Citizenship and National Identity in Chinese Higher Education,1919-1937

Miss Zhihang Li1

1The University Of Sydney, Sydney, Australia

In recent years, there has been considerable interest in modern Chinese nationalism. The notion of China being a civilization state or a nation-state has generated intense discussion: some scholars tend to identify internal factors—demographic and political—as crucial to explain China’s modern transformation. As Andy Green convincingly demonstrated, the nature and the state and the process of state formation, played the most decisive role in the national education systems and the spread of mass education. In 1919, the May Fourth Movement started the new process of modern education, and by 1927 National Government of Nanjing was established, national identity became the common pursuit of higher education. There are three major aims. The first is about the intellectual origins of modern Chinese nationalism–it learns from the Western Nationalism or it is the continuation of traditional Chinese part, even or the combination of two. Second, we need to conceptualize the term “Nationalism” and “Citizenship” according to the Chinese social-cultural background. Then the relationship between them in this period need to be deeply thought: Is it totally different or like heads and tails of a coin? Finally, we could understand the cultural mission of Chinese universities and their contribution to the national dialogue.


Zhihang Li is the Phd candidate in the Faculty of education in the University of Sydney. Her research is mainly in the fields of history of education as well as comparative, development education, in which she explores the interconnections between changes in history, citizenship and nation building.

Pyone Cho and his New Buddhist Songs: An intellectual of ‘YMBA’ Burmese Nationalism in the 1920s

Dr Yuri Takahashi1

1Australian National University, Australia

Pyone Cho (1878? – 1927) is famous for his compilation of ‘Maha Gita’ (traditional Burmese songs written during the Burmese kingdom era) in a book which also includes several Buddhist songs he composed.  His songs are still sung in Myanmar today and through analysis of these songs I will explore his thoughts on Buddhism, as a modern Burmese intellectual. As a writer and editor, Pyone Cho also worked as editor-in-chief for ‘Thuriya’ Newspaper, the representative Burmese nationalist publication.  ‘Thuriya’ newspaper was the main publication of the Young Men’s Buddhist Association, a major force driving Burmese nationalism in the 1910s and 1920s.  YMBA attracted many young Burmese who developed their modern Burmese identity largely inspired by the new Buddhist interpretations advocated by YMBA.  I argue Pyone Cho’s Buddhist songs reflect YMBA’s new Buddhist narratives. The main-stream histography of Burmese nationalism emphasised the formation of ‘Dobama Asiayone’ or the We Burmans Association in 1930.  YMBA is regarded as its predecessor, however YMBA’s nationalism was not only a political movement but also a much broader cultural movement and Pyone Cho was one of the important intellectuals involved in this trend.


Yuri is lecturer and convener of the Burmese courser at ANU established in 2016. Yuri obtained her Masters in Burmese literature from the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies and worked for the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a Burmese specialist for seven years, including a three year stay in Yangon from 1991 to 1994. Since moving to Australia she returned to language education and research at the University of Sydney, teaching at their Japanese Department for sixteen years and in 2013 led an intensive Burmese course. During this period she published many translations / essays on Burmese literature, music, media and culture in Australia, Japan and Myanmar. She obtained M. Phil and PhD (Modern Burmese intellectual history) from the University of Sydney. She has a long-term curiosity about the acceptance of modernity as seen through Burmese literature. Her research for PhD explores the changing narratives of Burmese nationalism through writing a biography of Shwe U Daung, a Burmese author well known as the creator of ‘San Shar the Detective’, an adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes stories.

Pragmatic Confucian patriarchs: Marriage and divorce among the Chinese in nineteenth century urban Java

Guo-Quan Seng

National University of Singapore, Singapore

Between 1830 and 1916, to be “Chinese” on Dutch colonial Java was to be required to reside within designated Chinese quarters in cities and towns, pay a head tax, report movements, and register marriages, or plead for divorces with the local Chinese ward-master and officer. Unlike in colonial Malaya or Indochina, where the British and French largely left the familial affairs of their Chinese immigrant subjects to their own native-place organizations (hui, huiguan), the Dutch built a paralegal infrastructure of communal leadership to manage the everyday and major life events of their Chinese subjects. Records of more than 700 divorce pleas filed with the Chinese Council of Batavia between the 1820s and 1890s show that the officers ran their communities as pragmatic Confucian patriarchs. Although divorce rates were relatively low, it is remarkable that up to three-quarters were filed by women. Tried as the officers did to reconcile estranged wives (and some husbands) with their husbands (or wives), they had neither the lineage, nor the official penal authority to enforce their Confucianist vision of familial harmony. All in all, the Kapitans approved up to fourth-fifths of all divorce pleas. In the process of reconciling and allowing estranged wives to leave their husbands, I argue that the officers consolidated the urban Chinese communities around a legal-moral notion of the patriarchal family.

Guo-Quan Seng researches and teaches the transregional histories of Chinese migration and settlement, the formation and dissolution of empires, and the rise of nation-states and capitalism at the intersection of the Indian Ocean and South China Sea. Within these big processes and categories, he approaches from the bottom-up the histories of peoples, commodities, cultures and ideas, as they connected, circulated and disconnected over space and time. He is also broadly interested in social theory, and reflecting critically about our received disciplinary boundaries.

Negotiating for a Second Life: Indian Migration and Tailoring Businesses in Cold War Hong Kong (1950s-1970s)

Mr Katon Lee3,2

2University of Bristol, , United Kingdom, 3Hong Kong Baptist University

After the British Empire colonised Hong Kong in 1842, Indians in search of better living conditions chose to leave their hometowns and followed British footprints. Detaram Sakhrani Mohan (D.S. Mohan), born in 1912 in Hyderabad Sind, India, migrated to the colony to search for a job at 19. He first worked as a junior shop assistant in a garment corporate in 1931 and founded his own business eight years later. Benefiting from the American pursuit of tailor-made suits, Indians with English proficiency bridged American tourists with Hong Kong Chinese tailors. Mohan with such a language advantage received a considerable number of suit orders from American tourists and forwarded them to the Chinese tailors for fulfilment. This presentation, focussing on D.S. Mohan and his tailoring businesses, aims to illustrate how Indians took advantage of their vantage point to refashion their social status in the context of the Cold War. Using Mohan’s private collections, historical newspapers and oral history interviews, the research examines and illustrates how D.S. Mohan developed his tailoring businesses by closely collaborating with the American tourists and Chinese tailors. It argues that the class mobility of the Indians in Hong Kong not only represented the influence of the American tourists on the Indian community, but also signified the negotiation of a ‘second life’ and self-empowerment of the South Asians in the Cold War era.


Katon Lee is a Lecturer of History at the College of International Education, Hong Kong Baptist University. Lee actively engages in teaching and researching cultural history and Hong Kong studies. He is currently also pursuing a PhD in history at the University of Bristol with a particular focus on the cultural history of Hong Kong and China’s port cities. His PhD project is on the cultural engagement of Chinese communities with western clothing in colonial Hong Kong.

Gomastahs, Peons, and Chowdranies: The Role of Indian Subordinates in the functioning of the lock hospitals and the Indian Contagious Diseases Act, Madras Presidency (1805-1880s)

Divya Gopalakrishnan

University of Melbourne, Australia

Recent scholarship on the social history of health and medicine has moved beyond enclavist or hegemonic aspects of imperial medicine and has rather focused on the role of Indian intermediaries and the fractured nature of the colonial hegemony. Drawing inspiration from this scholarship, I will highlight the significance of the Indian subordinates in the lock hospital system in the nineteenth century Madras Presidency. Although, the exploitative nature of Indian subordinates working for the lock hospitals and the Indian Contagious Diseases Act of 1864, has been discussed by number of scholars such as Kenneth Ballhatchet, Erica Wald and Ashwini Tambe. I focus on a class of Indian subordinates called the ‘gomastah’. I shall also highlight the role of other Indian and non-Indian subordinates such as Dhais, Chowdranies and Matrons, in particular the ways in which they became indispensable for the smoother operation of the Contagious Diseases Act. I also emphasise how Indian subordinates were able to bring in class and caste biases within colonial governmentality, adding another layer to the colonial prejudices and xenophobia against the Indian population. In that sense, I underline the fact that there was not a one-way appropriation or facilitation of the coloniser’s knowledge or biases by the colonised intermediaries, but rather an interaction between them, and highlight the complexities of caste hierarchies and prejudice within the colonial governmentality. Moreover, I focus on the consequent chaos and inherent power struggle between different factions of colonial staff.


Divya Rama Gopalakrishnan is a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne. Her thesis examines the control of venereal disease and sexual surveillance in colonial South India. She did her Bachelor and Master’s in history from University of Delhi. Her M. Phil dissertation (University of Delhi) was on “Lock Hospitals, Cantonment and Venereal Diseases in Nineteenth Century Madras Presidency.”

Migrant Soldiers on the Move: ‘Martial Races’ and the Transnational Lives of Gurkha families in the Far East (1940s-1960s)

Ms Hema Kiruppalini4

4National University of Singapore, , Singapore

Since the colonial period, Nepalese Gurkhas constituted an integral part of the British Army and came to be categorized as a ‘martial race’ group suitable for soldiering. There is substantial literature in the domain of military and war studies that document their role in the Far East during the 1940s -1960s. While this body of work places emphasis on the identity of the Gurkhas as a ‘fighting class’ with warrior-like attributes, research on the social history of Gurkha families and their transnational mobility within Asia is few and far between. As such, this study places Gurkha families and their life histories at the heart of the story whilst foregrounding the influential role of colonial ideas about the ‘marital races’ in shaping their migration to the Far East. I will consider the Malayan Emergency (1948-1960) as a means to map their journey from Nepal across the Bay of Bengal to various camps in the Far East and, in doing so highlight the processes of differential exclusion that undergirded their life as gated community. A micro-historical approach to their social history in the context of the Cold War will elucidate how Gurkha families experienced and were affected by wide-ranging political transformations. I will also reflect on what ‘home’ meant for Gurkha families who experienced repatriation. Based on archival research and oral history interviews with migrant solider families, this multi-sited ethnographic field research in Malaysia, Nepal, and the United Kingdom attempts to piece together fragments of their past.


Hema Kiruppalini is pursuing a PhD in History at the National University of Singapore. Her doctoral dissertation explores the historical development of transnational Gurkha families in Southeast Asia. Prior to this, she worked as a Research Associate at the Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS) during which time she was involved with the publication of The Encyclopedia of the Sri Lankan Diaspora (2013).

Citizens at the End of Empire: Navigating “Citizenship” in Postwar Malaya and Singapore, 1946-1963

Dr John Solomon4

4National University of Singapore

The breaking up of the British Empire in Asia was period of significant upheaval for communities whose identities, mobilities and lived experiences were previously constructed within a trans-imperial world. In Singapore, which was one of the last territories in Southeast Asia to decolonise, the emergence of Singapore citizenship as a legal status conferred rights and privileges to individuals in exchange for a commitment of loyalty directed towards shifting concepts of empire, commonwealth, polity and nation. Rather than being simply imposed by states, the meaning, significance and contours of citizenship in Malaya and Singapore were negotiated between communities, individuals and the colonial and post-colonial states. The social history of citizenship in Singapore during decolonisation, that is, how different communities and groups of people responded to citizenship proposals and understood the meaning of citizenship and made decisions regarding citizenship choices, remains an underexplored area of scholarship. This paper argues that while emerging states and the British attempted to create national communities based on a discourse of loyalty and responsibility, ordinary people had a range of complex responses to citizenship based on pragmatic calculations, their “racial” identities, and their views on post-colonial mobility.  These responses reveal how ordinary people and communities experienced the new system of borders, passports and nation-states that emerged across Asia in the wake of decolonisation.


John Solomon received his PhD at the University of New South Wales (2014). He is currently an Assistant Professor of History at the National University of Singapore where he enjoys teaching modules on Singapore, popular culture, Asian history and historiography. His research interests include diaspora and migration, the British Empire and decolonisation, and the concept of “race”. He published a book about untouchability and South Asian migration in colonial Singapore – A Subaltern History of the Indian Diaspora in Singapore: Gradual Disappearance of Untouchability: 1872 -1965 (New York: Routledge, 2016). His current research explores notions of citizenship during decolonisation in Malaya.

Macanese, Portuguese or British? Tracing the Lives of Manuel and Eduardo Pereira in Macau, Hong Kong and Britain

Catherine S. Chan

University of Macau

This study follows the multiple immigration of Manuel Pereira, and his son, Eduardo Pereira, to explore the complex relationship between colonialism, ‘race,’ and social mobility. Born in Portugal, Manuel Pereira traveled to Macau during the late eighteenth century in search of fortune. He eventually married into a Macanese family, and emerged as one of Macau’s wealthiest and most respectable men. His son, Eduardo, changed his name to Edward, and moved to Hong Kong during the 1840s where he became part of the British middle-class circle. In Hong Kong, Edward Pereira joined Dent & Co. as a partner and became the only ‘Portuguese’ to move along the social worlds of middle-class Britons. By the late 1850s, Edward Pereira had moved to Britain and re-established himself as an aristocrat. Through an examination of two generations of the Pereira family, I trace their movement from Portugal to Macau to Hong Kong and eventually, to Britain, to reveal ‘race’ and ‘class’ as wider social experiences shaped by imperial traditions, personal ambitions and transnational networks. This study, thus, rethinks migration to Asian colonies as a stepping-stone for metropole Portuguese and further reveals the role of imperial cultures in influencing the shifting meanings of being ‘Portuguese’, ‘Macanese’, and ‘British’ under different social settings and timeframes. Ultimately, this study aims, from the lens of middle class migrants, to understand the construct of ‘race’ beyond the coloniser-colonised spectrum and reconsider the colonial encounter as a pragmatic response to immigration opportunities, social traditions and life challenges.


Catherine S. Chan is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Macau and specialises in the social and transnational histories of colonial Hong Kong and Macau. Chan recently completed her PhD in History at the University of Bristol under the Hong Kong History Project where she worked on the evolution of the ‘Portuguese’/Macanese migrant communities in Hong Kong from 1841 to 1941 in relation to race, class, colonialism and diaspora. Her other research interests include heritage studies in post-war Asia and transnational cultural history.

Global Lives, Cosmopolitan Futures: Peranakan Chinese Communities in Colonial Southeast Asia

Mr Bernard Keo1

1Monash University, Australia

A hybridised overseas Chinese community, the Peranakan Chinese served as a bridge connecting Chinese, Malay, and colonial communities across Southeast Asia. Occupying the space between these communities, the Peranakan were able to carve out an influential position owing to their ability to navigate within and between different cultural worlds. Their liminality allowed them to create extensive webs of personal and professional networks across Southeast Asia and beyond. More than that, however, many Peranakan led distinctly cosmopolitan lives as a result of their upbringing, which typically involved travelling to and living in a variety of Southeast and East Asian port-cities. Drawing from colonial records, newspapers, and Peranakan memoirs, this paper explores the lives and times of Peranakan Chinese families across the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, focussing on the development of a cosmopolitan consciousness among Peranakan in Malaya, Singapore, and Indonesia as a result of the global connections they fostered through education, marriage, business, and travel. In particular, I attempt to relocate the Peranakan from the categories and boundaries of contemporary nation-states in order to restore their history as distinctly mobile sociocultural actors with fluid ideas of self, identity, and belonging.


Bernard Z. Keo is a PhD candidate in historical studies at Monash University focusing on decolonisation and nation-building in post-World War II Malaya and Singapore, focussing particularly on the trajectory of the Peranakan Chinese of the Straits Settlements in Malaya’s path to independence. In addition to his dissertation topic, he also has interests in the Malayan Emergency, transnational connections across the Malay world and the end of empire in Southeast Asia. Beyond his dissertation, he also has training and experience in the digital humanities. He was part of the team that built Virtual Angkor, a digital education platform awarded the Roy N. Rosenzweig Prize for Innovation in Digital History from the American Historical Association in 2018.

Race and Class Mobilities in Asia (2/2):

Mr Bernard Keo1, Dr John Solomon4, Ms Hema Kiruppalini4, Dr Sophie Loy-Wilson5, Mr Katon Lee3,2, Mr Nathan Gardner6

1Monash University, , Australia, 2University of Bristol, , United Kingdom, 3Hong Kong Baptist University, , Hong Kong, 4National University of Singapore, , Singapore, 5University of Sydney, , Australia, 6University of Melbourne, , Australia

Co-Convenors: Bernard Keo and Catherine Chan

Chair: Catherine Chan


‘Asia’ as both concept and place has always been underpinned by mobility, particularly of people. The ability to move across and between the various constituent parts of Asia offered unprecedented opportunities for individuals and families to improve their lives. Through time, settlers and their descendants found and made ‘homes’ across Asia, especially those who successfully established themselves in their new environs. For these peoples, ‘home’ exceeded singular notions of race, nation and culture. Through the lens of ‘cosmopolitan’ actors and communities, this panel explores the various ways individuals and/or communities established their lives by breaking down rigid categories that emerged under European colonialism in the nineteenth-century and later, the rise of the Asian nation-state during the post-World War II period. Gathering scholars from transnational history, cultural history, social history and political history, this panel aims, firstly, to examine the lives of cosmopolitan actors and communities in relation to social and economic mobility. Secondly, this panel analyses the global flows of people and culture within a framework that transcended the boundaries of the state. Drawing chiefly from the study of polyglot individuals and communities on the move, the aim is to suggest a broader, more complex understanding of Asia as a place where the categorisation of people, politics, and society found new interpretations and shaped unprecedented human interactions.



The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

Conference Managers

Please contact the team at Conference Design with any questions regarding the conference.

Photo Credits: Visit Victoria

© 2019 Conference Design Pty Ltd