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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Making and Unmaking Pan-ethnicity: The Formation and Decline of Overseas Chinese Identity in Australia

  • Author(s): Li, Yao-Tai
  • Advisor(s): FitzGerald, David
  • Turner, Christena
  • et al.

This dissertation examines the production and reception of pan-ethnic identities and group relations of three Chinese migrant groups (PRC-Chinese, Taiwanese, and Hong Kongese) in Australia. In this dissertation I answer the questions why some people identify themselves as “Hua-Ren” (pan-Chinese or people with Chinese backgrounds) in some contexts, but claim they are “not Hua-Ren” in other contexts, as well as why intergroup competition/discrimination (e.g., between Chinese and white Australians) does not contribute to a broader pan-ethnic identity (like Asian-American movement in the United States). When speaking of “Chinese” or “Hua-Ren,” there seems to be little consensus. In Australia, the ambiguity of the Chinese status not only leads to complicated situations with political and cultural tensions among people from China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, it also influences the race relations between Chinese and Australians. However, few studies have systematically examined the complex differences between national (PRC-Chinese/Taiwanese/Hong Kongese) and pan-ethnic (Hua-Ren) identities. Nor have studies discussed whether, how, and to what degree national and pan-ethnic identities become stronger or weaker in different social settings (job-finding, workplace, community, and social life), nor how they shape and transform national identities and group relations among PRC-Chinese, Taiwanese, and Hong Kongese. In other words, this dissertation explores differences in the interpretation of Hua-Ren identity within shifting contexts. I argue that pan-ethnicity is neither shaped voluntarily nor imposed by the mainstream society. Instead, it is a matter of what people subjectively interpret or believe about differences or not within shifting contexts. Pan-ethnic identity can thus become a tool of exploitation and intensification of ethnic stereotype in the cash-in-hand labor market; a strategy of managing differences and making/unmaking group boundary in the workplace; a process through which national identity is shifted to pan-ethnic identity (and vice versa) in various ethnic networks and community organizations; and a collectivity whether people adopt or reject in their everyday interactions with a non-Chinese group. In sum, this dissertation theorizes the formation and block of overseas Chinese identity, as well as what conditions favoring national or pan-ethnic identity.

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