Being Chinese overseas

15 July, 2020

Photo: The Straits Times

In ‘Being Chinese overseas’, The Straits Times recounts the life and times of University Professor Wang Gungwu (NUS History) who celebrated his 89th birthday last month. An eminent scholar specialising in Chinese history and in particular the story of overseas Chinese, Prof Wang’s own formative years during late stage colonialism in Indonesia, Malaysia, mainland China, and Singapore capture the transnational journey of the very subjects that he became interested in.

The younger Wang’s pursuit into the story of modern China, however, was thwarted as an undergraduate at the University of Malaya due to political and family considerations, and so his scholarly journey was diverted instead towards the study of ancient Chinese history. In the post-war period, Prof Wang obtained a doctorate from the renowned SOAS University in London and began his university career in Singapore in 1957.

It being the height of the Cold War, Prof Wang recalls how no one was really that ‘interested in the work he had just completed on 10th-century Chinese history’. And so, with the changing political times and a desire to contribute more to the modern Chinese story he would soon turn his focus and attention onto what would become his lifelong passion – overseas Chinese communities.

Both the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China were actively courting Huaqiao, or overseas Chinese, to provide legitimacy for their respective claims to China. This provided impetus for Prof Wang to direct his scholarly efforts onto others such as himself, the Huaqiao, and in particular the Southeast Asian Huaqiao. His body of work on the subject is now both considerable and authoritative.

As for the man himself, whose adult life has spanned significant years living in Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, and Hong Kong before finally settling in Singapore in 1995, the question of home mirrors the same complexity that many of the Huaqiao he has come to intimately study also feel. He is currently co-authoring, with his wife Margaret of 65 years, the second volume of his memoir titled Home Is Where We Are, which will be published later this year.

Read the full article here.