Rewriting Singapore and rewriting Chineseness: Lee Guan Kin’s diasporic stance

Pi Chun Chang*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


This study proposes to view Lee Guan Kin (the former director of the Center for Chinese Language, Culture, and Division of Chinese at Nanyang Technological University) in the historical context in which the identity of Southeast Asian Chinese has transformed from overseas Chinese to ethnic Chinese, from Straits Chinese to Chinese Singaporeans. Based on the interview with Lee and the study of Lee’s numerous publications, this article exemplifies Lee’s enduring efforts on researching diasporic Southeast Asian Chinese and their ties with Chinese language and culture is a meaningful choice rather than an essentialist returning to ‘roots.’ In this article, Lee’s continuous engagement with China, Chinese language, and culture is illustrated by analyzing Lee’s assertion of ‘doing justice’ for Lim Boon Keng and Tan Lark Sye. Accordingly, this study is divided into four parts. First, the concept of Chineseness is reviewed and explored in the context of Southeast Asia. Second, the historical background of English-educated and Chinese-educated Chinese groups and their varying degrees of Chineseness are introduced. Then this study analyzes how Lee does justice for Lim Boon Keng, a baba who served as chancellor of Xiamen University for 16 years, and Tan Lark Sye, who was the founder of former Nanyang University. Lee believes that both prominent figures were unfairly and relentlessly treated by Chinese and Singaporean historiography, respectively, and therefore, Lee wants to do justice to them as a way to relocate their position in the context of Chinese diaspora and to redefine Chinese accordingly. Finally, this study argues that locality defines Lee’s Chineseness, her relation with China, China studies, Chinese identity, or Chinese culture. While locality defines Lee’s Chineseness, a diasporic stance characterizes her articulation, which challenged the homogeneous threat of identity imposed by the nation-state and the kind of Chineseness traditionally shaped by the authority of a sino-centric core.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)28-42
Number of pages15
JournalAsian Ethnicity
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2015 Jan 2


  • Chinese language and culture
  • Chineseness
  • Lee Guan Kin
  • Lim Boon Keng
  • diaspora

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Sociology and Political Science


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