Research Projects

Chinese, Japanese and Arabs on the Move and the Making of “Foreign Asians”

(Funded under Hang Seng Bank Golden Jubilee Education Fund for Research, Hong Kong Institute for the Humanities & Social Sciences)

Principal Investigator

Liu Oiyan, Research Assistant Professor, Hong Kong Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences
(Remarks: Dr. Liu Oiyan left the University’s service from September 1, 2016.)

Total Fund Awarded

HKD 20,000

Project Duration

April 2014 – April 2015

Project Description

The proposed research aims at exploring the making of “Foreign Asians” by looking at the relationship between traveling Asians and their activities in the Chinese, Japanese, and Ottoman empires as perceived by the Dutch empire. Most studies on race and census-making in Dutch colonial Indonesia argue that the Dutch created the racial category of “Foreign Asians” for the purpose of monitoring the colonial population within the Colony. Scholars who support this view use a paradigm that focuses on the dynamics between the colonizer and the colonized within clearly demarcated borders of the colonial state and barely take factors beyond the colonial territory into account.

By placing people’s movements at the core of the study and de-emphasizing the role of fixed state borders drawn by empires I wish to explore the following research question: “What role do traveling Chinese, Japanese, and Arabs moving across East Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East play for creating state-constructed categories of race and citizenship in Dutch colonial Indonesia?”

By looking at the Chinese diaspora traveling back and from coastal China, Arabs who returned to the Indies from the Ottoman Empire, and Japanese people entering the Colony as “new foreigners,” I intend to examine travelers’ role in defining subjecthood and engendering the colonial invention of the racial category “Foreign Asians.”

Through this main research question, I intend to achieve research results that would help clarify the following queries:

  • Despite having a long history of Chinese and Arab settlers in the Dutch colony, why were they labeled as “foreigners”? What would constitute a “Foreign Asian”?
  • Throughout Dutch colonial rule, groups of Foreign Asians were also referred as: Chinese merchants, Chinese Peranakans, Coolies, Mohammedans, Moors, Mecca-travelers, Japanese prostitutes, etc. Due to the eclectic backgrounds of these “Foreign Asians,” why did the Dutch empire lump Chinese, Japanese, and Arabs into one group? In what way do they differ from Europeans and natives (including for example Bugis, a mobile indigenous group who allegedly have distant ancestral linkages with Chinese and traveled throughout the Southeast Asian waters)?
  • What is the role of trade, religion, urbanity, and history in constituting the colonial category of “Foreign Asians”?