To view this PAPER PRESENTATION, search for the session title in the Browse by Titlelisting. (See the session title located immediately below ["In Session:"])
In Session: Reconceptualizing Chinese Diaspora: Evolving Discourses and Practices of Migration and Governance, 1800-1940
3: Passports, Papers, and Propriety: Chinese Women and the Making of a Colonial Border Regime in Malaya, 1877-1940
Friday, March 26, 2021
12:00pm – 1:30pm EDT
Sandy F. Chang
University of Florida, United States
This paper explores how the construction of a colonial border regime in British Malaya was inextricably tied to regulation of Chinese female mobility. In 1877, the Chinese Protectorate was formally established in Singapore as a nascent colonial immigration center. Yet, within two decades, it began devoting most of its resources to the "protection" of Chinese women and girls. These gendered forms of colonial protection ranged from the production of identity papers to the surveillance of prostitutes and meditation of marital disputes. Inundated with the "private" affairs of itinerant Chinese women, the Protectorate came to occupy multiple contradictory roles: an immigration bureau, a law enforcement agency, and intimacy broker. Drawing on Chinese Protectorate files, government correspondence, travel documents, and private letters, I argue that at the colonial border and beyond, the state hierarchized Chinese migrant women on the basis of their sexuality and labor potential. As a consequence, Chinese women were the first group to experience the "identification revolution" in Malaya. The proliferation of "passports and papers" was spurred by the colonial management of sexual propriety within the Chinese community. Tracing this history offers a critical vantage point to investigate how gender operated within the global politics of migration control.