Academic journal article Quarterly Journal of Chinese Studies

Six Little Maids from School Are We-The Curious Case of the Six Runaway Girls of the S.S. Tjiwangi and a Closer Look at the Motivations of Overseas Chinese Students in Malaya and Singapore Who Chose to Seek Higher Education in the People's Republic of China, 1951

Academic journal article Quarterly Journal of Chinese Studies

Six Little Maids from School Are We-The Curious Case of the Six Runaway Girls of the S.S. Tjiwangi and a Closer Look at the Motivations of Overseas Chinese Students in Malaya and Singapore Who Chose to Seek Higher Education in the People's Republic of China, 1951

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

The Returned Overseas Chinese Students

One of the historiographical units of analysis regarding the Overseas Chinese and their responses to the People's Republic of China (PRC) after its establishment in October 1949-or New China, as it was termed-has been that of the Overseas Chinese student (huaqiao xuesheng, or qiaosheng).2 This is not unwarranted; thousands of Overseas Chinese students did return to China in search of higher education opportunities. Estimates of the total are varied. Stephen Fitzgerald (1972, p. 72) estimates that around 60,000 of the returned students ultimately settled permanently in the PRC, which suggests that there were even more students who returned for studies before subsequently returning to their original countries of residence, especially in Nanyang (Southeast Asia). Michael Godley (1989, p. 332) puts the figure at 50,000 for the period 1949-1958, or 20% of the quarter million or so Overseas Chinese who returned to the PRC in that period. Contemporary estimates like Lu Yu-sun's (1956, p. 42) suggested 9000 returned Overseas Chinese students for 19491953. Official estimates by the government of Malaya in 1955 were that the 1950s had seen year-on-year increases in the number of student-aged persons leaving Malaya (including Singapore) for China, with the figure for 1954 at 2316.3 Whatever the figure, the basic point is that there were many of such students.

Given their statistical significance, the Overseas Chinese student as an analytical unit is understandably accepted as a useful demographic categorisation in analyses of the larger story of the Overseas Chinese and their responses to-if not, relationship with-the PRC. There is, in fact, a certain historiographical pathos that characterises the conventional stoiy of the qiaosheng and their return to the PRC in the 1950s. In this story, the qiaosheng are inspired by the advent of New China and seek to return, on one level for the superior Chinese education facilities that the PRC was perceived to have been able to offer them, but mostly because of the desire to play some part in the building of a New China itself, or a dedication to the ideal of jianguo (literally, building the country). But as Glen Peterson (2012, pp. 125-30) points out, for the majority of the qiaosheng who returned, expectation and reality did not quite match in the end. Conditions in the 1950s PRC were truly difficult, and the qiaosheng experience was made worse by the fact that they came from vastly different cultural settings that confused and exacerbated the contradictory state policy towards these Overseas Chinese students. Thus, it is held, by the late 1950s, the qiaosheng ideal of higher education in China had been unquestionably shattered-both from the perspectives of the legions of now disillusioned Overseas Chinese youths, as well as from the PRC government itself which by 1957, had as Fitzgerald (1972, p. 138) points out, undergone a volte face on its earlier policy of encouraging qiaosheng to return to China.

Yet, inasmuch as the historiography across the board suggests that the qiaosheng experience of education in New China was not as ideal as they had initially hoped, this is not to say at all that historiography is similarly uniform in terms of understanding just exactly what the qiaosheng's motivations for choosing China in the first place were. For instance, Michael Godley and Charles Coppel's (1990, pp. 179-198) work with interviews and recollections from Indonesian qiaosheng-who made up the bulk of the qiaosheng and went to China in the 1950s and early 1960ssuggests that there were different groups of students, divided 'according to when they went and the circumstances' (Godley & Coppel, 1990, p. 179) underlying their motivations. According to Godley and Coppel, the first wave was in the 1950s immediately after the establishment of New China, the second after the massed repatriations (paihua) of the 1959-1960 period, and the third in the 'anti-Chinese storm of 1965-1966' (Godley & Coppel, 1990, p. …

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