry Truman appealed to the East European voters by talking about the liberation of their homelands from Communism, and this kind of politics has continued to this day with Cuban-Americans. But the visibility and overtness with which migrant populations’ loyalties are contested and manipulated from both ends is novel. Vertovec and Cohen (1999) even argue in the case of small countries with large migrant populations abroad and a high density and regularity of kinship and economic ties that the “home” and “host” societies can “dissolve in each other.” One case where the state appears to have been acting more like a modern nation-state toward its citizens abroad than domestically is Eritrea, which has been studied by Khalid Koser (2000). Some 10% of Eritreans live abroad, and they are subjected to a 2% income tax by the Eritrean government. Koser found that the government maintains an accurate list of citizens abroad and provides transparent accounting of where their remittances are spent; yet there is no census domestically, and Eritrea has been engaged in a war whose level of modernity is often likened to First World War.

9Whether transnationalism is new or not, the fact that it is now consciously practiced by states is enough to make it interesting, because its state legitimation and media celebration (or abomination) feed back to the identity formation and cultural discourse of migrants. Sending states, by legitimizing transnational communities and incorporating them in the body politic of the nation, can create politically active citizens from people who, before migrating, were politically disenfranchised. They can be engaged in “long-distance nationalism” and attempt to influence host-country politics. But transnational communities act both ways: they can also project host-country politics into home-country politics. The multistranded relationship between Turkish political organizations in Europe and parties in Turkey, studied by 0stergaard (2001), is an obvious example. Here, the political discourses and strategies of Islamic and Kurdish organizations in Turkey are strongly influenced by their counterparts in Germany. Both sending and receiving states have expanded their security focus from nations as adversaries to transnational subversives ranging from organized crime and terrorist groups to Internet chat groups.

What methodological problems does the study of transnationalism raise?

10The study of transnationalism raises methodological challenges both compared to sociological studies of migration—which typically deal with migration processes already completed—and for anthropological fieldwork. “Fieldwork”—close observation of human behavior in a particular setting—has been the hallmark of cultural anthropology. Traditionally, fieldwork meant residing some considerable length of time among the group studied and participating in their activities. As people’s mobility increases and more attention is paid to studying people who move, the definitions of fieldwork are changing.

Beyond a single site

11Tracing transnational connections requires going beyond a single site. For example, if studying the Chinese in Hungary within the confines of Hungary’s borders, one would fail to uncover the social and economic spaces of the migrants as they frequently move, trade, and communicate between Hungary and other European countries as well as China. While it still makes sense to speak of the “Chinese in Hungary” as a stable group sharing certain common characteristics, the individual members of this group are constantly replaced through an in- and outflow of persons. If we were to prepare maps of socioeconomic spaces, they would be different for each migrant. Chinese migrants resist and appropriate various local institutions, discourses, and symbols in different ways in different places. To varying degrees, the same is true for all transnationals.

Schein: ”The field site is ephemeral”

Old distinctions become obsolete

12Basic underlying concepts of migration studies such as the distinction between migrant, traveler, and refugee or between legal and illegal migrant have become obsolete. Let us take a “permanent resident” in a foreign country who spends half of his time in the home country and in third countries, a “foreign investor” who gains that status in his home country after only a few months of residence abroad, and a “tourist” who only makes short trips abroad but maintains a business network there. Is the distinction between them a useful one? This is not only a conceptual problem but also a data-collection one, as governments and international organizations maintain the old, rigid boundaries between categories of people who move, with mostly incompatible databases. Movements of different type and duration, often determined by expediency, may look different from the standpoint of national statistics but create very similar transnational social spaces.

Problems with qualitative data

Lomanov on migration estimates
There are many problems with estimating how many Chinese there are in Russia. First of all, in the Russian Far East, we have immigrants mostly from the neighboring provinces of China. In Vladivostok or in parts of Siberia you mostly find people who come from Heilongjiang, Liaoning, Inner Mongolia, and partly from Jilin Province. In Moscow you can find people from all parts of China.
Of course the intent is also different. People who come to Moscow mostly come to stay longer, and those who come to the Far East are mostly moving back and forth, doing business and making money.
In 1992, the Russian Government adopted a visa-free regime of travel between the Russian Federation and China. A high official of the Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry acknowledged in a private conversation in 2001 that this decision had opened the door to illegal migration, but it had been necessary because of the disruption of trade distribution networks in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, when the Russian Far East faced scarcity of food and consumer goods. Chinese traders had helped solve this problem.
The period from 1992 to the beginning of 1994 was the period of the greatest influx of Chinese migrants into Russia. In 1994, the visa-free agreement was limited to diplomatic and service passports, and from the spring of 2001, it was narrowed to diplomatic passports only.
Visa-free group tourism in bordering provinces is still there. The Russian Foreign Ministry could easily agree to call on Beijing to cancel this arrangement, but the visa statistics show that the number of Russian visitors to China increasingly exceeds the number of the Chinese visiting Russia. The number of Chinese tourists and visitors is slowly declining, and the number of visitors from Russia to China is growing. So the Russian government is reluctant to cut visa-free border tourism.
In Moscow, the City Department of Visas and Registrations said in 1999: we have only 10,000 Chinese officially registered in Moscow. Later, they said: there are probably several hundred thousand Chinese in Moscow, but they are unregistered. So we don’t know where they are. We have 10,000 registered. And we guess probably it is 100,000, but we don’t know. This is like saying: we have five Chinese in all the town; we think there really are a thousand times more, but we don’t have such a figure.
On one end, you have official statistics, which are the smallest numbers. On the other, the biggest ones are just journalism or alarmist political statements, where the figures are exaggerated. Official figures are unbelievably small and the alarmist figures are unbelievably large. Between these two extremes there are another two sets of figures. One set is by scholars who are working for state institutions, like the Russian Academy of Sciences and universities. Sometimes they are critical about official statistics; they say they are probably too small but the Chinese are assuring us that migration is under control. Usually if you get an official figure of ten people, probably scholars who are working for official institutions will give you something like 100.
The other set of figures is by independent scholars who are working with foreign funds in Russia: Zaionchkovskaia and Gelbras. Their money is not coming from the Russian government but from the Carnegie, MacArthur, or Ford Foundations. That’s why they are independent in their conclusions, and when official statistics give ten people and official scholars will give one hundred, they’ll give you several thousand. So probably their estimates are somewhere in between the alarmist figures of millions and official statistics’ dozens. According to the study carried out by Professor Gelbras, the number of Chinese in Moscow is 22 to 25 thousand.
The Migration Service says there are maybe 30,000 Chinese residents in Russia. Scholars’ figures range between 400 thousand and 1 million. A study by Vitkovskaia and Zaionchkovskaia shows 200,000 to 300,000 Chinese in Eastern Siberia and the Far East by the late nineties. How do people produce such figures as two million or three million Chinese in Russia? There are no rational explanations.
Then there is yet another set of figures, that of the Chinese authorities. The Chinese state also claims to know how many Chinese there are in Russia, down to the individuals. First of all there is a figure from the embassy. And second, there is a figure from the so-called Qiaoqing Pucha, the Overseas Chinese Census, which is done through relatives of the migrants in China. The questionnaires are sent to families in China.
And finally, there are indirect ways of estimating the number of the Chinese. In the summer of 2001, a Tu-154 aircraft of the airline Vladivostok Avia flying from Yekaterinburg in Western Siberia to Vladivostok crashed near Irkutsk, and ten percent of the passengers were Chinese. And several of them were illegals. Can we see this as a random sample of the local population and conclude that Chinese account for ten percent of that segment of the local population which can afford flying? (Another interesting detail is that this plane had been used by a Chinese airline before having been purchased by Vladivostok Avia. Russian papers immediately speculated that the accident is the fault of the Chinese airline that had not properly maintained the plane. Yet the investigation pointed to pilot error.)
This provocative way of ”estimating” just serves to illustrate that even an estimate like this would be more reliable than saying there are three million Chinese. The latter figure means nothing at all, and yet it is cited by many scholars and politicians, who do not even explain how they get it.

13Most quantitative data collected by national authorities reflect only part of migration processes and may be misleading because (1) they use irrelevant criteria, such as household registration or residence of a half year, in defining whom to count as a migrant, and (2) they are unreliable. Figures on illegal migrant flows used by law enforcement and international migration agencies often circulate from publication to publication for years without changing, while the real situation is in rapid flux. On the other hand, useful quantitative data samples may come from unexpected corners. For example, asylum application data provide a good sample of migrants from Zhejiang and Fujian provinces of China to Europe if one accepts qualitative findings that there is no separation between so-called legal and illegal migratory flows within that group. Solicitors or NGOs often maintain databases of asylum applicants that run into the thousands, and contain more information, for example, on place of origin or family relations than official statistics.

The importance of texts

14While anthropology is increasingly embracing the study of texts, this is particularly necessary in the case of transnationalism. Migrants now often articulate their experiences, create public discourses of belonging and write their own history in an array of printed and broadcast media after they have migrated. In addition to a partly intentional process of identity construction and history-writing, these media report on business opportunities, amnesties for illegal aliens, and other factors that influence migration and investment flows. Only ten years after the beginning of Chinese migration to Hungary, eight Chinese periodicals are published in Budapest, four novels and two non-fiction accounts have been written and two television serials created by migrants on their experiences in Hungary. Through such media and personal networks, a Chinese in Latin America is informed of amnesties for illegal immigrants in Italy early enough to be able to go there to benefit from it.

How do I study transnationalism?

15The transnational social field can be defined and studied at three levels.

Level 1

16First, there is the immediate, lived experience of the individual, which is the classical object of anthropological fieldwork. But the field here is multisited, determined by the extent and frequency of travel, telephone calls, e-mails, etc. Mapping these interactions is often impossible in practical terms. Instead, what I usually try to do is visit the key sites of the transnational field; for Fujianese in Hungary, these often include China, Hungary, and Italy, where many of them have relatives they regularly talk to. Instead of sitting for a predetermined length of time at either of these places, however, I adjust to the time–space dynamics of my informants, availing myself of invitations to congresses of native-place associations, going along on private family trips, making phone calls, going to see local officials and joining business negotiations with the informants. In this way, while I violate certain taboos of fieldwork by becoming enmeshed in the field, I also see transnational ties in action: who mobilizes them, when, and with what purpose.

Level 2

17Secondly, I find out the private narratives that accompany such transnational acts, i.e., whether a particular familial, business, official, or native-place connection in a particular situation is positioned as pragmatic or essential. For example, does a person engaged in business cooperation with a family member in another country explain this by referring to their family connections (“Of course, we work together. We are relatives.”) or rather by saying: “I cooperate with her, as she knows the local officials and has good access to real estate.” The transnational social field is composed of institutions, discourses, symbols and markers, picked up from different localities. Which of these are employed in private narratives depends on which regimes of truth and power people try to evade or follow. Ong (1999) describes how these systems are manipulated in the quest for flexible accumulation.

Level 3

18Third, I read the public—media, literature, cinema—narratives by and about migrants in which migrants often position themselves differently vis-a-vis China and the local society. These narratives continuously interplay with private identity construction and enactment. Even more than private narratives, public texts are instrumental. When ascribing certain qualities to the narrator or the subject of the text they try, for example, to legitimize power, hierarchy or difference, whether in ethnic, gender, or age terms.

Overseas Chinese, emigration policy, and discourse in the PRC

19One distinguishing element of migration today is the state legitimization of sustained practices of dual-anchoredness or dual allegiance. Here, I attempt to show how the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has, in the past two decades, moved to legitimize, both by institutional and discursive means, such practices first in established overseas Chinese communities and then among migrants in statu nascendi. While referring to the PRC as a single agent as a matter of shorthand, I intend to problematize the issue of state agency, arguing for its multiplicity.

Nyíri: How did I study this?
This block is chiefly about state policies, which is a classical political science field. Yet its study with respect to contemporary Chinese migration also requires anthropological field methods. Not all policies are explicitly formulated, and in authoritarian regimes like China’s, most of those that are are not publicly accessible. Apart from a limited number of official policy documents, therefore, I had to rely on the following:

  • Papers that I could presume to be written by, or on instructions from, officials. Administrative leaders of key social science research institutes in a particular field—like, for my topic, Professor Zhuang Guotu, Deputy Director of the Southeast Asia Research Institute of Amoy University—usually do not represent their own views, but those officially accepted by the political leadership. Other researchers, when writing in authoritative journals—in this case, Huaqiao Huaren Lishi Yanjiu (Overseas Chinese History Studies)—also present views approved by the authorities. While these do not always directly formulate policy, they do indirectly reflect upon it.
  • Comparative textual and visual (layout, use of images) analysis of the officially controlled media, particularly the main official national and provincial newspapers and television channels, as well as media directed at overseas Chinese.
  • Observation of exchanges (personal, telephone, written communications) between officials and Chinese overseas; debriefing interviews with Chinese overseas about the content and form of such exchanges. Large-scale conferences organized either by Chinese overseas with officials attending or by the authorities in China for Chinese overseas are particularly good venues to observe the dynamic, symbolism, and rituals of exchange.

20China’s attitude to emigration has historically oscillated between complete ban and attempts to engage migrants. During Mao’s “cultural revolution,” emigration was once again seen as treason. Relations with overseas Chinese were frozen, visits not allowed, and anyone with relatives overseas suspect as a “class enemy.”

Nyíri on the history of China – overseas Chinese relations
Traitors of the Empire
The cyclical nature of Chinese government attitude toward overseas Chinese has been noted by many authors and sometimes exaggerated. The Song (960–1279) and Yuan (1206-1368) dynasties banned emigration, seen as disloyalty to ancestors and ancestral land, and foresaw severe penalties for it. The Ming (1368–1644) dynasty relaxed the ban. But the last dynasty, the Qing (1644–1911), whose security was, at the beginning, threatened by Ming loyalists mounting resistance from overseas, not only repeated the ban, but cleared the coastal strip where sea communication with Ming loyalists was particularly active of population, ordering it to move inland. In 1603 and 1740, the Chinese court approved of mass killings of Chinese by Spanish and Dutch in the Philippines and the East Indies respectively on the grounds that the victims had committed the crime of leaving China (Yen 1985).
The 1860 Sino-British treaty granted Qing subjects the right to travel abroad for the first time, but the punishments foreseen for those who left China were not formally abolished until 1893. By this time, mass migration of Chinese contract laborers and merchants to Southeast Asia, North America, and South and East Africa had been taking place for several decades.
Members of the nation
The last two decades of Qing rule saw a major turnaround in official policy toward overseas Chinese, as the court discovered the financial resources of the diaspora and attempted to put them to use in its belated and half-hearted modernization program, especially in infrastructural and educational projects such as the building of roads, schools, and arsenals. To this end, loyalty to the Chinese Empire had to be rekindled among overseas Chinese who had until then been split into groups of speakers of mutually unintelligible dialects, for each of whom the locus of the homeland had been limited to its village, county, or at most province of origin, with which it had remained in touch. Chinese officials visited overseas Chinese leaders, opened missions, conducted censuses, and even attempted to collect taxes. Schools with instruction in the Mandarin, the official dialect of Chinese, were opened, replacing old ones that had taught in the pupils’ native dialects, and teaching materials were imported from China. Often under the tutelage or with the direct participation of Chinese officials, organizations were created that united the different dialect groups and purported to represent all Chinese in a given country. Chinese Chambers of Commerce were sometimes headed by Chinese officials and vested with consular powers.
Kang Youwei (1858–1927), the leader of monarchist reformers, formulated the first modern ideology of Chinese nationalism and nation-state under the Qing. Contrary to the mainstream of Chinese political tradition, in which Chineseness had been defined as belonging to a civilization as expressed by “orthopraxy” (Watson 1985), i.e., accepting and practicing a set of tenets of propriety, Kang stressed common ancestry and race, borrowing popular eugenic theories from the West to establish a hierarchy of races. The newfound importance of blood was reflected in the 1909 nationality law, which introduced the principle of the jus sanguinis.
Kang spoke only of the “yellow race,” but his antimonarchist followers introduced the concept of the nation, for which they borrowed a Japanese term, and based it on a largely ethnic foundation, excluding from it the ruling Manchus. Thus, the struggle to topple the dynasty was phrased in ethnonationalist terms as often as it was justified by republican ideals. Like the late Qing’s attempts to make “Chinese into citizens,” the new nationalist discourse of Chineseness was popularized among overseas Chinese before it had reached significant masses in China itself. Sun Yat-sen’s antimonarchist organization, which later became the Kuomintang, was organized mainly among, and sustained by funds from, overseas Chinese in Japan, Hawaii, and Southeast Asia. Branches of the Kuomintang and its affiliate (e.g. women’s) organizations, often in contravention to colonial laws, continued to operate in those and other countries after the party came to power in China.
Sun Yat-sen’s Republic of China (proclaimed in 1911) institutionalized the inclusion of overseas Chinese in the political nation it desired to build. It provided them with passports, established Overseas Chinese Commissions at national, provincial, and local levels, gave overseas Chinese voting rights, and appointed overseas Chinese delegates to national and provincial legislatures. The government closely controlled overseas Chinese organizations. For example, each of the seven lineage organizations that formed the Zhonghua Huiguan in San Francisco had leaders dispatched from China, who were authorized to do consular work and until 1923 carried diplomatic passports (Li 1995). On the other hand, overseas Chinese organizations were active in initiating policy proposals addressed to the central and provincial Chinese governments advancing the interests of their qiaoxiang (migrant homelands), and these proposals were often critical of the government.
China was now officially considered a unitary nation of five ethnic groups: the Han Chinese, the Manchus, the Mongols, the Muslims, and the Tibetans. Members of the four non-Han ethnic groups residing abroad were also included in the concept of “overseas Chinese,” but the discourse of the nation and the usage of the term minzu, sometimes meaning “nation” and sometimes standing closer to “ethnic group,” remained confused. Children in overseas Chinese schools were told that they were “sons and grandsons of the Yellow Emperor and the Emperor Yan” and belonged to “the black-haired race.” Overseas Chinese invested and donated significant amounts, both in their ancestral areas in southeastern China and in urban centers such as Shanghai. The Japanese invasion of China took both overseas Chinese nationalism and the influx of financial support to its high point.
While the Kuomintang government’s policies remained in place after its flight to Taiwan in 1949, the Chinese Communists gained overseas supporters as well. Overseas Chinese could now choose between passports of the Republic of China (ROC) and the People’s Republic of China. Initially, Beijing’s policy attempted to balance between dispelling the suspicions of nationalist Southeast Asian governments, which it regarded as potential allies, and keeping overseas Chinese investors on its side. On the one hand, the PRC declared in 1955 that it encouraged either the voluntary expatriation or the return of overseas Chinese—dual citizenship was not allowed—and in case of expatriation, discouraged them from joining overseas Chinese organizations. On the other hand, it treated those who chose to remain its citizens courteously, not wishing to lose their remittances, and created a system of its own organs of overseas Chinese affairs, structured similarly to that of the ROC.
Relations cooled after the Communist government nationalized overseas Chinese-owned enterprises, and froze after the 1957 Anti-Rightist Campaign, the beginning of mass terror targeting anyone with overseas contacts as class enemies or agents of imperialism. As in other state socialist regimes, travel abroad was severely restricted. Although contacts never ceased completely—a low level of migration from China and clandestine visits by overseas relatives continued even at the height of the Cultural Revolution, and those who repatriated were settled at “overseas Chinese farms”—many overseas Chinese chose at this time to adopt the citizenship of their country of residence. The tendency toward naturalization, acculturation, and shifting the locus of overseas Chinese politics away from the home country and—where allowed to do so—toward the host country was aided by the absence of diplomatic relations between the PRC and most Southeast Asian countries, nationalist projects and anticommunism of the countries of residence, and economic development that offered ethnic Chinese a stable livelihood.

Revival of overseas Chinese policy in the reform era

21After Mao’s death and the beginning of reforms, the government of the PRC became, once again, interested in investments and donations by overseas Chinese. Like the Kuomintang, it set out to combine the involvement of overseas Chinese in domestic politics with an increasing promotion of nationalism, even though it never renounced the doctrine of supporting their voluntary expatriation and continued to encourage ethnic Chinese to be loyal to their countries of citizenship (dual citizenship remained disallowed).

New institutional framework

  • 1 * The National Association of Overseas Chinese, Returned Overseas Chinese, and Dependent Overseas C (...)

22A number of political bodies*1 have been revived or created after 1977 for the dual purpose of dealing with overseas Chinese (supposedly only with huaqiao—Chinese citizens overseas—but in fact often with ethnic Chinese citizens of other countries) and protecting the interests of returned overseas Chinese and family members of overseas Chinese in China, who had experienced severe repression in the preceding period. In 1990, measures of protecting the interests of returned overseas Chinese and family members of overseas Chinese were enshrined in law, granting them special benefits. Today, most important among these is a special quota in admissions to institutions of higher education, which is a significant advantage in the highly competitive Chinese education system.

23In 1994, the Qiaolian (All-China Federation of Returned Overseas Chinese) had over 8,000 branches and affiliated mass organizations at various levels (as reported in Guangdong Qiaobao, 18 June 1998, p. 1). People’s Political Consultative Conferences (PPCC) at various levels also have many overseas Chinese delegates. In particularly important areas of emigration, qiaoxiang in Chinese, other organs also deal with overseas Chinese. For example, in Xinhui County, a famous qiaoxiang in Canton Province, these are the United Front Work Department of the city party committee, the city Qiaoban (Overseas Chinese Affairs Bureau), Qiaolian, and Overseas Chinese Commission, a People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, the trade union, the youth federation, the women’s federation, and the departments of culture, education, propaganda, civil affairs, foreign trade, customs. In another important qiaoxiang, Jinjiang in Fujian, there is, in addition to the usual institutions, a Qiaoxiang Construction Commission and a Leading Group on Overseas Chinese Donations for Welfare Facilities, headed by Party and city government leaders (Cheng and Ngok 1998).

Reaching out to overseas Chinese

24The main task of the bodies in charge of overseas Chinese was attracting overseas Chinese investment—which accounts for the majority of foreign investment in mainland China—and what was inseparable from this, winning back the confidence and loyalty of overseas Chinese. This task became especially urgent in 1989, when, in the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, China faced a freeze of Western investment and an economic recession. Thus, Peking started sending delegations to visit overseas Chinese organizations and influential individuals. These are not always government delegations but can take the form of informal groups from mass organizations, business delegations, or even tour groups. The emphasis in overseas visits of top party and government officials from the provinces and municipalities is frequently on visiting overseas Chinese communities.

Sending out delegations

25The number of delegations sent abroad by bodies in charge of overseas Chinese has been growing rapidly. In 1991, various overseas Chinese authorities in Canton province sent abroad 381 delegations comprising 2,093 individuals. In 1995, they dispatched 526 delegations involving 21,966 people (Cheng and Ngok 1998). The zeal of officials to travel abroad with expenses paid may have contributed as much to this growth as their eagerness to foster relations with overseas Chinese; I have heard many a delegation leader ask the question, “What’s there to see here?” in Budapest and Brussels. In 1993-95, the PRC government issued several prohibitions on such travel, but since obtaining a tourist visa for a PRC citizen is well-nigh impossible, even on an organized tour, this leaves Chinese with no choice but to abuse the institution of trade delegations.

26In Europe in particular, delegations almost invariably engage in sightseeing trips, typically accompanied by representatives of local overseas Chinese associations. It is understandable that Rome is the most popular destination: the Federation of Chinese Associations in Rome received over 270 official Chinese delegations in 1998! (Interview with Chen Tiequn, vice-president of the federation, Rome, 1999.) Although Europe still plays third fiddle behind Southeast Asia and North America as far as overseas Chinese affairs bodies are concerned, interest in engaging Chinese in Europe is rising as the economic turndown in Southeast Asia is affecting the willingness of Chinese there to invest in their qiaoxiang.

Inviting delegations

27The authorities also invite overseas Chinese association leaders and other influential personalities to visit the old country with expenses paid. On such occasions, the visitors are introduced to new developments and received by party and government officials; their comments and advice are solicited; and investment negotiations are initiated. When making these invitations, the PRC bodies first evaluate the investment potential and plans of the persons invited.

28Altogether in 1995, overseas Chinese bureaus in Fujian received more than 500 overseas Chinese delegations comprising 70,000 people, while their counterparts in Canton province received 3,087 groups of overseas Chinese and Chinese from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macau totaling a staggering 270,514 people (Cheng and Ngok 1998).

Cheng and Ngok on the tactics of overseas Chinese affairs organs
The organs for overseas Chinese affairs probably [have] a long list and a short list, the former is for general reference based on long-term careful gathering of information, and the latter is associated with an annual plan, or an action programme with a defined time horizon. Considerable efforts are involved in studying the background of the target famous overseas persons ... from the target’s daily habits, diet, networks of relatives ... [to] values, etc.
The [organs] will have to map out a plan to . gradually persuade him to accept an invitation to visit his hometown. It is usually important to ... secure his confidence through someone he trusts. It is important to understand the target’s values so that the appropriate incentives will be offered. In sum, this is united front work and the Communist Party of China has a tradition and ample expertise in this area.
If those who can make decisions are not sympathetic, then the [organs] will have to work on the sympathetic leaders... In the last resort, [they] may have to cultivate another less respectable qiaoxiang association. Skilful officials . take care to foster a competitive atmosphere so that their invitations become an honour to be sought after (Cheng and Ngok 1998).

29Although taking part in such delegations cannot be considered active participation in Chinese domestic politics and can be motivated by commercial interest in many cases, the fact is nonetheless that dealing with PRC authorities has become the norm for a large number of overseas Chinese individuals and organizations.

30Some programs for overseas Chinese visitors, primarily youth, last several months to “visit the homes of their ancestors to search for their roots... to uphold the fine tradition of the sons and grandsons of Emperor Yan and the Yellow Emperor. Online family-connecting services [Overseas] Chinese organizations have unquestionably played an important role from encouraging young people to apply to organizing groups to financing such programmes” (Li 1995). In 1994, authorities in Canton province organized 25 summer and winter camps for overseas Chinese youth while Fujian authorities organized 13 summer camps (Cheng and Ngok 1998).


31The number of publications for overseas Chinese has also soared, with Canton and Fujian provincial authorities combined producing almost 190 with a total annual overseas circulation of over two million, mostly free and postage-paid. Between 1990 and 1994, the circulation of such publications produced by Fujian authorities grew from 390,000 to 1,410,000 (Cheng and Ngok 1998).

32PRC authorities have espoused the cause of mother-tongue education for overseas Chinese children, typically an important issue for parents, control over which has long remained an area of competition between the two Chinese governments. The People’s Daily Overseas Edition has started a column and organized summer camps to teach overseas Chinese children Chinese characters. The PRC embassy in Belgium convened a meeting of the “preparatory commission of the Brussels Chinese-language school” in 1998. (In fact, Brussels has several Chinese schools, but the most important of them, the Zhongshan School, is sponsored by the ROC government, although recently immigrated PRC nationals’ children also attend it.)

Support for organizations

33Beijing has provided varying degrees of encouragement and sponsorship in the setting up of Chinese organizations abroad for the purpose of “supporting China’s development.” These organizations often register with PRC authorities, are visited by and visit PRC officials, and participate in meetings organized by PRC authorities. When overseas Chinese associations hold anniversary celebrations or congresses, they usually receive some delegations as well as scores of congratulatory telegrams from PRC authorities, which are read aloud.

34Zhuang Guotu, a senior scholar of overseas Chinese in the PRC who is also involved in various overseas Chinese affairs organs and can be seen as representing the official point of view, writes that “by the active promotion of the local governments (in China) such organizations appeared one after the other, partly due to the competition of local governments and also due to the enthusiasm of the Overseas Chinese leaderships.” “The new emigrants have been encouraged to organize associations based on the same academic field (!) and area of origin in China,” so as to correspond to the PRC’s administrative structure (Zhuang 2000).

35Provincial authorities in Canton, Fujian, and Zhejiang have also been participating in organizing activities on behalf of overseas Chinese organizations, in particular, assisting in the intensifying process of forging global links. In 1994, the Canton provincial overseas Chinese affairs authorities organized a World Mei [surname] Kinship Conference, a World Panyu [native-place] Kinship Conference, and the Twelfth World Hakka Kinship Conference. Over 4000 delegates took part in a Teochew congress in Swatow in November 1997 (Liu 1998). Most of these congresses have nominally been initiated by overseas Chinese, but organized and quite strictly controlled by the authorities when held in China.

Festivals and demonstrations

36Apart from sending and receiving delegations, organizing festivities on Chinese holidays are an important part of the activities of overseas Chinese organizations. The PRC embassy is often involved in the preparation of such activities, which are attended by embassy officials and sometimes serve as occasions to communicate the PRC’s political messages, particularly regarding the “unification of the motherland,” i.e., the reincorporation of Taiwan.

37In the run-up to elections on Taiwan in 2000, the PRC issued a “white paper,” which threatened Taiwan with war if its government declared independence. Embassies organized briefings to explain it to invited representatives of Chinese organizations. Following the briefing, the Hungarian Chinese Association convened a “seminar” discussing the white paper and condemned proindependence views. The former president of the Hungarian Chinese Association and of the European Federation of Chinese Organizations is now organizing a Europe-wide “Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Two Sides of the Taiwan Strait.” The United Front Department of the Chinese Communist Party has been involved in disseminating information on the project to Chinese organizations in Europe.

38Efforts to reinstitutionalize contacts between Peking and the overseas Chinese have been accompanied by the revival of a nationalist discourse similar to that used between the two world wars, but adapted to the fact that most Chinese overseas are now foreign citizens. The director of the national Qiaoban noted in 1986 that huaren (foreign citizens who are ethnic Chinese) are “not only much more in number than huaqiao (Chinese citizens abroad), but also have much more advantages in financial resources, talented persons, and relations with Taiwan. Therefore, the huaren should be the main object at work on Overseas Chinese” (Zhuang 2000).

39Without officially changing the government’s policy principles, media reporting on the overseas Chinese has been put to the service of a triumphalist, unificatory, and mobilizing myth of Chineseness as an eternal cultural condition inherited with blood and, regardless of citizenship, naturally carrying “Chinese values” such as love for the family, subordination of the individual to the collective interest, diligence, and frugality, and thus resulting in superior business results. In this reporting, previously rigidly separated categories of huaqiao, huaren (ethnic Chinese), and huayi (person of Chinese ancestry) are conflated, and the usual term now is huaren, sometimes qualified as waiji huaren (ethnic Chinese with foreign citizenship). This discourse combines cul-turalist and racist arguments with the lingo of Western business schools.

The new migrant discourse

40Reviving contacts with old overseas Chinese communities has been a long and carefully executed process for the PRC authorities. But since 1978 and especially 1985, the year when a law liberalizing travel abroad was adopted, millions of new migrants have left the Chinese mainland to study, join relatives, work, or trade abroad. They, many of them urban, had never broken ties with the authorities. Most had accumulated some social capital in the form of connections they had used to smooth the administration of their departure. In the interest of their business’ success, and then increasingly with the degree of this success, they worked even harder on expanding these connections thereafter.

Pragmatic official parlance

41As Zhuang Guotu writes, “two changes have attracted the attention of the Chinese government from 1978 onward. One is the Overseas Chinese wealth, and the other is the new Chinese emigrants” (Zhuang 2000). People who have left China since 1978, regardless of the purpose of their departure and of their status as huaqiao, huaren, or even students returned from abroad, are now often referred to in official parlance as “new migrants” or “new emigrants” (xin yimin). This pragmatic usage recognizes that once a person has left the PRC she is unlikely to return permanently, at least without having established a social space abroad to which to return in the future. While such a use of the term “migrant” reflects the reality of modern migratory phenomena better than official Western usage, it reflects, at the same time, the long way the Chinese Communist government has come from the “normal” paradigm of state socialism that considered talking about emigration in terms other than defection tantamount to admitting its own failure.

42This turnaround is reflected in a new type of lowbrow popular narrative that is examined below. At the same time, a distinctive official discourse has also emerged around the “new migrants” that recognizes them as a highly useful resource for economic construction in China, the attraction of foreign investors and business partners. They are also seen as the new leadership of overseas Chinese communities in Japan, the US, and Europe, which are judged as losing touch with the homeland and Chinese culture. This discourse, which involves arguments of development, modernity and patriotism, is reflected in a series of publications by officials in the overseas Chinese studies journals Overseas Chinese History Studies (Huaqiao Huaren Lishi Yanjiu) and Overseas Chinese History of Bagui (Bagui Qiaoshi) as well as other periodicals. These articles state that since the late 1980s, the Qiaoban and the foreign affairs ministry have issued directives on strengthening new migrant work. In one article in Fujian Qiaobao, new migrants from Mingxi are portrayed as people who want to become modern (zou xiang shijie, they “march toward the world”) and contribute to the development of the homeland: “Thanks to benefits provided by Mingxi County, the column of new migrants going to Europe that grows day after day plays an important role in the construction of the homeland” (Zhang 1997).

43Another article (significant because an anonymous work team wrote it clearly on instructions from the Qiaoban and the Public Security Bureau) recommends the provision of better services to migrants such as the establishment of municipal migration service centers. It quotes the State Council’s “Opinion on unfolding new migrant work” (Guanyu kaizhan xin yimin gongzuo di yijian, probably 1995):

Since reform and opening, people who have left mainland China to reside abroad (called “new migrants” for short) have continuously been more numerous. They are currently rising as an important force within overseas Chinese and ethnic Chinese communities. In the future, they will become a backbone of forces friendly to us in America and some other developed Western countries (Shanghai New Migrants Research Project Team 1997).

From treacherous to patriotic

44In the 1980s, students abroad were sometimes still criticized as unpatriotic, and their host countries as “brain plunderers.” After Tiananmen, the United States and Australia were attacked for providing them asylum. By now, in just over two decades, the nature of emigration has turned from treacherous to tolerated but ideologically suspect to patriotic. Even former asylum seekers, who claim that the Chinese government persecuted them, can now be seen as patriots. Once recognized as refugees, most of these migrants go back to China and cultivate contacts with authorities without being penalized. A delegation of Fujianese officials even met with asylum seekers in London in January 2000! Officials have mentioned “internal recommendations” that as long as the migrant has secured legal residence abroad, he should not receive prejudicial treatment because of having left the country illegally.

45All of this shows that the state brokers of migration are thinking of migrants as people who remain part of the Chinese economy and polity, strengthen the ties of overseas Chinese to China, and, as highly skilled professionals and successful busi-nesspeople, improve the standing of Chinese in their host societies. The language used to describe them is distinct from the culturalist, traditionalist language used in reportage about and for overseas Chinese. It is closer to the late Maoist language used in publications describing society in China, abounding in references to construction, modernization, and leadership, though both discourses are united by frequent references to patriotism. This difference enforces the sense that new migrants, unlike the old diaspora, are bound to China not only by ties of blood and culture but by sharing the modernizing goal of the state.

Conflicts between national and local politics

46Investment from established overseas Chinese communities has accounted for the majority of foreign direct investment in China, and it is no exaggeration to say that China’s economic growth as we know it would have been impossible without it. Currently, however, authorities have an interest in new migrants as potential links to foreign (non-Chinese) investors as they feel the steam of overseas Chinese investment is running out; in addition, they see them, unlike “old overseas Chinese,” as capable of investing in high-tech industries.

47Beyond the 1993 law that grants certain general protections to investments by overseas Chinese as well as by their family members in China using remittances from abroad, provincial and local authorities have room to establish their own policies to promote investment and trade. Shanghai began offering special investment benefits to “new migrants” in 1993. Within 8 months it attracted 95 high-tech companies established by them (Zhu 1995). Shanghai, Peking, Xi’an and other cities established liuxuesheng chuangyeyuan (in the official translation, “High-Tech Parks for Returned Students Making Great Industry and Business”) (Li 2002).

48The argument that it is the PRC’s policy to encourage emigration to alleviate unemployment and generate revenue is shared by numerous scholars. Meanwhile, ideas of a deliberate “demographic expansion” by China as well as revived fifth-column theories—seeing overseas Chinese as a political pawn that can be mobilized by the Chinese government in international conflicts—are on the rise in various quarters: among politicians in the Russian Far East, journalists in Southeast Asia, and sometimes in US media, as in the recent spying case of Chinese-American physicist Wen Ho Lee. In this view, increasing (or so perceived) migration from China and/or resurgent Chinese nationalism overseas is clearly linked to the PRC’s great-power aspirations.

The multiplicity of state agency

49Such views fail to take into account the complexity of state agency vis-a-vis migrants. Other sending countries of migrants, such as Mexico, El Salvador, or the Philippines, have utilized migration in ways strikingly similar to the PRC, and provided more overt support for the migration projects of their citizens. Mexican government agencies have not just encouraged the establishment of hometown associations by Mexican migrants in the United States but have created schemes under which every dollar donated by such an association for the development of the hometown is matched by one, two, or three dollars of state money (Migration News 2000). El Salvador’s government has dispatched agents to help migrants to the United States apply for political asylum on the grounds of being persecuted by that very government. In the Philippines, a debate is emerging on granting undocumented Filipinos abroad voting rights. In each case, the ratio of migrants to the total population is much higher than in China. Yet, for obvious reasons of size and general political mistrust, the Chinese case is surrounded by much greater suspicions. Whereas in federal systems with elected governments, such as Mexico, the multiplicity of state agency is taken for granted, it is customary to treat the PRC as a single agent and to overlook the agency of local and provincial administrations pursuing their interests. It is also customary to disregard the agency of overseas Chinese elites themselves wishing to gain access to economic and social capital.

50In fact, the interests of central authorities differ from those of the provinces and the lower rungs of the administration. There also are conflicts of interest between departments (overseas Chinese affairs versus foreign affairs). Typically, higher-level organs will be more concerned with the negative effects of migration, such as flight of assets and the damage illegal migration and, in some cases, low-quality goods sold by Chinese in Eastern Europe does to the reputation of China and Chinese products abroad. Local political elites have a more direct, and purely economic, interest in migration and overseas Chinese. Like in any other business, local political elites are keen to have a share in it, both on behalf of the state and their own. Officials in areas with greater foreign investment express doubts about doing business with new migrants, referring to past negative experiences. An official at the Putian County Foreign Economic Relations Commission said, “they call themselves European this and Eastern European that, but in the end there was only one of them that we trusted.” He said that they were more interested in attracting “foreign,” i.e., non-Chinese, capital.

51There may also be conflicts between branches of the bureaucracy, such as foreign affairs organs (which have to fend off diplomatic problems arising from illegal migration and accusations of “demographic expansionism” in Russia) versus overseas Chinese affairs organs (whose influence grows with the growth of the diaspora), while foreign economic relations organs may take an in-between stand. Finally, there may be conflicts even within the overseas Chinese affairs apparatus.

The nation-state and migration

52It has been acknowledged that while migration weakens the state, transnational links can work to extend it. The deterritorialization of the nation-state can actually make it stronger. This is particularly so in cases like China’s, where most migrants have experienced little institutional or discursive participation in the practice of citizenship before they left. The state, with its institutions, symbols, and officials, is frequently less involved in the everyday life of a peasant than of a migrant. Furthermore, while a migrant may have felt disenfranchised by the status quo as a farmer, worker, or state employee in China, he acquires a vested interest in it as an entrepreneur abroad who sees a hope for his fortunes and his recognition in forging relations with the elite at home. Finally,

53a migrant has more opportunity to make his views heard at home through migrant-produced media without going beyond the realm tolerated by the government. Both of these topics are discussed in more detail in the following sections.

Glick Schiller, Basch and Szanton Blanc on the deterritorialized nation-state see p. 109

54But the celebration of migrants by sending states—not just China—is now in its honeymoon stage. Migrants revel in newfound recognition as patriots, and significantly, unlike migrants from other countries, are reaping economic benefits rather than simply being donors. It is a question when Chinese migrants, like their Mexican counterparts whose support for Vicente Fox helped end the 71-year rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, will demand a real say in the political process. Economic changes in China—such as a general slowdown or lowered competitiveness of Chinese products abroad—can bring this moment forward.

Producing the global imagery of new Chineseness overseas: the media

55In the previous sections I focused on the creation of the “new migrant” discourse by the state. Here I would like to explore how the imaginary of the new migrant as embodiment of a new, modern and triumphant Chineseness is propagated. Who is involved in its creation and perpetuation and why?

56To what extent does the Chinese state’s official discourse on “new migrants” shape the image of a globally successful Chinese patriot? What is the role of migrants themselves? How is identity construction among recent migrants manipulated by elites that participate in this imagining process? Finally, are foreign and Chinese academics riding on the wave of interest in global Chineseness themselves contributing to it? This last point, of course, also addresses a general question about the distinguishability of the researcher from her field, an assumption regarded as axiomatic—but increasingly questionable—in Western scholarship but still not an aim in the bulk of Chinese social studies.

New migrant media as producers

57Official narratives of new migrants as patriots contributing to the development of their home country are being promoted and amplified by the media. Chinese globalization may have been relying mainly on personal communication, but is rapidly becoming mediated: in the second half of the 1990s, not only various commercial television channels but also China Central Television (CCTV) has begun broadcasting via satellite. In Hungary, nearly every Chinese I have spoken to regularly watches CCTV and Chinese Channel, the first Chinese satellite station broadcasting specifically for Europe.

Schein on mediated transnationalism see pp. 128-139

58Driven by higher education levels as well as greater access to news and multimedia, the growth of media run by new Chinese migrants has been much more rapid than in earlier periods. In Hungary, there currently are eight or nine Chinese-language periodicals for a Chinese population of around 10,000. In Japan, more than ten new Chinese-language papers were launched in 1997–98, and a Chinese-language television channel began broadcasting in late 1999 (Tajima 2000).

59New migrant media share a remarkably standard content, style, and layout. The style of new migrant newspapers is strongly influenced by the ’ideologemes’ of PRC officialese. For instance, during a time of heightened US–Chinese tensions, in 2000–01, front pages of three different Chinese papers published in Budapest sported headlines such as US: ESCHEWING WAR ON ONE HAND, PREPARING FOR WAR ON THE OTHER (Meiguo: yimian zai bimian zhanzheng, yimian zai zhunbei zhanzheng; OuYa Xinwenbao, 17–24 July 2000), “CHINA THREAT THEORY” CANNOT THREATEN CHINA (“Zhongguo weixie lun” weixiebuliao Zhongguo; Zhonghua Shibao, 21–27 September 2000) and TURN PATRIOTIC FERVOUR INTO NATIONAL POWER (Ba aiguo reqing huawei qiangguo liliang; Shijie Qiaobao, 15 April 2001). Shared layout includes the wording and positioning of and choice of fonts for titles and subtitles, the kinds of photos (ranging from protocol pictures of leaders to soft-core pornography), and so on. Although this style has been seeping into established overseas Chinese newspapers, there is still a gap between the two kinds of publications in terms of both their language and layout.

60New migrant media contribute to the construction of a ’global Chinese’ identity with shared values, raising cultural Chineseness and transnational modernity in importance above the immediate environment the reader happens to be in. This global orientation becomes obvious from the titles of Chinese papers in Hungary. Six of them emphasize Chineseness, Europeanness/globality, or both: Ouzhou zhi Sheng (Voice of Europe), Ouzhou Daobao (European Herald), Zhonghua Shibao (China Times), OuYa Xinwenbao (European–Chinese News Weekly), Shijie Qiaobao (literally World Overseas Chinese News, English title: The World Press), OuHua Luntan (European Chinese Forum). Three have neutral titles: Lianhe Shangbao (United Commercial News), Shichang (Markets), Xin Daobao (New Herald). And only one, Budapeisi Wanbao (Budapest Evening News), has a title that refers to where it is published.

61There are magazines conceived expressly with a ’global Chinese’ positioning; some of them are produced in Hong Kong, others in the US;

62The latter has the slogan ’Saluting the Descendants of the Dragon, saluting the Chinese race.’ Who’s Who is formatted as a society magazine, with a price somewhat higher than Cosmopolitan’s. It contains interviews with personalities ranging from the ethnic Chinese Governor-General of Canada through overseas Chinese businessmen and artists to party officials and generals in the PRC; the one thing most of them have in common is having been photographed with high PRC officials as well as local dignitaries (preferably presidents). Apart from advertisements of luxury hotels in Budapest and the address on the colophon, there is no indication that the magazine has anything to do with Hungary. It is in Chinese, with an editorial in English, and carries a price tag in US dollars, marks, and renminbi.

63All papers have a page devoted to overseas Chinese in the world. These pages offer fiction and reporting that frequently depict the dynamic, resourceful, transnational Chinese businessman. They portray the experiences of Chinese in their countries of residence in a humorous way, or report on atrocities committed against Chinese (from rapes and murder in Indonesia to the spying case of Wen Ho Lee, the Chinese-American physicist). The newspapers also report on contributions of local Chinese and Chinese elsewhere to donation drives in China intended to build schools, bridges, or roads. In the same official terms of patriotism and development, the papers describe the visits to China by local Chinese organizations to participate in congresses and state celebrations.

64The World Press has two such pages: “News from Chinatown” and “Chinese Overseas.” The titles of one day, 15 April 2001, provide a picture of the Chinese universe the paper projects:

65The six times I cried in America

66Canadian committee for the defense of truth in the history of the anti-Japanese war strongly protests Japanese attempts to re-write history

67My views on “seeing money and not taking it” in Germany

68Mad growth rate of Chinese with Vanuatu passports

69What kind of new immigrants can easily find work in Canada

70Chinese-American Youth’s trip to China’s six ancient capitals’ Summer camp

71Asian-Americans reach 1.2 million

72Going back to Hong Kong with mainland passport needs visa

73Hong Kong and Macau members of China’s Association of Overseas Chinese, Overseas Chinese leaders visit Yunnan

74Chinese in Hungary commiserate with victims, condemn NATO’s hegemonic behavior Ugandan Chinese support Chinese government’s strong stand

75By presenting a homogenized worldwide Chineseness, the papers simultaneously reproduce the Chinese/foreign dichotomy and re-“other” the foreign. Chinese and Western globalizations are pitted against each other. On news pages, America in particular is portrayed as China’s adversary scheming to prevent China’s assumption of its rightful international stature, with articles often carrying Cold War-style titles like “The bankruptcy of America’s new anti-Chinese show” (on the Wen Ho Lee case, in Zhonghua Shibao, 23 December 1999). The same issue carried an article titled “America, breeding-ground of heretical sects,” implying support for the view that the Falun-gong sect was financed out of America as another subversive tool.

76At the same time, the papers are keen to participate in the discussion of hot topics from American society and media pages. For example, Europe–Asia News Weekly published Monica Lewinsky’s autobiography. Belligerence against the Anglo-Saxon West is thus linked to voyeurism of the Anglo-Saxon West, primarily America.

77The similarity of content is in part a technical necessity as newspapers usually work with a small staff and have to rely on the same pool of content from the internet. Most of the content and all political commentary in Chinese newspapers in Hungary comes from PRC-based websites. Yet the range of opinions expressed in reporting on sensitive political issues—including any coverage of Chinese or American politics, and particularly the Taiwan issue or NATO’s bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade—is, in fact, more narrowly aligned with the People’s Daily line than what is tolerated in PRC media. The reasons for such uniformity will be explored toward the end of this block.

”New migrant” versus ”overseas Chinese”

78“New migrant” media evoke not simply a transnational overseas Chinese world, but more specifically a transnational discourse of the new migrant, fascinated with the West, concerned with the techniques of migration, sensitive to discrimination, and preoccupied with “national power.” There is little of the traditional, locally focused reporting on overseas Chinese organizations, charities, social events and so on.

79The papers are eager to distance the modernity of the new migrants from the ambivalent image of traditional overseas Chinese. The latter, in the eyes of ’metropolitan’—northern-oriented—PRC culture, is a group that, despite having served as a bridge to the West for a long time, has never fully shed its stain of boorishness inherent in its rural Southern origins and is not seen as sufficiently authentically Chinese, modern, global, or mobile.

80In an interview in Shijie Rongyin (“Worldwide Voice of Fuqing,” published in Hong Kong), the president of the Melbourne Fuqing Association said:

In Australia, Chinese immigrants are divided into new and old immigrants. ... New immigrants refers to those that came since 1988–1989. Old immigrants refers to those who came over from Southeast Asia. It is impossible to discuss old immigrants together with new immigrants. Old immigrants, once they have finished washing gold, will certainly send it home; they will just have a simple abode in Australia, not caring about getting involved in local social life. Therefore twenty years ago, Chinese were considered the most backward ethnic group in Australia.
New migrants have all received higher education; they have a strong ability to live here and develop quickly. ... Last year, in a comparison of over 200 ethnic groups in Australia, the Chinese community rose to fifth place. (“Zheng Changhou tan Aozhou Rongqing” [Zheng Changhou about Fuqing fellowship in Australia], Shijie Rongyin, June 2001, p. 17.)

81In this social Darwinist construct, division between Chinese migrants from Southeast Asia and mainland China is commuted into a time division, where mainland Chinese are newer and more skilled thus more modern. This, of course, glosses over the fact that many new mainland Chinese migrants are unskilled and often illegal, while many Southeast Asian Chinese are recent professional migrants or investors in “modern” businesses like real estate. This narrative also reverses the actual social hierarchy in Australia, in which Southeast Asian Chinese enjoy more prestige and acceptance than mainland Chinese.

82Consider another example. When asked how his project was different from old Chinatowns, Song Wuqiang, the man in charge of a project to build the Asia Center in Budapest, heralded as the largest shopping center in Europe, answered characteristically:

The old generation of migrants was, in some ways, passive... The Asia Center’s site has been selected after having studied the investment and market environment of various countries ... [It is] based on large-scale modern trade . The Asia Center is an active initiative, not a bigger or smaller market that serves the livelihood of strangers in a foreign land. (“Yazhou Zhongxin Asia Center,” Zhonghua Shibao, 20–26 July 2000, p. I.)

The excerpt below, from an article on Howard Li inShijie Huaren Mingrenlu, Budapest, 4/2000, p. 30), a garment manufacturer, importer, and warehouse owner based in New York, in a magazine published in Budapest, is a typical depiction of a ’successful new migrant’.

Howard Li with World Bank director James Wolfensohn and Bill Clinton

83In The World Press, Song claimed no less than that “the Asia Center, while raising the international profile of Hungary, will also contribute to Hungary’s Olympic application”! In other words, the new Chinese migrants are agents of a truly global modernizing mission that will benefit their destinations.

The new migrant in pop culture

84The same tropes appear in the popular body of pulp fiction/reportage and soap operas that has taken off since A Beijing Man in New York, the classic by Cao Guilin, and have become known as “new migrant literature.” The West, and the act of migration, are shown as a locus of seduction and modernity.

Barmé on the series A Beijing Man in New York
in Barmé 1999, pp. 275-276.
A Beijing Man in New York was the first mainland television series filmed entirely on location overseas. It was also the first show of its type that attempted to reflect the fate of recent mainland immigrants to the West, being based on Glen Cao’s (Cao Guilin) popular book of the same name, a work that had created a frenzy of interest when it was first serialized and broadcast on radio in 1991.
Cao’s ”novel” was only one of a number of books in a genre of mainland writing hailed as ”new immigrant literature” following its appearance in the late 1980s. It constituted a widely read genre that, over the years, tended to confirm many popular stereotypes of the West as being a realm lacking the ”human sentiment,” renqingwei’r, that theoretically suffused Chinese life with a warmth, closeness, and compassion unknown to any other peoples. The West, pitiless to immigrants from Asia, was excessively materialistic, exploitative, and essentially racist, not to mention imperialistic vis-a-vis the Chinese. The general tone of these works, in particular Cao’s book, also fortuitously fulfilled some of the needs of post-1989 propaganda—as well as satisfying popular curiosity and prurience. They depicted the horrors of Western capitalism at the same time as they affirmed the positive dimensions (rags to riches) of the market economy that China was pursuing with such single-mindedness.

Displays of modernity: breaking hierarchies

85One sign of modernity is the breaking of age hierarchies and gender taboos associated with traditional overseas Chinese. In Chen Dian and Chen Mei’s novel Sheng he (Sacred river; Beijing: Wenhua Yishu Chubanshe, 1997), the protagonist, Pan, meets a snake-head—a migration broker—on the plane to Budapest.

86Upon arrival, the broker, who lead a group of Fujianese peasants from whom he had collected a fee, disappears. The deceived Fujianese hold Pan responsible, believing he is an accomplice. Pan is saved by an 18-year-old girl, Shanshan, the daughter of a Chinese entrepreneur and community leader, who comes to the airport to meet him. Shanshan drives a Mercedes-Benz SL and manages her father’s restaurant. Pan confidently suggests to her that they look for the snakehead and get the peasants’ money back by force. But Shanshan looks at him derisively:

Fig. 6.3. Chen Dian and Chen Mei, Sheng He

87“I am asking you what you are planning to do now?” the lass said angrily. “We don’t need you to fight!”

88Pan Hua stared at her helplessly. (...)

89“A dumb kid we got there...” the lass muttered. Pan Hua realized that she meant him and became red in the face (p. 26).

90Shanshan’s portrait is drawn with some irony, but with a great deal of triumphalism. She exemplifies the new generation of successful, modern, dynamic, and thoroughly global Chinese. While it often took decades for earlier generations of migrants to rise from washing dishes to opening their own little mom-and-pop restaurant, there are new migrants in Budapest and Rome who acquired several restaurants or workshops at a speed that required installing daughters in early twenties as managers while they negotiated outside or took care of trading. Shanshan’s modernity is expressed not only in her business acumen and material requisites but also in her authority over locals: “Three Hungarian waiters in black vests and white shirts tiptoed up to Shanshan’s chair from behind and quietly stood there with a nervous and earnest expression on their face” (p. 62).

91An even more unequivocal reversal of gender hierarchies is in Mu Yunkai’s story “Budapest, I hate you forever,” published in a Chinese newspaper in Hungary. Here, however, it is shown as an undesirable result of the clash between moral values and the pursuit of modernity: the protagonist hates Budapest as the city that broke her family apart. She had come to Budapest ahead of her husband and child, and opened a stall at the market with the help of a cohabiting partner. Then she separated from him and arranged for her husband to come to Budapest. But he refused to help her with the business, and she put up with it because of the guilt she felt for the illicit relationship. He sold the market stalls she had bought but lost the money. In the story, she returns from New York to Budapest to rescue her former husband:

... He used to be rather masculine, but by now he had lost all semblance to a human. I took six thousand dollars out of my handbag, put them on the chair next to the bed, and said coldly: “This money is to pay your bills; otherwise, your life’d be over. I am giving you another five hundred dollars; buy a plane ticket and go back to Jinan. ... And this is the last time I helped you” (Mu Yunkai, “Hen Budapeisi dao yongyuan,” OuYa Xinwenbao, 1–8, 2001).

Displays of modernity: contrasts with ”old” overseas Chinese

92In the Southeast Fujian TV’s soap opera Zouru ouzhou (Into Europe, 1999), based on A Hang’s novel, director Chen Kemin shows a clash between the rules of family-managed migration from Qingtian, Zhejian Province, a traditional sending area of migrants to Europe, with the individualism of the modern migrant. His sympathies are on the side of the latter. An “overseas Chinese family” agrees with their cousin in China that the cousin’s daughter will come to Italy to marry their Italian-born son. The plot is kept secret from the girl, and after a clash with the host family she elopes, not with her original paramour who joined her in coming to Italy, but with the repentant snake-head who had stolen her passport.

93The male protagonist of the film—the heroine’s original boyfriend—arrives in Paris in a torn T-shirt without a penny. After a few months, he is a manager in a company owned by an ’old’ overseas Chinese and proposes a plan to open a Chinese art gallery to a French art agent. In fluent French, he praises Chinese reforms and informs the Frenchman that he has already secured the support of the Chinese embassy and funding from China. The Frenchman, impressed, agrees. His status soon surpasses that of his former benefactor and boss: the French-born granddaughter of the ’old’ overseas Chinese man comes to him to ask for a job, but he rejects her as unqualified. Yet he does not stop at that, but proceeds to a more ambitious project. “Ladies and gentlemen!” he announces to his French audience, pointing to the drawing of a building complex with pagoda-style roofs. “What will be different on the new map of Paris two years from now? The beautiful banks of the Seine will be full of Oriental splendor: the Chinatown Investment and Trade Center!” The audience breaks into applause: the new Chinese shows the Western establishment the road to a new, Chinese modernity.

94Most of the migrants I have interviewed had seen at least some of these soap operas either before migrating or afterwards, and many said they had influenced their image of the destination country. The soap operas and books project a normative myth of the new migrant that partly reflects what new migrants themselves wish to be seen like. This myth, in turn, informs potential migrants’ and nonmigrants’ expectations and offers migrants models of behavior.

Migrant elites as producers

Identity narratives of new migrant organizations

95Most of these organization have been founded in the 1980s and 90s, many of them with the support from the PRC. The associations strive to be a bridge not only between their constituencies and local society, but also between China and the country of residence, and sometimes name specific areas of business they wish to promote or information services they offer. They receive and send delegations, organize fundraising drives to build schools and help flood victims in China, both in and outside the native-place area. Organizing festivities on traditional Chinese holidays and, increasingly, on state holidays of the PRC are another important part of the activities of overseas Chinese organizations’ activities.

96The associations’ activities and discourses around the world are remarkably standardized. Even association premises are decorated with the same little banners and mementos received from Chinese government bodies and from each other and with photographs with Chinese officials.

A comparison of commemorative booklets

97To test this observation, let us look at commemorative booklets issued by three organizations on the occasions of their respective anniversaries; The Fukien American Association (the largest association representing migrants from Fujian Province on the East Coast of the United States); the Algemene Chinese Vereniging (General Chinese Association; the largest association of migrants from Zhejiang Province in the Netherlands); the Association of Fujianese in Macau. All three comprise mainly new migrants.

Fig. 6.4. ”Fujian Province Executive Vice Governor Zhang Jiakun receives an enthusiastic welcome from members of Fukien American Association during his visit to the United States”

Fig. 6.5. ”Mr. Liang Hongji, Chairman of the 1981 National Day Celebration delivers his speech to the Algemene Chinese Vereniging”

Fig. 6.6. ”Celebrating the 49th Anniversary of the Founding of the PRC and the Ninth Anniversary of the Association of Fujianese in Macau”

Economic expediency

98The show of nationalism we see in both media and organizations is influenced by economic expediency. Newspaper owners also run other businesses that largely depend on access to goods, business information, and capital in China. Since such access is greatly influenced by relations with authorities, publishers do not wish to seem less loyal than their competitors.

Nyíri on why Chinese do business with Chinese
Although business networks between Chinese overseas and China are often described in terms of cultural affinity or loyalty, their formation and operation has to do with economic benefits as well as with power asymmetries. First, it is cheaper for Chinese entrepreneurs to hire employees in China than in Europe, and to employ family members than outsiders. Second, whereas they often dispose of cultural capital in China in the form of social position and connections, they encounter exclusion on ethnic and cultural basis when attempting to forge business contacts in the West.

99Editors of a new-migrant newspaper in New Zealand, who have since moved to New York, say that their paper was denied advertisements by the local office of state-owned Air China when it displayed a critical attitude to the PRC government. They explained that newspapers, because they are usually sent to some overseas-Chinese affairs officials in China, were also often the first points of contact for government delegations. They could then farm out the lucrative business of accommodating, banqueting, and escorting the delegations to local Chinese companies and get a commission for it. This business too was closed to this couple due to the critical tone of their paper. But apart from such considerations, editors must see a reader desire to consume nationalism.

Demonstrating patriotism

100At the time of the demonstrations against the NATO bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade that swept across Europe and were reflected in Chinese newspaper headlines, I was in Bucharest, Romania. The news at the Europe Market, the center of Chinese commercial activity in Bucharest, was that the Romanian president—this is how it was told—did not allow a demonstration. The leaders of the three strongest Chinese associations then decided to hold a demonstration within the confines of the market. Their argument was that, in any case, they could take photos and send them back to China. Photos with high Chinese officials and newspaper articles commending someone for patriotism are assets of considerable importance when doing business or dealing with officials back in China.

101Organization leaders I interviewed, from the President of the Fujian association in the Netherlands to the President of the Fuqing association in New York, invariably had such photos exhibited in their offices and showed me such articles. The self-serving nature of such displays has elicited similar criticism in places as diverse as New York and Rome. Stephen Wong, the President of the Lin Ze Xu Foundation in New York, who too had such photos on the walls of his office, said nonetheless in March 2001: “Many associations raise high the Five-Star Red Flag [of the PRC]. I tell them: you spend so much money on throwing parties for Chinese officials.” According to Wong, many associations exist for their leaders to take photos with Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji and use them in China to do business or toudu. He pointed to a photo in his office:

See, he has a picture with Zhu Rongji, but not even all provincial governor have taken photos with Zhu Rongji. Provincial officials are afraid of being caught for corruption. (Carrying such a photo is like saying:) I have good relations with Zhu Rongji; you give me money so I won’t tell him that you are corrupt. I take the money to Hong Kong, then back to Fujian. And drugs: to take drugs through customs. The customs agents put a “Re-checked” sticker on the baggage, and then even the Malaysian and Singaporean customs don’t bother opening them. And when the baggage came via Malaysia or Singapore, which have such strict drug laws, the US customs won’t bother opening them either. Or if a snakehead gets caught, a friend can take his photo (with a leader) to the local government: he is a patriotic overseas Chinese leader!

102What Zhu Dinglong, a Chinese living in Italy, has to say about the Chinese association in Rome echoes this:

In Rome, there is a Chinese community association that is supported by our Embassy . it does not task itself particularly with the affairs of the Chinese that live here. They do one single thing: when delegations from China visit, the Association pressures Chinese restaurants in the key cities to offer meals or money to contribute to the stay or the gifts made to these delegations. But what do all these Chinese that contribute one or two million [lire] a head stand to gain? They stand to gain good relations with the Embassy, they stand to gain in guanxi, or connections: if one of those Chinese who has put money on the table needs help later, the Embassy will certainly be more solicitous with him than with an ordinary Chinese. Furthermore, each time the supporters of the Association’s activities get to go to Peking to take part in a meeting of huaqiao associations from all over the world, they may get the chance to have a photo taken with the top leaders and feel closer to the power (Zhu 1997).

103Chen Tiequn, provisional chairman of the Fujian association in Italy, is quite candid about the instrumental nature of his organization as a receptacle of contacts with official China. He says the establishment of the tongxianghui was motivated by three factors. First, Fujian provincial leaders came to visit Italy and there was nobody to receive them formally. Second, every year there were world Fujianese congresses, and you couldn’t go on select people randomly for these congresses as well as to represent Fujianese in Italy toward the province and embassy. Third, there was a need to explain to the embassy and the province “what kind of people the Fujianese in Italy were; otherwise they wouldn’t know whether these people were engaged in legal or illegal business.” (The embassy would not efficiently help individual applicants seeking to obtain proofs of identity required to obtain legal resident status in the regularization campaigns in Italy. The embassy would help when approached by the tongxianghui as an intermediary.)

104Thus, we have an instrumentalization of the traditional and emotionally charged notion of the native place and the native-place organization by various Chinese officials as well as by migrant elites for their respective goals: mobilization and control by the state, “flexible accumulation” and legitimization of power by the migrant elites.

Scholars as producers

In the West

105The topic of overseas Chinese and of Chinese migration is currently in vogue not only in the media but also in the academia, both in- and outside China. Business-school authors have contributed with numerous volumes to the literature about the overseas Chinese (or global Chinese) business networks that have attracted great interest following the economic successes of the “Asian tigers” and China itself. Some telling titles: “Inside the Overseas Chinese Network” (Sender 1991), The Bamboo Network (Weidenbaum 1996), The Spirit of Chinese Capitalism (Redding 1990), Confucianism and Economic Development: An Oriental Alternative? (Tai 1989). The “Asian crisis” of 1997 cast some doubts on the cultural explanations of “Asian” economic growth, but doesn’t seem to have ended the tide of research undertakings on the subject, as the continuing spate of conferences and articles demonstrates.

Nyíri on the story behind ”Asian values”: cultural determinism
Many Western academics and business schools have produced cultural explanations to explain the ”economic miracles,” first of the ”tiger economies” and then of the PRC at a time of stagnation in the West. These had a spiritual ancestor in the nihonjinron, theories of Japanese distinctiveness that had existed since the eighteenth century but enjoyed a boom in the 1970s and 80s as a means of explaining the nature of Japan’s economic success (Yoshino 1992). For economists, of course, there was a set of measurable parameters that constituted the ”Asian model,” e.g. high savings rates, low overhead costs, low social spendings, etc. But others immediately became preoccupied with the values that supposedly stood behind these parameters: e.g. thrift behind high savings rates, a family-oriented society behind low social spending. So they came up with ”Asian values” such as—to present a typical set—sacrificing the present for the future, education, teamwork, planning for the long term, stability of society, acceptance of inequality, and virtuous behavior (Hofstede & Bond 1988). This kind of values was very similar to those Weber pointed to arguing that Asian ethics were incompatible with capitalist development, except these people were arguing the opposite.
According to these authors, ”Chinese capitalism” is ”guanxi capitalism” where guanxi, or ”business networks” are a management principle to be studied and shared ethnicity is an essential feature. The shared business culture of guanxi underlies the powerful ”bamboo network” of ”Greater China,” i.e. China, Taiwan, Hong Kong plus the overseas Chinese of Southeast Asia, for which it is fashionable to produce awesome GDP and capitalization figures, however methodologically impossible this appears. The overseas Chinese businessmen are ”selective” and ”cliquish” but ”fabulously wealthy,” and Americans are advised to foster guanxi with them so as to get help in entering the market of China itself. Weidenbaum and Hughes (1996), for example, write that ”businesses that make up the bamboo network are unified by a common language, background, a Confucian tradition, and a culture that places its trust in hard work and family strength” (see also Sender 1991).
Both Westerners and, at that time to a lesser extent, ethnic Chinese academics in the US and Hong Kong pioneered this corpus of literature. The first authors were usually political scientists or sociologists, but they wrote books intended for businessmen and certainly not measuring up to any scholarly standard. This was one of the earliest examples of the now-common trend of area-studies academics acting as business and political consultants. This is important, because it is easy to see their intent to market themselves as intercultural experts, and because these people served as bridges between Asian political discourse and Western business discourse (e.g. Redding 1990, Rozman 1991, Tai 1989, King 1991).
Although applied in social sciences in America since the Second World War, cultural relativism became mainstream only after the idea that there is an ”Asian economic model” became accepted, around the mid-nineties, and demand for ”area specialists” rose. Unlike former sovietologists who had mostly been political scientists, many Asia specialists had traditionally been anthropologists, thus belonging to a discipline associated with antiestablishment, alternative politics, and they were often supportive of political systems such as China’s. In addition, they had been largely sidelined compared to Eastern Europe hands. They were now glad to advance their ideas—quite apart from opportunistic self-marketing motives. Rhoads Murphey, also past president of AAS, wrote (Murphey, 2001) that ”we must first accept that East Asians’ values and goals differ from ours.” And then, cultural relativists would continue, refrain from judging their societies using our values. This created a theoretical basis for accepting the ”values” enshrined in the ”guanxi capitalism” discourse as ”Asian values.”
The empirical justification for selecting these values was then furnished by experimental psychological studies (mostly already done) such as those by Bond, Hofstede, Kuo-shu Yang, etc. It should be noted, however, that not all studies of Chinese social psychology had come up with these values. For example, a study by Wilson (1974) and Bloom (1977) conclude that Chinese children, far from being ”ethnocentric” or ”heterocentric,” are more ”autocentric” than American children, and that this, too, can be tied to Confucianism, but to its aspect stressing personal integrity and righteousness as justification for opposing tyrannical authority. Proponents of Asian values simply selected the studies that suited them.
Ethnic Chinese scholars promoted the ”guanxi capitalism” approach not only for Western but also for Chinese audiences, in Hong Kong and Taiwan. But in Taiwan, interest in this theory declined with the decline of government interest in promoting authoritarianism.
In the meantime, the discourse was picked up by Asian leaders who, after the end of the Cold War and Tiananmen, were keen to find justification for authoritarianism. Also, while these countries had benefited from the globalization of their economies (and used the same developmental yardstick to measure the advancement of their countries as the West), they felt threatened by the push for labor and environmental standards that would have raised the cost of their exports. In fact, the invention of positive ”Asian values” was possible only because of economic success and the cultural explanations provided by Western academics. As Ong writes:
American business academics ... mediate between business-speak, or what Bruce Cumings calls ”Rimspeak” (Cumings 1993) and the self-Orientalizing discourses of ethnic Chinese spokesmen in Southeast Asia. Lee Kuan Yew cites Joel Kotkin’s book Tribes (Kotkin 1992) to claim that ”networking between people of the same race has always existed,” thus gaining a scientific gloss from an essentialist construction of culture (Ong and Nonini 1997).
The Asian values discourse in all cases meant emphasis on traditional values and ethnic cohesion, the denial of universalistic values, the condemnation of the Western ”social evils,” and calling for authoritative, paternalistic rule by virtuous, clean leaders and loyal public servants working in the best interest of the people, as opposed to the spontaneous preference of the people who do not have the qualifications to know what’s best for society. This was contrasted with Western individualism, which has done its positive job but now has lead to economic stagnations, cultural decline, and social disintegration.
In the PRC, the discourse on Chinese cultural values first showed up in the mid to late 1980s publications for overseas Chinese as a way of rekindling their affiliation with the PRC after a period of estrangement. It has been getting stronger in the domestic rhetoric of the government continuously since Tiananmen as a means of promoting ”patriotism.” It involves ”patriotic education” support for the promotion of traditional arts, Confucianism, and religions deemed traditionally Chinese as long as it is done by state-controlled, ”patriotic” organizations, and ”scientific research” to prove that ”Western democracy” is not suitable for Chinese conditions. They organized such events as the commemorative activities for the legendary Emperor Yan, which drew large donations from overseas Chinese.
Most Western governments have been influenced by the ”Asian values” discourse to some extent, at least borrowing some cultural relativism arguments to explain why they chose ”constructive engagement,” shifted from multilateral to bilateral (if any) human rights talks with China, Indonesia, Burma etc., delinked human and labor rights questions from trade, or stopped sponsoring UN resolutions condemning rights abuses.

106More particularly, Chinese migration has attracted attention lately due to the worldwide scare surrounding “illegal immigrants” since the grounding of the Golden Venture with 286 would-be immigrants from the PRC on board in New York harbor in 1993. Not least due to this interest from policymakers, several volumes have been published about Chinese in Europe since 1998. Whereas the subject had attracted little attention until then, suddenly, a number of scholars of modern China are engaging in or planning research on European Chinese.

107Finally, the rise of Chinese nationalism and the appearance of China as a rising power have also attracted interest to the Chinese diaspora. Academic centers of study or libraries specifically devoted to overseas Chinese have appeared in the last few years in Hong Kong and Australia, and an International Society for the Study of Chinese Overseas (ISSCO) has been formed as well as an Overseas Chinese Documentation and Research Center.

108The relationship between these academic initiatives and migrant politics is a complex one. Wealthy overseas Chinese businessmen are among the main donors contributing to them, just like ethnic (Asian-American, African-American, Jewish etc.) studies programs in the US have benefited from grants from ethnic businesses. The desire to consume images and texts empowering and glorifying the overseas Chinese experience has expanded from the news media to more highbrow cultural products. One of the first examples of that is The Encyclopedia of Chinese Overseas, edited by the renowned writer Lynn Pan. Although the entries in this book were written by scholars, it was marketed to a very broad audience, especially across Southeast Asia, figuring at the center of bookshop displays in Singapore and Hong Kong.

In China

109In China, the academic study of overseas Chinese is also enjoying an unprecedented boom due to the possibility of attracting overseas Chinese funding as well as to the political support for ties with overseas Chinese and ideas of global cultural Chinese-ness. This ideological constraint, plus the numerous sensitivities attached to Southeast Asian suspicions of the disloyalty of local Chinese and Western concerns over illegal migrations, make the field one of the most highly politically controlled in the social studies scene. But overseas Chinese studies centers and publications have proliferated in the last years, with several now existing in Peking, Liaoning, Shanghai, Fujian, Canton, and Guangxi. As long as they do not contradict the officially sanctioned imaginary, domestic, and foreign Overseas Chinese studies are generally seen as a politically friendly discipline by China.

110Along with governments, media, and migrant elites, academics also tell Chinese overseas in what way they are or should be Chinese. This is not new: Tu Weiming finds that scholars of China have impacted the Chinese view of themselves so greatly that he calls them the “fourth symbolic Chinese universe” (Tu 1994). But the relationship between the researcher and the researched has been redefined in the case of overseas Chinese, as in many other cases. This is due to the greater mobility of the migrants and the researchers; the wider maneuvering room of the ethnic economy; the blurring of the (class) divide between highly skilled, entrepreneurial and labor migrants; the lowering of the social status of scholars in China; and the loosening of the canonical rules of fieldwork.

111In the parts of the world newly “colonized” by entrepreneurial migrants from mainland China, “China scholars” are part of their transnational network rather than dwellers of an ivory tower. In poor Eastern Europe, China scholars as well as students who may be translating classical texts at the same time make extra money by interpreting, translating and helping in dealings with the authorities, or even take these up as their main occupation. At the same time, the Chinese-language media frequently reports on their presence as “China scholars” at various functions of Chinese organizations, and occasionally cites them in support of some statement, thereby adding to the legitimacy of the dominant discourse of Chineseness. (At other times, of course, their statements are contested or ignored if they do not correspond to the preferred self-image.)

112Nor do Chinese scholars any longer enjoy a position of social superiority over other migrants. Visiting scholars or students very often seek to benefit from the ethnic economy, whether in identifying business opportunities in Eastern Europe or by finding manual work in Western Europe, and do so, unlike local business leaders, often starting with no capital. Furthermore, their stories are circulated in the new migrant media with titles such as “Returning to Germany: Interviews with students and scholars living in Germany” or “The odd-jobbing life of a physics PhD.” As a result, when scholars from China visit Chinese abroad for short-term research trips, they are often hosted at the expense of their interviewees. Most of the articles on overseas Chinese, especially on new migrants, in journals like Bagui Qiaoshi (Overseas Chinese History of Bagui) and Huaqiao Huaren Lishi Yanjiu (Overseas Chinese History Studies), are highly empirical, emphasizing the economic situation of the subjects of their research—usually in terms of successes, or investments or donations in China.

113While the triumphalist–patriotic tropes known from the media are less common here, most of the authors base their observations on statements by organization and business leaders as well as the local Chinese-language press, and refrain from a critical analysis of the context of these statements. For example, Chen Yande, from the History Department of Xiamen University, wrote about the Fujian native-place organization in the Netherlands that it has “played a role in the field of contributing to homeland construction” and that it has “displayed an extraordinary concern for the homeland” (Chen 2001). Without citing the source, Chen bases this on newspaper articles and interviews with the leaders themselves including information about donations by organization leaders to school construction in their native villages. Nowhere does he raise the question what motives they may have had in making the donations. (There are, however, also notable exceptions to such borrowing.) The articles are then often sent to those leaders as well as circulating in the official Chinese establishment, creating another loop in the recirculation of the dominant narratives of patriotism and modernity.

114In some cases, research about overseas Chinese is initiated by the Chinese organizations themselves. In 1998, a leader of the Hungarian Chinese Women’s Federation hired a researcher from the Institute of Sociology at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences to produce a “Report on Chinese Women in Europe.” Not surprisingly, reports such as this phrase Chinese migration to Europe in terms of “contribution” and “development,” keywords of the official discourse. At the same time, they reflect new migrants’ desire to be seen as modern, authentic, and different from the “old” overseas Chinese.

“The young and middle-aged women from large Chinese cities who have relatively high education levels and have come to Europe in the 1990s are representative of the new generation of Chinese women in Europe. They have a clear advantage in knowledge, are resourceful and pioneers by nature. Unlike the old generation, they are not content with gradual accumulation over a long time; instead, they hope to use their advantages to achieve rapid development. ... What made them come to Europe is not the need for a living but the drive to broaden their horizons, to seek even further development” (Yang and Wang 1998: 10).


115I attempted to show how new migrant elites, scholars, and the media engage in a mutually reinforcing homogenization and hegemonization of the officially supported (or created?) imaginary of the “new migrant.” To be sure, this discourse is not unchallenged. First, the “old migrants”—whether in Britain or the Philippines—often attack the new ones no less vociferously, both echoing local anti-immigration views and on the counts of not being authentically Chinese enough. They accuse new immigrants of being largely illegal, spoiling the reputation of overseas Chinese and of China itself by being criminal and unethical in their business dealings. Nonetheless, it is worth noting that these objections, too, are phrased in part within the same discourse of patriotism. The second challenge to the discourse of the “new migrant” comes from the fact that the organizational elites who engage in its perpetuation carry little credibility.

Discussion: Schein and Nyíri on studying transnational media representations
Schein: There are at least four approaches to the media as a mirror of transnational processes and transnational production of nationalism. One has to do with the way that news media affects and reflects international politics because it is a form of representation of nation-states and of political interests. The second type of approach is what Pal was doing in his quotes from the texts and looking at the video. Here we look at the actual content as representation of migrant identities or experiences. The same thing could be done for national identities within China or beyond China. The third approach, which is more relevant to social scientists who do fieldwork—and this is also something that Pál does—includes the ethnography of the production and consumption of these texts. That is, you talk to the producer, the newspaper editor; you talk to the people who read or watch, or you watch with them. And you also talk about distribution: who reads these papers, how they get circulated. This third method may only be relevant to those who do ethnographic fieldwork. And there is a fourth approach: reflecting on our own work as texts that also contribute to the production of identities.
State representations of identity do not necessarily coincide with what an informant says in an interview. Talking to people and observing daily lives reveal the cultural environments and subjectivities of these individuals.
Question: How is an anthropological interpretation of a text different from a literary-critical interpretation?
Schein: It is not really a methodological difference. Anthropologists didn’t create something new here. Rather, it is the fact that you interpret the text in a social context, in the context of observations. Instead of treating the text as an entity in itself, you treat it as a tool to observe the production of culture. You treat producing, distributing, and consuming texts as a social activity. You bring the text in contact with the people, as it were. You can watch a video or a television program, or read an article, and discuss it then with your informants, or talk to its makers.
Nyíri: You break down the boundary between the text and the field. You make connections between the text, the speaker, and the observed social situation.

116It must be emphasized that public and private narratives can be very different. Large collectivities like Chineseness do not often register in individual narratives. In private, my informants, including organization leaders, rarely talk about being responsible for China or giving something back to it. The ways in which migrants understand their objectives and the kind of agency they exhibit can be much more complex and plural. This does not mean that migrants do not have a sense of loyalty or responsibility toward the homeland; but how they narrate what they are doing is mostly about their children, making money, or buying a house.

117Actual social practices are yet another level of analysis, one that is accessible through ethnographic fieldwork. For example, Chinese in Hungary may often invoke their ethnic identity when forging business networks. At the same time, it is very common for them to eschew living in buildings with many other Chinese residents. In this way, they can escape social control and perceived dangers of being robbed or kidnapped by coethnics.


1 * The National Association of Overseas Chinese, Returned Overseas Chinese, and Dependent Overseas Chinese (Quanguo Huaqiao Guiqiao Qiaojuan Lianhehui, abbreviated as Qiaolian); the Overseas Chinese Commission (Huaqiao Weiyuanhui, abbreviated as Qiaoweihui) of the National People’s Congress; the Overseas Chinese Affairs office (Qiaoban) of the State Council; the China Overseas Exchange Commission, affiliated with the Qiaoban; and the provincial-, city-, county-, and even district (qu)-level are the equivalents of these bodies.

Table des illustrations

Légende Fig. 6.1. Worldwide Chinese (Tianxia Huaren) is published in London, andFig. 6.2. Who’s Who of Chinese Origin Worldwide (Shijie Huaren Mingrenlu) by the World Chinese Press in Budapest.
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Légende Fig. 6.3. Chen Dian and Chen Mei, Sheng He
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Légende Fig. 6.4. ”Fujian Province Executive Vice Governor Zhang Jiakun receives an enthusiastic welcome from members of Fukien American Association during his visit to the United States”
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Légende Fig. 6.5. ”Mr. Liang Hongji, Chairman of the 1981 National Day Celebration delivers his speech to the Algemene Chinese Vereniging”
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Légende Fig. 6.6. ”Celebrating the 49th Anniversary of the Founding of the PRC and the Ninth Anniversary of the Association of Fujianese in Macau”
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Pál Nyíri is Director of the Applied Anthropology Programme at Macquarie University, Australia. His interest is in the anthropology of human movement, especially migration and tourism, particulary in China. He is the coeditor of Globalising Chinese Migration (Ashgate, 2002), coauthor of Transnational Chinese: Fujianese Migrants in Europe (Stanford, 2004), and author of Scenic Spots: The Construction of the Chinese Tourist Site and the Question of Cultural Authority (University of Washington Press, forthcoming).

© Central European University Press, 2005

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