Melissa Macauley, "Distant Shores: Colonial Encounters on China's Maritime Frontier" (Princeton UP, 2021)


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“The Europeans raise all the cattle, but the Chinese get all the milk.”

This joke, told in colonial Singapore, was indicative of the importance of the Chinese diaspora throughout Southeast Asia. Chinese migrants were miners, laborers, merchants and traders: the foundation of many colonial cities throughout Asia--while also making sure that their own communities back home benefited.

Distant Shores: Colonial Encounters on China's Maritime Frontier (Princeton University Press: 2021), written by Professor Melissa Macauley, looks at one particular community within the Chinese diaspora: the Chaozhou people--also known as the “Chiu Chow” people--hailing from the Shantou--also known as Swatou--area in Eastern Guangdong Province. The Chouzhouese traveled far and wide, engaging in trade, commerce and business--a history that survives to this day, with many Southern Chinese and Southeast Asian business tycoons having ties to this migrant community.

Professor Melissa Macauley is a Professor at Northwestern University, where she specializes in late imperial and modern Chinese history from 1500 to 1958. Her research focuses on such topics as the interrelated history of southeastern China and Southeast Asia; colonialism and imperialism in East and Southeast Asia; and legal culture in Chinese social history. Her first book, Social Power and Legal Culture: Litigation Masters in Late Imperial China (Stanford University Press: 1998)

We’re joined in this interview by fellow NBN host Sarah Bramao-Ramos. Sarah is a PHD candidate at Harvard University that studies Qing China.

Today, the three of us talk about the Chouzhouese people, and how their trading efforts throughout the region challenges the way we think about “empire” and “colonialism”.

You can find more reviews, excerpts, interviews, and essays at The Asian Review of Books, including its review of Distant Shores. Follow on Facebook or on Twitter at @BookReviewsAsia.

Nicholas Gordon is an associate editor for a global magazine, and a reviewer for the Asian Review of Books. He can be found on Twitter at @nickrigordon.

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