Socializing Chineseness: Cambodia’s Ethnic Chinese Communities as a Method
The formation and measurement of ethnic identity has always been at the center of debate, due to its intellectual complexity and methodological diversity. Lacking clear-cut cultural boundaries and quantifiable measurement, defining the internal qualities of “Chineseness” is ambiguous, especially with regard to cross-generational, transnational and multicultural identities. My project on Overseas Chinese communities in Cambodia thus aims to provide a substantial approach to understanding the formation and operating reality of Chinese ethnic identities. It considers membership systems, network structures, and daily practices of social organization within ethnic Chinese communities in Cambodia. Through three stages of ethnological field survey, from institutional and organizational to personal levels, this project seeks to fill the gap in our understanding of how the ethnic Chinese community developed in Cambodia. It also serves as a new methodological exploration to the study of Chinese ethnic identity and the ethnological significance of daily social engagement as a pragmatic means to practicing Chineseness and ethnic networking. Further, my ethnographic observation suggests that the multi-framed nature of Chineseness is cultivated through members’ daily social interactions with one another. Consciously or unconsciously, the diverse social interactions between members from various Chinese sub-ethnic groups are adapted and fostered during the membership arbitration process. This two-way recognition can be seen as a socialization process of performative Chineseness for members in different social statuses to “fit in, adapt, adjust, assimilate, reject, or resist” within the system and the community. Meanwhile, the diversified organizational structures and segregated transnational networks of each sub-Chinese group in Cambodia provides a unique case for understanding different types of Chineseness as an alternative to the Western-centric conceptualizations of unified cultural identity.
Dr. Allen Shih-Lun Chen is a Associate Research Fellow at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, School of International Relations & Institute of International Studies, Sun Yat-Sen University, China. He got his ph.d. in cultural antrhropology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and specializes in overseas Chinese Studies, Khmer/Cambodian Studies, migration and diaspora studies among other topics. He is a visiting scholar at the Centre between 20 August to 9 September with funding from the Birgit Rausing Language Programme