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Cultural Identity and Transnational Networks in a Chinese Diaspora Society in Sibu, Sarawak, Malaysia Open Access


Other title
cultural identity
overseas Chinese
transnational network
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Hsu, Yu-tsuen
Supervisor and department
DeBernardi, Jean (Anthropology)
Examining committee member and department
Lowrey, Kathleen (Anthropology)
Vallianatos, Helen (Anthropology)
Dunch, Ryan (East Asian Studies)
Carstens, Sharon (Anthropology, Portland State University)
Forth, Gregory (Anthropology)
Department of Anthropology

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
This research investigates transnational networking and cultural identity in a Chinese diaspora community in Sibu, Sarawak. In particular, I focus on the surge in public expressions of cultural identity among Chinese sub-ethnic groups in this bazaar town since the late 1970s. The activism of Chinese culture is a consequence of the rise of ethnic nationalism against the pro-Malay policy by the Malaysian Government. However, the economic growth and rapid urbanization from the early 1970s has also played an important role. In Part I of the dissertation, I analyze the historical and ethnographic background of the Sibu Chinese. The migration of Chinese people to Sibu resulted from the expansion of the capitalist world economy. The first Chinese pioneers came to Sibu and established their traditions in the 1850s. The most populous sub-ethnic group, the Foochow, arrived in Sibu in 1901; this group had a special rural and Christian background. They have taken the dominant economic and political positions in the Sibu bazaar since the 1960s. A common Chinese culture takes shape under the influence of common cultural centers and the acculturation between sub-ethnic groups. In Part II, I explore three major representations of Chinese cultural identity in Sibu. First of all, Sibu Chinese have engaged in the organization of the sub-ethnic groups since the 1930s. They are the base for the federations of Chinese associations at the local, state and national levels. They also make efforts to expand the transnational networks of their sub-ethnic groups. The Sibu Foochow take the lead in the transnational network among their counterparts all over the world. Second, the Foochow showed how they cherish their pioneers through the construction of memorial parks and a cultural hall in 2001. However, other non-Foochow regional-language-based communities and sub-groups of Foochow soon constructed their memorial parks to express their own historical interpretations. Thirdly, the surname associations have become newly emergent associations in Sibu since the late 1970s. These associations build connection among their surname-sakes in Sibu and eventually expanded their connections around the world spatially and to the apical ancestors in China historically.
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