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Overseas Chinese studies traces long roots, continues to evolve

| 2013-03-19 | Hits:
 The Annual Report on Overseas Chinese Study (2012) was issued on December 17th, 2012. The Annual Report on Overseas Chinese Study (2012) was edited by Qiu Jin, a professor and honorary dean of the Institute of Overseas Chinese at Huaqiao University, and published by Social Sciences Academic Press (China).  Issued on December 17th, 2012, it revealed that overseas Chinese currently number more than 50 million around the world. The report noted that overseas Chinese enjoy a high socioeconomic status and an increasing degree of technological expertise, while their tendency to participate in politics is high. The report also detailed that the influence of overseas Chinese media  is increasing and Chinese associations are proliferating. Currently, overseas Chinese are charting new territory, and overseas Chinese studies should be developed in order to cope with the new demands and challenges. New trends in the field Zhuang Guotu, dean of the Research School of Southeast Asian Studies at Xiamen University, explained that the majority of Chinese academia believes that the study of overseas Chinese began as an academic subject in the early 20th century. “Relatively centralized documentation of overseas Chinese emerged at the beginning of the Ming Dynasty. However, it was during the end of the Qing Dynasty that theoretical study of overseas Chinese was developed,” Zhuang explained.  “A representative work is Yi Benxi’s A brief history of Nanyang Chinese, published in Tokyo around 1910.” Then, in the 1930s, the study of overseas Chinese became something of a fad, Zhuang continued. During Reform and Opening up, overseas Chinese made remarkable contributions to the process of modernization in contemporary China, which instigated a resurgence of fervor for studying overseas Chinese. In the past thirty years, overseas Chinese studies has made a breakthrough both at home and abroad. Zhang Yinglong, deputy dean of the Institute of Overseas Chinese Studies at Jinan University, emphasized that a new dynamic of 21st century overseas Chinese studies has emerged in terms of research field, methodology and sheer manpower. First of all, Zhang claimed that the purview of the discipline has expanded further, now encompassing local history of overseas Chinese, international migration, qiaoxiang (hometowns of overseas Chinese), and folk religion. Additionally, research methods have become much more diversified. While scholars still rely primarily on historical research methods, the application of multi-disciplinary research methods has become very popular. Thirdly, the scholarship base, simply in terms of numbers, has become stronger and stronger. In the past decade, a number of research institutes of overseas Chinese studies have been set up in China, such as the Center for Overseas Chinese Research at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), Guangdong Qiaoxiang Culture Research Center at Wuyi University and the Center of Overseas Chinese Studies at Peking University, among others. History of research on overseas Chinese studies As overseas Chinese become more involved in commercial enterprise, foreign scholars began to take an interest in their affairs. According to Zhuang Guotu, the theoretical study of overseas Chinese affairs was initiated by colonial government officials in Southeast Asia. The Dutch who first colonized the East Indies trained a few overseas Chinese experts to better exercise authority over local Chinese. For instance, while working as a senior translator for the supreme court of the colonial government of Batavia (present day Jakarta), the sinologist Gustav Schlegel published the first treatise on the secret society of overseas Chinese Tiandihui (Heaven and Earth Society) in 1866. In 1885, another prominent Dutch Sinologist, Jan Jakob Maria de Groot, completed The Chinese Company System in Borneo while working for the Dutch East Indies colonial government. Since the end of 19th century, British and American scholars’ works on overseas Chinese affairs have consistently come to the public eye, a trend that continues still today. In 1992, the establishment of International Society for the Studies of Chinese Overseas in Los Angeles marked a turning point in the discipline, in that an international academic organization was finally established by overseas Chinese studies scholars around the world. A professor from the School of Public Affairs at Xiamen University, Li Minghuan, once mentioned that overseas Chinese studies in Europe has evolved through three stages-- pre-WWII, post-WWII to the 1960s and post-1970s--which reflected the changing landscape of overseas Chinese in Europe. Studying from the insight of globalization The number of Chinese immigrants overseas has continued to grow in tandem with globalization.  Chinese’ pursuit of overseas opportunities, upward mobility, and relations with foreign locals will be a significant topic for overseas Chinese studies in the future, said Qiu Jin. Particularly, topics such as the identity and integration of new immigrants, newly emerged affairs of overseas Chinese, the varieties of overseas Chinese and regional differences and culture of qiaoxiang should be discussed. Qiu Liben, professor from the Institute of World History at CASS emphasized to study overseas Chinese issue against the context of globalization and understand the inner relations between the international immigration with globalization.    The Chinese version appeared in Chinese Social Sciences Today, No. 413, Feb. 4, 2013                                                                                                                          Translated by Zhang Mengying