Ethnic-Chinese Life-Making, Place-Making, and Claim-Making

in Southeast Asia

Caroline S. Hau

Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University

Vol. 16 (2022): 3-39 | Download PDF


Chinese ethnicity is an elastic and contested, though nonetheless useful, concept for making sense of the histories, cultures, politics, and societies of Southeast Asia(ns). As a marker of identity and difference, homogeneity and diversity, fragmentation and community, it calls attention to the ways in which subjectivity, group identification, social location, and claim-making are shaped or informed by the legacies, discourses, and practices of, among others, colonialism, state formation, nation-making, geopolitics, economic development, capitalist globalization, transnational migration, and diaspora. Chinese ethnicity also foregrounds questions of scale—local, national, regional, global—that probe the potentials and limits of national and Southeast Asian studies. This article looks at the historical evolution and contemporary (re-)articulations of the “Chinese Question” in the Philippines and Southeast Asia. Despite the ongoing normalization of ethnic relations between “Chinese” and Southeast Asians, there exist cultural and political faultlines that generate ethnic and co-ethnic differentiation and cleavages. The circumstances and challenges confronted by ethnic Chinese and new migrants provide a valuable case study that illuminates the critical role of locality, diversity, and place-making in the ongoing contestation over ethnic identification and non-identification in Southeast Asia, particularly in the wake of the rise of China.


Anglo-Chinese, Chinese Question, rising China, (co-)ethnic cleavages