This book investigates some critical issues in the formation of the cultural identity of the Nanyang or Southeast Asian Chinese through analysing cultural space of and in the Nanyang. The author established the late 19th century as the formative era for the cultural identities of Nanyang Chinese. She further argued that the Chinese travellers (literati, merchants, military officers, political activists, monks, etc) in the colonial period not only perceived and observed but participated in the formation of the cultural identities of the ethnic community, thus made the process complicated as the “Self” was mixed with the “Other” in the development.
From the mid-1800s to the 1920s, more and more Chinese immigrated from China to Nanyang. In tandem with this mass Chinese immigration wave, numerous Chinese travellers came to the Nanyang region for business, religious, political, educational, journalist and literary purposes. Their perception of the Nanyang was shaped by the literature of various types about the space they read prior to the journey, which later they found quite different from the ground reality. Different from non-Chinese travellers of the time who “gazed” at the local Chinese communities from a distance, these Chinese travellers often felt compelled to or simply naturally engaged in socio-political activities of their fellow countrymen in the colony. It was in this process that the original perception of the Nanyang Chinese as the “Other”, constructed before they arrived, was tested, reconstructed and mixed with the knowledge and experience derived from their direct engagement in the place. Their own identity as an outside observer was also transformed to or mixed with an active participation of the local affairs. In other words, the “Other” and “Self” entered into each other.
The book has five core chapters, in addition to introductory and concluding chapters. In chapters two and three, the author discussed how the “Nanyang space” was constructed by Chinese travellers through their experiences and travel writings. In other words, the publication and circulation of these travel logs and maps play an important role in producing and conceptualising the cultural space of Nanyang. The rest of the three chapters are case studies of its theoretical framework, which is based on Henri Lefebvre’s theory of the production of space. The case studies include the space management and exhibits representation in the Raffles Museum, building arrangement and cultural symbolism of Penang’s Kek Lok Si Temple, and cultural practice of everyday life in the Chinese community in the Straits Settlements.
The author obtained her Ph.D. from NUS in 2012 and currently teaches at a university in China. This book is a revised version of her doctoral dissertation.