Australian Migrant Heritage in South China: The Legacy of Diaspora-Funded Schools in 20th Century Zhongshan

Christopher Cheng

This interdisciplinary study addresses a problem at the intersection of the scholarly fields of heritage studies and migration history: How to recognise and manage the heritage of a shared past beyond the boundaries of the nation-state? Under the umbrella of the China–Australia Heritage Corridor project, Chris’s doctoral research specifically explores the social and architectural dimension of the Chinese diaspora’s educational philanthropy in the period from the early twentieth century until the present. The study is the first of its kind to examine how the Chinese diaspora relates to the material heritage of the diaspora-funded school setting in China. It reveals how Chinese migration to Australia resulted in the socio-material transformation of the native home of migrants in the Pearl River Delta of China’s Guangdong Province, specifically in relation to the construction and operation of modern schools there. The socio-material legacies of the diaspora-funded school buildings are a testimony to the generosity of the donors, but the schools may also become a burden for donors and their descendants, requiring maintenance and continuous improvement. The study concludes that Chinese-Australian migrant heritage in China remains relevant to both China and Australia. It testifies to the history of their mutual entanglement and place-based attachment, as well as improving intergenerational relationships.

Christopher Cheng knows firsthand the double pains of being disconnected from his Chinese roots and, at the same time, not firmly grounded in his parents’ immigrant country of Australia. For not quite a decade since 2008, he has been privileged to further his education in Guangzhou and Hong Kong after completing the first part of his architectural degree in Brisbane. In 2017, he joined the China–Australian Heritage Corridor team as a doctoral student and has been researching and publishing his field observations in academic and popular outlets, so that other “children in the diaspora” can also benefit.

The ANU China Seminar Series is supported by the Australian Centre on China in the World at ANU College of Asia and the Pacific.


Christopher Cheng

Dates & times

Thursday, 10 November 2022

4.00pm - 5.30pm


Seminar Rooms, China in the World Building (188), Fellows Lane, ANU

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