Ungrounded Empires: The Cultural Politics of Modern Chinese Transnationalism

Ungrounded Empires: The Cultural Politics of Modern Chinese Transnationalism

Ungrounded Empires: The Cultural Politics of Modern Chinese Transnationalism

Ungrounded Empires: The Cultural Politics of Modern Chinese Transnationalism

Synopsis

In the last two decades, Chinese transnationalism has become a distinctive domain within the new "flexible" capitalism emerging in the Asia-Pacific region. Ungrounded Empires maps this domain as the intersection of cultural politics and global capitalism, drawing on recent ethnographic research to critique the impact of late capitalism's institutions--flexibility, travel, subcontracting, multiculturalism, and mass media--upon transnational Chinese subjectives. Interweaving anthropology and cultural studies with interpretive political economy, these essays offer a wide range of perspectives on "overseas Chinese" and their unique location in the global arena.

Excerpt

When, in the summer of 1993, Chinese people from the ill-fated freighter Golden Venture were washed ashore on a New York beach, Americans learned about a far-flung Chinese network that smuggled human cargo. Most of the boat people were from Fujian province in southern China, and their smugglers were Taiwanese from across the Straits. Market reforms in coastal China have, ironically, fueled a "get-rich" fever, making Fujianese eager to resume their distinctive, centuries-old tradition of going overseas to make a fortune. Many turn to smuggling syndicates, which have connections in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Southeast Asia, and Central and South America, to slip them into the United States. After the U.S. immigration service cracked down on the freighters, smugglers instead sent their clients, armed with false documents made in Hong Kong or São Paulo, through American airports.

While most Chinese businesses are above board, the interceptions of Fujianese boat people provide a glimpse of the global scope of many Chinese businesses, their historical roots in diaspora, their operational flexibility and spatial mobility, and their capacities to circumvent disciplining by nation-states. Boat people, whether from Fujian or from Vietnam, represent a tiny drop in the latest wave of Chinese emigration throughout the world, prompted by the changing world economy. This particular conjunction of events, whereby Chinese from China and elsewhere in Asia are caught up in the migrations, dislocations, and cultural upheavals associated with the "hypermodernity" of late capitalism (Pred and Watts 1993), challenges conventional, long-standing ideas about Chinese culture and identity. These events demonstrate that "Chinese-

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