(Un)Making the Malayan Nation: Peranakan Chinese Politics at the End of Empire, 1945-1957
Over the course of British colonial rule in Malaya, the Peranakan Chinese of the Straits Settlements of Penang, Malacca, and Singapore attempted to bring to life a complex imagination of nationhood predicated on an inclusive and multi-ethnic approach to integrating Malaya’s plural society. A creolised overseas Chinese community borne of intermarriage between Chinese migrants and indigenous Malays, Peranakan ideas of nationhood and belonging were influenced by their liminality and ability to transcend the boundaries of British Malaya’s colonial society. In word and deed, Peranakan political actors campaigned for the extension of citizenship and its associated rights to all those domiciled in Malaya regardless of race, class, or religion. Yet, this political history has largely been overlooked. The extant scholarship has focussed on the nation-state that came to pass with Malaya’s independence in 1957: an ethnocentric model that discriminated against citizens on the basis of class, religion, and race. In examining the Peranakan imaginary of the nation, this paper explores one of the many alternatives of a Malayan nation that were imagined—and were possible at one point or another—that have yet to be studied.
The seminar will be held in person at Geelong Waurn Ponds Campus (IC2.108), at Burwood Campus (C2.05.01) or via zoom.
Dr Bernard Keo is a lecturer in the Department of Archaeology and History at La Trobe University. He is also the Designer and Developer of Virtual Angkor. He was awarded a 2021 Humanities Travelling Fellowship by the Australian Academy of the Humanities.
A photograph of Peranakan wedding couple from a museum in Singapore. Taken at the wedding of Chung Guat Hooi (daughter of Capitan Chung Thye Phin) and Khoo Soo Beow (son of Khoo Heng Pan) May 1941, at 29 Church Steet, Penang, built by Capitan Chung Keng Quee and now known as the Pinang Peranakan Mansion. On the right are the bride’s brothers, Chung Kok Chuan and Chung Kok Tong.