Exile to the Equator: Chinese Anti-Colonialism and Nationalism in Southeast Asia, 1939–1946

In: China and Asia
Qian ZhuAssistant Professor of Humanities, Duke Kunshan University, Kunshan, Jiangsu, China,

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This paper discusses and compares the ideas of Chinese leftists in exile, as expressed in their publications and journals and in their anti-colonial activism in collaboration with the overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia from 1939 to 1946. Describing Chinese anti-colonialism and nationalism through a transnational conceptualization and an ethnographic approach, stories that occur “behind the scenes” enhance our ability to decode key words and reveal the complexities of concrete economic and political conflicts from multiple sources that involve migration, ethnicities, and capitalism. The class nature of Chinese anti-colonial internationalism that was forged during and after the Second World War was deeply embedded in the “liberal” discourses of freedom, democracy, equality, liberty, and women’s emancipation. It was also rooted in the mass politics of anti-capitalism, which was global in scope and fine-grained, local, and rooted in everyday life. The Chinese leftist geopolitical configuration of the “nations below the wind” and “the equator” enabled the perception of a proto-global South—South alliance as a world-historical force, with the dual goals of overturning unequal development and achieving an integrated path of anti-colonialism and national independence.

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