In the early twentieth century, Chinatowns in the West were ghettos for Chinese immigrants who were marginalised and considered ‘other’ by the dominant society. In western eyes, these areas were the no-go zones of the Oriental other. Now, more than one hundred years later, traditional Chinatowns still exist in some cities but their meaning and role has been transformed, while in other cities entirely new Chinatowns have emerged. This paper discusses how Chinatowns today are increasingly contested sites where older diasporic understandings of Chineseness are unsettled by newer, neoliberal ones, dominated by the pull of China’s newly found economic might. In particular, the so-called ‘rise of China’ has spawned a globalisation of the idea of ‘Chinatown’ itself, with its actual uptake in urban development projects the world over, or backlash against it, determined by varying perceptions of China’s global ascendancy as an amalgam of ‘threat’ and ‘opportunity’.
About the speaker
Distinguished Professor Ien Ang, a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities, is Professor of Cultural Studies at Western Sydney University and was the founding Director of the university’s Institute for Culture and Society. She is one of the leaders in Cultural Studies worldwide. Her wide ranging interdisciplinary work deals broadly with patterns of cultural flow and exchange in our globalised world, focusing on issues such as the formation of audiences and publics; the cultural politics of identity and difference; migration, ethnicity and multiculturalism in Australia and Asia, especially related to Chinese diasporas; and issues of representation in contemporary cultural institutions. Her books, including Watching Dallas, Desperately seeking the audience and On not speaking Chinese, are recognised as classics in the field and her work has been translated into many languages, including Chinese, Japanese, Italian, Turkish, German, Korean, and Spanish. Her most recent books include Cultural diplomacy: beyond the national interest (Routledge, 2016, co-edited with Yudhishthir Raj Isar and Phillip Mar) and Chinatown Unbound: Trans-Asian Urbanism in the Age of China (Rowman & Littlefield, 2019, co-authored with Kay Anderson, Andrea Del Bono, Donald McNeill and Alexandra Wong). She is the recipient of numerous Australian Research Council grants, including a prestigious ARC Professorial Fellowship (2005–2009). Her current ARC research project is entitled ‘The China Australia Heritage Corridor’ (with Dr Denis Byrne).
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