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“There Are No Chinamen in Singapore”: Creolization and Self-Fashioning of the Straits Chinese in the Colonial Contact Zone

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This article studies the self-making process of colonial Straits Chinese at the turn of the 20th century under the converging forces of British colonial power, plantation economy, mass labor migration from Qing-China, and everyday interracial contacts. Along the theoretical line of creolization, a term historically characteristic of the multiethnic diversity of Caribbean coloniality, the article examines how the late 19th-century changing colonial relations among the British, the localized Straits Chinese, the China-born newcomers, and the Malay indigenes together incited a sense of existential crisis on the part of Straits Chinese elites, who launched the Straits Chinese Magazine (1897-1907) in colonial Singapore to address the need to make use of local nexus of hybrid affinities to re-form and remake the meanings of being Chinese. Focusing on selected writings in the SCM dedicated respectively to topics of reform, education, morality, and nationality, this article regards the SCM as a distinctive cultural space, in which conscious discursive efforts were made to fashion the model Straits Chinese public images — as modern youth, as rightful descendants of Chinese cultures, as loyal British subjects, as fallible but educable people, and finally as deserved protégés of the Empire.


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