Living with, among, and as Others: Creolizing Transpacific Chinese Diaspora
The Graduate School, Stony Brook University: Stony Brook, NY.
This dissertation theorizes the urgency of creolist epistemology--emphasizing the non-identitarian self-making process rooted in experiences of migration, colonialism, and transculturation--to the studies of Chinese diaspora. I argue that creolization, as a concept historically associated with the multiethnic culture-building of Caribbean (post)coloniality, offers a useful analytic trajectory for articulating the heterogeneous networking practices of Chinese overseas beyond the current discursive limits of ethnicity, bloodline, nationality, language, and the exclusionary ontology of Chineseness. Specifically, I examine turn-of-the-twentieth-century and contemporary literary, journalistic, and cinematic articulations of multiethnic Chinese networks in the former Straits Settlements, the postcolonial Philippines and Malaysia, and transpacific Asian America. Highlighting the process of culture-making rather than culture as an end-product susceptible to dilution or mixture, this work identifies the diasporic condition as living with, among, and as others, as a continuous labor of self-fashioning in binding human partnerships. Addressing problems of identitarian Chineseness in previous diaspora scholarship, I deploy the paradigm of creolization to show that identity categories are products of networking strategies and that the vagaries of socio-political contingencies continuously shape the experiences we often taken as the natural signs of kinship ties. The body of this work investigates a set of transpacific Chinese self-making moments that follow the age of 19th-century Euro-American imperialisms and Asian mass migrations. First, I read short stories and essays in the Singapore-based Straits Chinese Magazine (1897-1907) to examine Straits Chinese colonial belonging under the convergence of British rule, Qing-Chinese labor influx, and Malayanization. Second, I foreground practices of detour vis-Çÿ-vis the reigning ideology of homecoming in Tsai Ming-liang and Wong Kar-wai's Sinophone films to uncover disavowed kinship affinities between dislodged Chinese and their Southeast Asian neighbors. In Chapter Three I analyze how performative speech acts of self-parody and racial passing shape the creole Chinese subjectivity through novels from contemporary queer Asian America (Gold by the Inch and Fixer Chao). Finally, I study the representation of Tsinoys (Chinese Filipinos) as mestizos in the recent Mano Po film cycle in post-millennium Philippine cinema to interrogate the community struggle to belong in the context of postcolonial Filipino nationhood.