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The Chinese Overseas

The Chinese Overseas

From Earthbound China to the Quest for Autonomy

Wang Gungwu

ISBN 9780674009868

Publication date: 09/30/2002

The Chinese overseas now number 25 to 30 million, yet the 2,000-year history of Chinese attempts to venture abroad and the underlying values affecting that migration have never before been presented in a broad overview. Despite centuries of prohibition against leaving the land and traveling and settling overseas, the "earthbound" Chinese--first traders, then peasants and workers--eventually found new sources of livelihood abroad. The practice of sojourning, being always temporarily away from home, was the answer the Chinese overseas found to deal with imperial and orthodox concerns. Today their challenge is to find an alternative to either returning or assimilating by seeking a new kind of autonomy in a world that will come to acknowledge the ideal of multicultural states.

In pursuing this story, international scholar Wang Gungwu uncovers some major themes of global history: the coming together of Asian and European civilizations, the ambiguities of ethnicity and diasporic consciousness, and the tension between maintaining one's culture and assimilation.


  • Original integrative work by a leading scholar in an important field of study. It is something entirely new: nobody has undertaken a broad overview of this subject in English, and none that I know of in other languages has achieved anything near Wang's level of inner knowledge and sophistication. The Chinese Overseas is squarely in the emerging fields of diaspora and transnational studies. But it goes well beyond these fashionable specialties by using the overseas Chinese experience to make original comparisons between the modern histories of China and the maritime West. In other words, Wang offers a new and hitherto overlooked setting for understanding China and its history over the past two millennia. Great themes of contemporary global history are illuminated by this book: the coming together of Asian and European civilizations, the role of middleman minorities, the ambiguities of ethnicity and of diasporic consciousness, and the tension between culture-maintenance and assimilation. An original work that readers in many fields will find important and stimulating.

    —Philip A. Kuhn, Harvard University


  • Wang Gungwu is Director, East Asian Institute, and Professor, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, National University of Singapore. His most recent publication is China and Southeast Asia: Myths, Threats, and Culture.

Book Details

  • 160 pages
  • 4-11/16 x 7-3/16 inches
  • Harvard University Press